From flat-pack to fabulous!

In the 200th issue of Dolls House & Miniature Scene magazine, you visited the Featherstone Hall Hotel, now  its time to step behind the scenes and see how the project came to life.
Although I had never built a dolls house before, I had created several room boxes for DH&MS and I thought 'How difficult can a whole house be?' - In theory it would just be a series of boxes - How wrong I was! Because of this, I want to set out in these articles not only how I achieved the end result but most importantly the mistakes along the way. There are a lot of people out there who are new to miniatures and are a bit intimidated about how to do things. So this house is for all the other first timers out there, don't be afraid of making mistakes, and jump in with both feet!

 

The first decision to take was which house?  As a novice house builder, I decided to ask advice from a friend with decades of building experience, Patsy Jennett, who also happens to run my local dolls house shop PMJ Miniatures. She recommended the Barbaras Mouldings range, and we looked at the Cottesmore house, which has a lot of flexible, good sized rooms. Another bonus point with the Barbaras Mouldings kits, according to Patsy, is that they are precision made and go together beautifully.

 

I therefore acquired both the Cottesmore House, Basement, and plinth kits and set about the grand assembly. (I have to confess at this point that the house would never have been made without the extra pair of hands that is my hubby!) The only real problem we had with the assembly was the instructions which came with it. Patsy was right that the kit was beautifully engineered to fit together, but some beautifully engineered instructions would have made it even better!

 

At times I had to suspend the following of instructions. What I realised, only too late in the construction, was that the instructions were for assembling the house, and do not take into account that the house will be decorated (Shock, Horror!) Something else I learned too late is that experienced house builders will do a certain amount of 'pre-emptive' painting and decorating during the assembly process to cut out some tricky bits later.

 

For example, I had already assembled and inserted the house windows before a chance remark by Patsy, led me to remove them all, to paint around the inside of the frames and leave them out until I had decorated the outside!

 

 

And biggest mistake of all - the dormer roof windows. I had already (following the instructions) glued the assembled dormers to the roof when I realised that A) it would have been easier to paint the insides of the dormers, and decorate the outside  BEFORE attaching them and B) I could not cover the roof in the textured tile finish material with the dormers in place. There was no way around it, I used a small persuader (hammer) and with a sharp sideways knock managed to remove the dormers!

 

    

 

Once construction was completed, I stood back to look at the size of the monster I had created, was horrified by the scale of the project, and promptly abandoned it for several months!

 

 

I realised that I could not keep on ignoring it - and as I had a deadline to meet for DH&MS, I had to get on with it. I decided to start with the exterior. Bearing in mind that this is a Georgian house, I wanted to decorate it in an appropriate style. I am not keen on all-stone effect facades on houses, but I do like red brick with stone coining (corners and edges), and decided this was 'the look' I wanted.

 

 

I already knew that I did not have the patience or skill to make a good job of applying individual brick slips (half depth bricks) or stencil textured paint, and so I went for the simplest solution, sheets of printed brick paper. There are many to choose from, but I particularly liked the 'Old Red Brick' paper from Streets Ahead.

 

After papering the outside of the house (I used household border adhesive, not specialist dolls house wallpaper paste - the bottles come with a built in brush and the adhesive is great) I left the paper to dry before using a sharp scalpel to cut through the window panes, refitted the windows and applied the stone window frame exterior trims.

 

      

 

It was at this point that I started to personalise the house. To start with, I much preferred to add '3D' balustrades, as the kit ones are simple silouhettes. I used the Wonham Collection C69 Ballustrade, cutting out notches on the fascia roofline to accommodate the deeper panel.

 

  

 

carried the matching balustrade down onto the basement section, with its pair of staircases. This meant that I had to somehow get the balustrades to run down the stairs. After a great deal of 'fiddling' I worked out that if I dismantled a balustrade section and cut each upright at 45 degrees top and bottom, they would run down the staircase. (Step in my extra pair of hands - my hubby kindly cut them all for me so all I had to do was assemble them!) The only downside I found in replacing the supplied balustrades is that, as the replacements are taller, the front of the house will not open unless the basement front sections are removed, but the plus you get from the 3D effect far out weighs this.

 

 

Other details I added included extra 'stone' reeding in horizontal bands across the front of the house made from painted decorative strip wood (from the extensive Barbaras Mouldings range).

 

 

 

The two hexagonal roof windows were also added at this stage. Although they look right on the outside I had forgotten to take account of the fixed room partition INSIDE so the left hand window has a wall running through it! (Fortunately the windows have frosted glass, and when the roof is open to view no-one knows but me!)

 

I also added extra coining onto the side of the house and roofline so that the ¾ view looks as good as the front.

 

The most difficult part of the exterior decoration of the building had to be the centre section of the basement front. I had already built it before realising that it would have been easier to paper in sections - however it's a lesson learned, and I just had to muddle through the papering - it was too well glued to used a 'persuader' again!

