This page showcases the Featherstone Hall Hotel project, the follow up Theatre Royal Project and my work featured in the Steven Spielberg film ‘The BFG’ Click on the boxes below to follow their stories.
I created this project especially for the 200th Issue of Dolls House & Miniature Scene magazine (February 2011). This was the first house I had built, and the 24 monthly articles following the creation of the hotel from flat pack to finished project also included all of the ups, downs, disasters and classic beginner’s mistakes!
After the series finished I collected all of the articles together with new material on repairs, renovations and the decoration of the door interiors plus a new section on room boxes, to make the FEATHERSTONE HALL HOTEL BOOK – which is available to buy on the SHOP: BOOKS & PAPER page of this website.
But first let’s take a tour of the hotel
to meet the guests and staff…
Guests arrive at the reception up the grand staircase, and enter via a revolving door. The hotel manager Mr Fairfax has just come out of his office behind the reception desk to check that Charles Clarke (head desk clerk) has remembered to give the dinner reservations to Oscar Delgado the Maitre d’ hotel. Parker the porter has brought down some luggage for a guest and is waiting for its owner to appear. Edward Black (assistant desk clerk) is telephoning downstairs to the kitchen to order some light refreshments for the gentlemen playing snooker in the library.
Through the door to his left is the dining room and conservatory. George and Gloria Makepeace have just entered, and are greeted across the table by Lady Elizabeth Harvey-Jones and her party who are in the middle of a roast fowl dinner. Oscar the Maitre d’ Hotel is serving the party from a trolley, and he asks the Makepeace’s to wait one moment to be seated at the empty table for two behind him.
In the corner of the restaurant American heiress Sylvia Beaumont is dining with her beau David Smythe. Sylvia is older than David, but her huge diamond collection has a certain attraction, as although he is from excellent stock, he is rather impoverished by his fascination for the card table! They are being offered a towering selection of cakes on a four tier cake stand by Davis the waiter. There is a doorway through the dining room into the conservatory which is blocked by a cellist and violinist who are playing amongst the palms and oranges to assist the digestion of the esteemed diners. Through the conservatory windows lies the Orangery building across a parterre garden.
Opposite the dining room is the Library – although it is more often used as a snooker room. However the Hon. George Gardiner finds it particularly ‘relaxing’ to read his newspaper in the snug corner at the end of the bookcases. There are two gentlemen in the smoking room playing cards and discussing the current political situation. Two gentlemen are playing snooker and at the same time having a discussion about the next day’s shoot arranged by the hotel.
From reception, moving up the stairs past the portraits of the Featherstone family and the chinoiserie grandfather clock, we arrive at the grand Grand Hall. Lady Nancy Saville is receiving Sir Michael Fosdyke. He is totally smitten with her, and has arrived with a stunning bouquet of irises and lilies, pleased with the gift, she gestures to him to sit next to her. At the bottom of the stairs, Elsie the maid is removing a trolley from the Duchesse suite.
The Duchesse suite is occupied by The Hon. Sarah Hookesmead. She sits brushing her hair while her friend Elspeth Grey listens to the latest gossip and enjoys Sarah’s chocolates. Pip the dog is trying to attract Elspeth’s attention and get a chocolate, but it is in vain as Sarah has just imparted some particularly scandalous gossip.
Emily, Sarah’s maid is closing the door after Elsie and the trolley, while Jane the room maid is putting fresh towels away in the ensuite bathroom.
Across the Grand Hall from the Duchesse suite is the Dukes suite. Marcus Fortescue has just arrived and is considering what to do before dinner, while Pemberley his valet is unpacking. The vital supplies have already been uncovered; the box of cigars and grooming kit rest on the dresser, and the ensuite bathroom is bedecked with toiletries.
From the Grand Hall a lady ascends to the next floor, on the landing is a bathroom – as rooms on this level are not ensuite!
The bathroom is about to be vacated by Mrs Ainsworthy, and she will step into a chaotic scene.
At the end of the hall Bertie the Cocker spaniel is cocking his leg on a demi lune table while Mary his owner chases after him down the hall.
