This page will eventually be packed out with hints and tips, plus articles on materials and their uses – fun stuff basically! But at the moment I am having to prioritise what I can actually get done in the time available to me – so I decided to drop in here one of my favourite bits of the Featherstone Hall Hotel book – the advice page from the very front which sumarises everything that will eventually go on this page – as my grandma would have said – ‘Well that’s a lesson learned then!’
(TAKEN FROM THE FEATHERSTONE HALL HOTEL BOOK – Pictures of the rooms discussed below can be seen in the GALLERY)
It may seem strange to have lessons learned at the front of the book, but there a few things which as readers, it will help you to know in advance, so that you can better understand some of the processes and ideas which apply to all of the rooms in the house.
I suppose you can divide this section into two parts
– theory and practical. Some things I already understood
before starting this project. I plan my scenes very carefully along basic principles, and I dress my items following the same ideas, no matter if it’s a house, room box or item of stock for my Dee-Daw Designs business.
The latter part of this section is based on things I have
learned specifically from doing this project. I rather naively thought at the start, that I could treat it as a series of room boxes. But I realised very soon into the project that I was very wrong.
Lets start with the basic principles of successful scenes. One of the reasons why the Featherstone Hall Hotel is so interesting to look at is that every square inch of every room works to add detail to the scene. This is combined with the ‘sight lines’ technique, and ‘active’ door areas, to make an intense viewing experience, which keeps people looking and coming back to see it time and again!
But you don’t have to be the best miniaturist in the world, you don’t need to have the best quality pieces, to make something worth looking at. All it takes a little thought – make your scene interesting by carefully thinking through exactly what is going on in the room, and use your dressing choices and the furniture in the room to establish it.
I have always work with a story to my scenes, and I use this story to help me decide what decoration and dressing is required. Of course you don’t even need to have people in the
house if you don’t like them (some don’t!) – an unmade bed, a kitchen table with cooking in progress can tell a story, just as well as having a cook beside it or man in bed reading the newspaper. The most memorable scenes are those in which something is happening, but most importantly, they have the dressing to back up the story.
Once you have decided what is happening in your scene, take some time to work out a colour palette. Like all of the best grand country houses, the Featherstone Hall Hotel has a carefully selected colour palette for each room. In the Grand Hall for example, it’s cream/white,
gold and black. The furniture, rug, walls and staircases all adhere to this selection. It even extends to the occupants of the room, the maid is in classic black and white, Lady Nancy is in cream
with black hair (Her outfit reminds me of the ladies in Downton Abbey!) Sir Michael is in grey/black and the lady going up the stairs although in dark red is accessorised with black (the red picks up the mahogany of the tea trolley). By limiting your colour selections you can add impact to a room and add to the clarity of the scene – less colours equal more impact!
Sight lines are vital to successful scenes. Take a look at the picture of the Toile Room. You automatically look at the people first. The story is that Chloe and Francis have enjoyed their night at the ball with champagne in their room afterwards. Chloe’s parents looked after the children. But now Grandad wants to hand them back and he is annoyed to see Francis still in bed, while Chloe is still dressing, and through the open door, he is urging them to hurry up and take the children back! This circle of viewing keeps going around, and each time around you notice more. After taking in the people, you look around them and the dressing of the scene establishes the context of their position in the room. The fireplace (the clock shows how late they are in getting up and collecting their offspring!) – The dressing table (accessories show she is still getting ready) – and
champagne on the bedside table (shows they really did have a good night last night!) Looking a little longer viewers take in the remaining details – wardrobe (the Gladstone bag on the top, and cases on the floor remind us that they are hotel guests) – the jug and bowl on the chest of drawers shows the room has no ensuite ensuite, and so is one of the less expensive of the hotel.
Every detail tells us something about the room, house and occupants, and the more you can ‘fill in the blanks’ on a scene the more successful it will be!