 

  

As the Kit was so precision engineered it meant that templates for one side of the tricky basement pull-out section could flip over to make the other sides pattern - only after I had double checked the shape would fit!

 

The trickiest part of the papering was around the columns on the front. I butted up a piece of plain paper and ran a fingernail along the line of the column. I cut this out, checked the fit then cut a piece of brick paper to this pattern and repeated the fingernail process to get a final fit. As the columns were symetrical I flipped the paper to make a patern for the other side. Obviously it would have been easier to paper befor putting on the columns - thats the problem with not knowing any better - and following the kit instructions!

 

Because I needed to cover up some 'dodgy' paper edges I painted some Plastruct 'C' section stone and edged the arches, bending and glueing the 'c' section as I went along, and it finishes the edges beautifully.

 

 

 

The only other additions to the kit house exterior were doors.  In the central basement section I replaced the supplied ones with a double door set from Streets Ahead, which has a lovely fan light over the two half glass doors. The doors were painted black and I printed a stained glass design onto some acetate to make some new glass panels.

 

 

 

As this section is removable, (the two side staircases are hinged to open out to the side and the centre section lifts out) I decided to use batteries to power the two wrought iron effect coach lamps on either side of the door. The batteries are concealed on the back of the front arches. As conventional a 9v battery or 4 AA battery packs would be too bulky, I sourced a mini 9v battery (about half the size of a normal AA) and connector from specialist electronics supplier Maplin.

 

Once all the exterior painting and decorating was complete I decided that the house looked too clean and 'dollhouse like', so I decided to dirty it up a bit. I had been inspired by a picture I had seen of the roof of the 'Versailles' house created by the fabulous Mulvaney and Rogers. The roof had been painted to look water-stained, and I wanted to age my house in a similar way. I have to confess at this point that I do have some professional experience in painting these sort of effects - but its really not that difficult, especially if you follow the simple guidelines at the end of this article.

  

The very last part of the exterior to be finished was the main entrance to the hotel, through the huge stone porch above the central basement section. I think it's safe to say I had more trouble with this one doorway than all of the other problems in the house COMBINED! I had decided right at the start that if it was a hotel it HAD to have a revolving door. As is typical, I had ignored the practicality of the idea until the last possible moment, after all, the idea was simple, to fit a revolving door into the space left for a double door.

 

 

 

I worked out that I would create a circular base and top with a central pole to join them, with four doors off the central pole and the lot being encased in two crescents of glass. Of course nothing like this is ever simple, but to cut a long story short, I managed to get the base top and doors sorted, (using MDF for the base and top and acrylic sheet edged in gold painted Plastruct 'C' and 'T' sections with stair rods for brass push handles on the doors - see above picture) but I just could not get the casing sheets to work. I tried all sorts of techniques, heating, bending, glueing all to no avail. In despair I decided to take a break from the project and went along to see Patsy and share my misery. 'What about a 2 litre pop bottle?' she said, I could have kissed her! BRILLIANT! - it did take a couple of bottles to finally get the right size panels - but it worked, and after a week of misery stuck in a revolving door, I could move on!

 

When it came to dressing the completed house I dressed the outside with a range of resin potted plants from The Dolls House Emporium, and finished with a stunning 1913 Model' T' Ford car, (from the Dee-Daw range of classic vehicles) which is being unloaded by James the valet with luggage on a stunning brass concierge trolly (my treat to myself from my visit to the Arnhem Dolls House show!) Also on the basement section, outside the kitchen window I added a resin figure of a tradesman delivering to the kitchen, and beside him a delivery bike. Partly to disguise a little damage, and mostly to add a little life to the revolving door, I placed Lady Camille about to walk into the hotel.

 

 

Aging your house

Use very watered down emulsion or acrylic paint. Apply paint with a small piece of sponge. Finish and blur edges by 'stippling' with a DRY paintbrush (keep drying it after each use with kitchen towel or tissue).

 

 

 

ALWAYS have a play on a scrap of the material you will be working on, until you are confident enough to work on your house. In the case of brick paper, try not to over wet it with the sponge as you will damage the surface of the paper.

Brickwork: Use a mid grey, apply under the window stone work and a smaller amount above it. Apply under the reeding details and at the base of any stonework.

Stonework: On the vertical surfaces of the house use light grey on a sponge, just to add texture. Dot on some mid grey paint in the places which would accumulate dirt. Look at photos of real houses for placement tips. On stairs and horizontal surfaces use a light, mid and dark grey in combination. Start with the darkest colour in the dirtiest spots (stair corners) dapple over with the mid tone and finish with the light tone on stair edges and most walked on sections.

Roof: I had already applied a textured tile sheet (from Barbaras Mouldings) but I thought that the colour was not quite what I wanted so I lightly over-painted the surface with a dark grey, and then using a darker grey tone started to add shadows and finished with the light grey tone lightly brushed over with an almost dry brush. I added the dripping water stains with more light tone in layers.


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The whole series is included in the Featherstone Hall Hotel book available to buy from this website - see the 'BUY THE BOOK' tab on the left of this page