At the base of the stairs sits 6 year old Richard with his football, watching his sister Phoebe with her pushchair and teddy, trying to drag their granddad George from their parent’s room.
Their parents, Chloe and Francis have enjoyed their night at the ball, and champagne in the Toile suite afterwards, while Chloe’s parents looked after their grandchildren. But now grandad’s nerves have become a bit frayed and he is annoyed to see Francis still in bed while Chloe is still fixing her hair, and he is urging them to get on and take the children back!
Also in the hall Mr Gervais Bedford watches the chaos and waits patiently for Amy Helpston. She is a great beauty and sits on the window seat in the Lemon room with her dog Maisie considering Mr Bedford’s offer. Maid Margaret is just about to tell him that she is dressing at the moment and will be some time. He does not mind, and he knows that the two gifts he has for her will be sure to please.
Stepping over Richard at the foot of the stairs, we can follow Jessop the valet up with the luggage, to the landing for the last two rooms. At the top of the stairs we find a huge stuffed stags head, bronze stag figure in a dome, and ‘Monarch of the glen’ painting – all relics from when the Featherstone’s owned the hall.
The room at the top of the stairs is occupied by Maud and George Thistlemere, Chloe’s parents. Maud is checking that Mrs Dewsbury is tucking in the corners of the bed correctly.
Just outside the door of the other room on this level is Arthur Sinsel a waiter from the dining room. He carries a tray of drinks for the room occupants, as Margot Dexter (retired opera star) is entertaining Albert Fielding, who has long been a fan.
The very last room on this floor is at the end of a long passage running behind Margot Dexter’s room. It is a Luggage store which has been taken over by a population of cats and rats with neither having worked out who rules the roost!
More cats and rats can be found in the basement of the house occupied by the lower hall, kitchen, washroom and laundry, butler’s pantry and scullery. Felix the Butlers champion mouser has cornered a rat in the scullery, where valet Gervais is polishing shoes and boots before starting on the silver and glassware.
In the Butlers pantry next door, Ronsen senior the butler is supervising Ronsen junior and the paperwork, although junior is currently taking an order from upstairs for sandwiches for the gentlemen in the library. Rex the hound is most annoyed that Ginger the cat has usurped his place on the old armchair.
And that brings us to the end of the tour.
The book of the series which details how all this was created is available to buy from the Dee-Daw shop section of this website DEE-DAW SHOP/BOOK page
After having announced the house will be on display at the Autumn 2022 Miniatura show I will be adding more about getting it ready and how it was created soon.
The story of the Theatre Royal first started when I was considering what to do after the Featherstone Hall Hotel (as I had already ruled out another house). I really enjoyed doing the garage in a toolbox project (DH&MS November 2013), because I loved the idea of a hidden surprise and wanted to do that again but on a bigger scale. I then added my love of shiny things and my reputation as a drama queen (Moi?) to the mix and started to sketch out some ideas for a Theatre!
But not just any theatre – This would have an optical illusion at its heart, be viewed from two sides with two different scenes and be concealed within an old steamer trunk carcass. Nothing too ambitious then!……
Above: the auditorium and structure sketch
Above: The backstage sketch complete with dressing room, spiral staircase managers office and what would become the costume department, stage designers office and prop store.
These sketches gave me the plan I worked to for the Theatre Royal, it has double front doors which open to show a theatre auditorium, complete with audience, orchestra and players on stage.
Above: ‘Limelight’ floods the stage while the orchestra plays in the pit below.
But that’s not all, as the box is designed to be seen in the round, double doors on the back reveal a full backstage area with dressing rooms, costume department, staircases, and stage door.
The illusion is that that both viewing sides look deeper than half the box depth – so couldn’t possibly fit in the box!
Above: The full backstage scene with costume department on the top floor, two floors of dressing rooms, and ground floor with stage door and wings.
One of the more ‘off the wall’ ideas I added to the project was when the theatre was on display at Miniatura. I hid an MP3 player in the orchestra pit and had it playing the music for the scene on stage! (thank you Joyce for your idea!)
It actually took me ages to work out what performance I wanted to put on stage, I was toying with the idea of a ballet, but it was my mothers idea to use the Verdi opera, Aida which is set in ancient Egypt, as I had long been a fan all things Ancient Egyptian. This made a perfect contrast to the Edwardians sitting in the auditorium and adds even more glamour to the project!