OPEN DOOR POLICY
One of the key elements in the ‘look’ of Featherstone Hall are the ‘active’ door areas. Wherever possible I have room doors open, and preferably with someone going in or out. My favourite is the doorway between the Grand Hall and Duchess Suite. Open doors provide glimpses of other rooms, add visual interest and stop the house looking like a series of boxes. They are also a great way of bringing hallways to life. You don’t need to have a big hall to make an interesting scene, take a look at the waiter outside Margot’s Room!
That just about rounds off the ‘theory’ section, lets now run through the practical lessons learned!
The very first thing I learned when starting out on this project, was don’t take the flat pack instructions seriously. They were written to help you build the house, and do not consider that you want to decorate it too! Experienced miniaturists will always (I found out later) do a certain
amount of pre-emptive decorating. Things like painting around the window frames inside
and out before building. Decorating the inside of dormer windows before adding them to the roof (covering the roof with the tiling sheet, before adding the dormers would have been a good thing to know beforehand too!)
Keep your project moving by preparing as much as possible before you start to decorate the room – pre-stain and varnish your floors, paint ceilings, doors and skirting boards in advance. Its so frustrating not being able to get on when you have to wait for paint to dry!
The one thing that everyone wants to know about, is the use of partitions in the house. I think that this is probably the most successful part of the project as a whole. I just wish I was better at cutting a straight line – it would have saved a lot of time doing corner cover ups! From the start I knew that the Cottesmore house from Barbara’s Mouldings, which I used for Featherstone Hall,
had huge rooms. But I looked at this as an opportunity, and wanted to make the most of them.
To this day I cannot forget the lady who, when the house first went on display, berated me in front of crowds of people, for having spoiled the house by ruining the lovely big rooms! She is the only person who has ever expressed their distaste for the partitions – but I still cannot see her point!
The trick with the partitions was that, after the house was built, I measured the room heights (the heights decrease as they go up) and went to my local B&Q, bought a couple of sheets of MDF the same thickness as the house structure, and had their cutting machine make strips to the room heights. By having them machine cut, I knew that they would fit perfectly into the house, and all I had to do was the vertical cuts.
I used partitions in virtually every room, by creating ensuite bathrooms, boxing in stairs, creating a bathroom, and reducing the depth of some rooms to allow for a transformer for the lights to be hidden in the unused space. They created more interest in the rooms, made them look more realistic, and made the full house depth rooms (like the Grand Hall) more visually effective. The change in the viewers perspective across the rooms adds impact.
I have abandoned the use of the word ‘curtain’ now after having to make so many pairs when doing the door decorations – I never want to do another pair again! I started out trying to challenge myself into enjoying them by trying to do as many different styles as possible. But
now at the end of my project I have to say it didn’t work, and my advice is (unless you like doing them) buy them!
I only wish you could buy ready made and decorated staircases! I hate stairs almost as much as window treatments! In the end I decided to box mine in as I couldn’t face doing any more! Although I do have to say I really like the effect that the black garden railing have in on stair wells.
HEATH ROBINSON SOLUTIONS
The most important lesson I learned from the Featherstone Hall Hotel project, is not to be afraid of making mistakes. Problem solving is almost as much fun as doing it the right way, and its how you learn to make the next project even better. I’m hoping this is the case, because my next big project is huge, and I’m going to have to make it from scratch. It will be viewable all around, and will have an optical illusion at it’s centre (hopefully) – wish me luck!
(obviously this was written as I was starting to make the Theatre Royal project – and sad to say I did NOT learn all the lessons I should have from the Featherstone Hall – read more about the Theatre on THE BIG STUFF page!)
QUICK TIPS: See below for a few things to think about when planning and dressing your scenes.There is just is not enough room to get in all the things I want to pass on, but here are a few quick points to start with from Featherstone Hall:
MIRRORS: try and set them up to bring light back into the room, orto reflect something you can’t see – take a look at
the use of mirrors in this book to see what I mean.
REALITY: You don’t need to copy reality – you only need to create an impression of reality.
GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW: Add or create scenes which remind you of things you have done, experienced, or people you want to remember – that’s what will make the
HIDDEN TREASURES: You
don’t always need to see the whole of an item, half hiding them leaves them open to discovery!