This page is for more practical adviceon all sorts of things – from filling sinks with water to decorating house doors, and creating optical illusions!
I’m kicking off this new page with a revised version of the article from my Featherstone Hall Hotel book (available in the website shop) about one of the most talked about aspects of the project – the decorated door interiors…
The Featherstone Hall Hotel project was finished in November 2010, and the series of articles about its construction started in Dolls House & Miniature Scene Magazine started straight after – once the 24 articles had finished, I revisited the project in 2013 to do various repairs and renovations needed after its series of public exhibitions had taken its toll on the structure, and I decided while I was on to decorate the door interiors.
Looking at them now it was a no-brainer to do, but at the time it was a pretty rare thing. It also created new content to add to the book of the project I was preparing, and added something new for the next series of exhibition visitors to see. It has since become one of the most talked about aspects of the project, and I think its something that makes the house look extra special!
Its easy to forget in 2023, that this was my first house, and when looking at the doors, I felt like I had when I first stared at the empty shell now 13 years ago, a complete novice (more like a rabbit in the headlights!) What a challenge – How do you make something interesting from a flat board?
And before interesting, comes how do you decorate it? Obviously the doors would be shown attached to the house, therefore the room decoration should line up and not prohibit the doors from closing onto the house. And of course I would need lights. As the song goes I had more questions than answers – but when in doubt I did my usual and jumped in with both feet!
I started by holding the doors up next to the house and marking on where the floors would go across the doors. I then measured out the width of the rooms and marked in the vertical room dividers. It was at this point that I realised that when placing the room dividers, I had not planned how the position would work in relation to the windows on the front of the house. As the house had never been shown with its undecorated doors on, I had never noticed the problem.
It was only brought to my attention when I discovered that the room partition for the Lemon Room just encroached onto the window frame. I was very lucky, it could have been an octagonal roof window moment! (see Flatpack to Fabulous in the Featherstone Hall Hotel book).
I painted the spaces between the room panels grey to match the rest of the house and started decorating the panels. I had bought far too many bits of wallpaper and coving first time around, and so had a box load of leftovers to raid. Which was a good thing because several of the wall coverings had been discontinued.
One thing that could have been a problem, was taking into account the height of the floor surface and the depth of the coving in the house. If I had simply made the panels to the measured out size, the doors would not have shut. So I adjusted my measurements to raise the skirting boards to sit on top of the floorboards, and I shortened – and in the case of the deeper sorts – angled the ends of the coving to slip inside that of the house.
The biggest wallcovering problem was the cotton in the Toile Room (top floor in the picture below). I had run out of it but I had a cunning (if not mad) plan! I removed the chest of drawers from the wall of the bedroom with the largest area of fabric showing, and took a photo of it. I printed it onto a matt photo paper and stuck it on!
The next thing to do was my biggest nightmare, 27 CURTAINS! I have to say that this was the thing I hated doing more than anything else in the house (I have decided in future to buy them – I never want to make another pair of curtains again!)
It was not only that I had to make curtains, but unlike the wall coverings I did not have a ready supply of fabrics and braids to match those already in the room. So for example in the Toile Room and Library panels I had to use a matching colour plain silk instead of the original fabric. By the time I got to the windows in the Upper Hallway I gave up the ghost of trying and did roman blinds!
After the window treatments were complete (I’m not mentioning the ‘C’ word!) it was time to solve a few more problems – how to make them interesting and light them. I was aware that some houses have ‘sticky-out’ bay windows on the front which provided little alcoves to dress on the inside, but what I needed (because of the flat front of the house) were ‘sticky-in’ areas!
They needed to be quite small so as not to interfere with the dressing already in the house, but big enough to hold a small scene.
When I first started working on the house, my husband cut me some circles of MDF for the base and top of the revolving door (or Door of Doom as it is now known – having been jinxed on every trip out to have some ‘accidental’ damage!) and I had some left.
I started fiddling on with them and realised they would be a perfect shelf when cut in half. With this done, I then covered them in floorboards of varying colours depending on which room it was for, and glued them on to the skirting boards with extra strong contact adhesive. (all well and good in theory – however after taking it out to shows I think I should have screwed them on too – contact adhesive is fine for ‘stay at home’ houses but traveling ones need a ‘belt and braces’ approach!
With this done I could now turn my mind to dressing the shelves. This gave me an opportunity to add elements which then changed the stories of some of the rooms…
TIP: As mentioned in my other Featherstone Hall articles, battery powered (or LED) lights, were only just coming onto the market when I started this project. I would not recommend them for lighting a whole house (as you would spend ages going around switching them all on). But for these door panels, where it would not be practical to run wires, and the removeable front basement section (not to mention adding in a few new house lights to completed rooms) they are an ideal solution. You simply stick on the magnet, switch the light on, and put it in place.
My favourite shelf is from the Grand Hall. It holds a stunning white grandfather clock and Ronson the Butler’s twin brother is adjusting the time. I love this because it reminds me of my own grandad who had a mantle clock which no-one was allowed to correct or wind but him. My typical finishing touch – what else does a clock need – but a mouse to run up it!
The simple addition of Karl to the Lemon Room shelf, adds a whole new aspect to the original room story. Amy is sitting with her dog Maisie considering the proposal from Gervais outside. However, Karl (Amy’s father) disapproves and has just told Amy of the rumours that Gervais is a card sharp and only after her money. He has threatened to cut her off without a penny if she accepts the offer of marriage!
You don’t have to have dolls in a house to have a story going on, careful dressing can tell the tale for you too. The scene on the shelf of the Duke’s Suite casts a new light on the character of Marcus Fortescue. Far from being the rake and libertine he looks at first glance, he is actually on holiday and has his dog Bertie with him. On the chair is his watercolour box and straw hat as he intends to get out and about to paint the rolling hills and beautiful scenery around Featherstone Hall.
The busiest shelf is that from the Duchess Suite. I started with a cheval mirror, and drowned it in accessories. A hat and a handbag hang over it with a scrap of lace on the other side to look like a shawl. At the base there is a hatbox, shoes, parasols and a Gladstone bag.
This gentleman is watching the game of snooker going on in the Library. Although a simple scene, it makes you look at the details more. My favourite details are the watch chain and the cigarette in his hand. I fiddled on for ages with a bit of solid Plastruct rod to get it fixed at just the right angle! The ash on the end was just a touch with a grey felt tip pen. Unfortunately this has proven to be one of the more ‘brakeable in transit’ pieces with the lamp stand snapping several times, and I have lost count of the times I’ve played ‘hunt the missing cigarette’ when unpacking at shows!
I made great use of these half topiary bushes in pots – both inside and outside the house. They mix in perfectly with the ‘full’ ones and as they are flat backed can be glued to the wall so they can swing open and shut with the doors.
You can see more pictures of the Featherstone Hall Hotel on the GALLERY page, you can read the first article in the series ‘Welcome to Featherstone Hall’ on the BIG PROJECTS page and you can buy the book with all 24 articles plus additional material on the doors and room box projects in the website SHOP.