Taking a leaf from the garage project, the outside of the theatre box is disguised to look like a vintage steamer trunk used for many years by a traveling stage company, complete with leather, brass banding, studs and locks!
Above: When closed up the theatre looks like a well traveled trunk.
The key to the whole project was the optical illusion worked into the structure of the stage, which merges the front and backstage areas so that the box is not as deep as would be expected to accommodate both. Part of the secret is that the temple building sticking out onto the stage covers a hole in the back wall which enabled me to create a star dressing room with greater depth.
Above: The star dressing room backsatge fits inside the temple building on the stage. (photographed before the front wall and door of the dressing room was added).
The stage area also has a false top (filled with ropes, sandbag counterweights and scenery in a real theatre) which made an extra floor for the costume department on the backstage side. This ran along the whole width of the box backstage area, and for ease of dressing was removable, and slid in on top of the stage.
Above: picture of the wardrobe department with ladies hard at work sewing and pressing costumes, while the set designer waits for his office to be built!
The optical merger of auditorium and backstage is dealt with in the magazine series, but other illusions include sloping floor in the auditorium, stage, and balconies to draw the eye in and add optical depth to the scene without adding physical depth.
Of course a theatre needs an audience, and this was one of my biggest problems, but briefly, I chose to use already seated resin dolls, and redecorated each one individually. This took some time, as there are only so many seated models you can get – so I had the added challenge of making about a dozen different styles of doll seem like nearly 70 very different individuals!
Above: a small section of the audience – I had to remove the arm of the chair to get the ‘courting’ couple in!
I also hoped to demonstrate in this series, that I had benefited from the experience (read blunders and cock-ups here!) of building my first dolls house – Featherstone Hall Hotel! But I am not sure if my hope was a bit optimistic, as when it came to take the theatre to Miniatura, I realised, that as the box was built in my studio, it was actually to big to get out! It took the removal of the door and door frame to shoehorn it out – and get it back in again after the show!
While I know that not everyone wants to build a theatre – this project provided the perfect stage (couldn’t resist that!) to demonstrate some new techniques, tips and materials which can be used on any miniature project, and I will be highlighting some of these on the INSPIRATION and MAKES & ADVICE pages.
Me and the bfg! (I'm on the Left!)
I was so proud when some of my dressed furniture was used in the dolls house which features in the Steven Spielberg version of Roald Dahl’s ‘The BFG’ film!
I had been contacted by a film company in Vancouver, Canada, late in 2015, and they bought several room sets from me, I did a little research on the film project name provided, and realised that it could be the Steven Spielberg version of The BFG by Roald Dhal.
I contacted the buyer and asked if she could confirm the name of the film – as it was one of my daughters favourite stories and would earn me a lot of brownie points! The reply came back that, although she could not confirm the film name, my daughter would be happy.
And that was all I knew until we went to the cinema…
With fingers crossed I had a giant(!) surprise when I took my daughter Sophie to see the film. About 10 minutes into the film, the little girl (also called Sophie) goes up to a dolls house, opens the doors, the shot moves over, and there, across the full cinema screen was a bedroom suite I had made. It was so funny – the cinema was silent – I saw my bedroom suite – and I squeaked out loud!
I was so excited when we came out of the show that I bought one of the cinema posters as a souvenir – this also meant I stayed behind after the show finished and didn’t have to face all the people who turned to look at me when I squeaked at a totally uncalled for moment in the film!’
Above: The bedroom set actually used in close up in the film.
Once the DVD was out I went through the dolls house scene frame by frame, and you do see some of the other pieces I supplied for the film, but the bed of the bedroom set above is the one which is featured across the whole screen in close up!
The poster, and some leftover scraps of fabric and the DVD of the film are my only souvenirs of the event, as I used the last of that fabric to make two bedroom sets (one was sold to the film and the other sold to a dealer in America – before I knew it was being used in the film) and not only that, but the furniture set has been discontinued!
But it has to be my best ‘famous for five minutes’ story (more like five seconds actually!)