Monday, December 10, 2012

Hangin' out on the veranda

I do love the wraparound porch, but I don't love the fact that it's plain, smooth MDF.  Well, we can fix that.

All you need is some strip balsa wood, a pencil, a ruler (or other straight edge), a utility knife and a pair of scissors.  

At 3/4" by 12" (and 1/32" thick), the stripwood is both long and too wide, so it needs to be cut.  I measured and marked each strip into 3-7/8" sections, and I also drew another line straight down the middle of it.  Each strip yielded 6 "planks" with a little bit left over.

There's one thing you should know about balsa wood: it's very weak along the grain, but not so much across it.  Splitting it was easy; I used the utility knife to score a line down the middle, and then I simply exerted a little pressure on it to make it snap.  Kinda like cutting plexiglas.  Balsa isn't quite so fragile when you're going against the grain, though; attempts to use the score-and-snap technique resulted in… well, a mess.  I used scissors instead.  Worked like a charm (cutting along the grain with scissors is not a good idea; the wood will split in ways that you did not intend).

Next, I used wood glue to fix the boards to the MDF.  I used the glue sparingly but balsa will curl no matter what. I've been working a section at a time, weighing the boards down with wooden blocks until the glue dries.  This is what it looks like right now:

Interesting, isn't it?  I'm not sure if you can see it, but I drew guidelines onto the MDF to ensure that I laid the boards straight.  I'm nearly done the side of the porch, and then I'll work on the front.  The corner is going to be a bit of a challenge; I'll probably need to miter the boards there.  We'll see.

By the way, this picture does a good job of displaying the unevenness of the paint, doesn't it?

Once I finally get all the boards laid down, I can start the oh-so-fun process of putting masking tape all over the place again so I can stain the porch.  Minwax has a nice gray stain that I'll likely use on the shingles, too.  Then I can finally start working on the inside.  Woot!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

It's coming along...

So having (mostly) constructed the cottage, I've been slowly working on the exterior, seeing as how I'm a massive slob and know better than to do any decorating before the outside is done.

One of the things I love best about this hobby is the tendency for actions to have unintended consequences that actually work to my advantage.  For example, the first thing I did was give all outside walls two coats of KILZ Odorless Primer.  Much to my annoyance, the primer raised fibers in the MDF, giving the initially smooth (milled) siding a rough look (also, some of the primer made it inside the cottage but as I said, I'm a slob).  I grabbed my sanding block and prepared to give the thing a good going-over.


The raised fibers sort of looked like wood grain.  In fact, they looked a lot like wood grain, and I decided that it looked cool.  I put my sanding block away.

I then painted the walls with the lovely Valspar sample I bought.  I had two unintended consequences with this one:
  1. I forgot that paint tends to dry darker, so the house isn't going to be quite the color I expected it to be.  The actual color is still very pretty, though, so this doesn't bother me.
  2.  Despite the two undercoats of primer, the paint job was somewhat less than perfect.  I'd been hoping that I wouldn't have to use more than one coat for fear of covering up the cool wood-grain effect, but there was no other option.

I like the unevenness of the paint.  It's not blatant (I'll have pictures later, though I doubt that you'll even be able to see the "problem") but when you look at it closely, it's got that slightly-faded look that means that the thing needs to be repainted - not now, but sometime in the not-too-distant future.  Again, I decided that it looked cool, and abandoned plans to add a second coat.

So right now, the house is on its side atop my dining room table.  This is because I decided that a beach house should probably have a cement foundation, so I have been troweling on some slightly-diluted dollhouse mortar.  It looks fantastic; I hope it holds up.

In-between making messes, I painted the door, the windows and the ladder.  I also cut acrylic "glass" to fit the windows because, as previously mentioned, the door came with panes of acrylic but the windows did not.  This is the first time I ever cut plexi, which is a deceptively simple-appearing process that is nonetheless fairly time-consuming... although I'm more than willing to admit that my inexperience is probably to blame.

You cut acrylic by scoring it several times with an acrylic or glass-cutting tool, then exerting pressure along the cut line until it snaps.  If you don't cut deeply enough or often enough, the plastic will break where you don't want it to, and you will be sad.  Miraculously, though, I managed to ruin only one small piece of it, so I'm going to go ahead and declare this a success.

Monday, November 12, 2012

And now, the other cottage

Last month, Hobby Builders Supply offered these at an obscene discount:

Cute, right?

As I mentioned previously, a few of my friends bought these, too, and we all gathered together this past weekend to put them together.

If you want one of these cuties (HBS no longer sells them but they are still available elsewhere), be aware that it comes in two versions: one with a component kit (which includes 3 windows, a door and a ladder) and one without.  The one with the component kit has siding milled into the MDF, while the other kit has smooth walls.

This is a Houseworks kit so it's not only solidly-made, it was easy to assemble.  We were at it for quite a long time but if you exclude the amount of time we spent gabbing and goofing around (not to mention the very leisurely lunch break), I'd say we got them put together in about 2 hours (which includes time spent taping the pieces together and waiting for the glue to dry before proceeding to the next step).  I dry-fit the windows and doors but will not glue them into place until they are painted and finished (for some odd reason, the windows don't come with glass, although the door does).  I also didn't assemble the roof, figuring that the loft would be next to impossible to decorate with it on.  To make things even easier, the floor/ceiling slides out and does not need to be glued in place.

My friends don't know what they're doing with their cottages yet, but mine is going to be a shabby chic beach cottage.  I have already picked up several sheets of scrapbook paper (do people still shell out for actual dollhouse wallpaper anymore?) and picked up a really pretty paint sample to use for the exterior.  Behold Valspar's "Secluded Garden":

It's not quite as dark as it appears in the pic, but it is a super-pretty soft teal.  I'll be painting the doors and (shuttered) windows white.  I don't know what I'm going to paint the porch, though.  Gray?  Taupe?  I don't want to do white, but I want a contrast with the green.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

I'm back

And yes, I am properly ashamed of myself.

I know that there are a great many people who swear by Greenleaf dollhouses but I am absolutely not one of them.  Give me a Houseworks or Real Good Toys house any day of the week but please, please keep the Greenleaf stuff away.

And then I bought the Sugarplum Cottage.

It was on sale on my club's sales table for only 5 dollars, and it was already mostly-constructed.  I figured that my friend's kids would like it, so I bought it (I later discovered that it was for sale because the previous owner hated it even more than I do.  In fact, she offered to refund my $5 if I agreed to come over and watch her set fire to it).

But I soldiered on… kind of.  I told myself that I would not be permitted to work on anything else until this thing was finished and shipped off.  This backfired severely.  See, I did stick to my resolve and quit working on my other projects, but it turns out that not working on anything else did not, in fact, motivate me to work on the cottage.  Ultimately, the only thing that worked was telling myself that I wasn't allowed to go to N.A.M.E. Day unless I finished the cottage.

I finished the cottage the night before N.A.M.E. Day.  Here it is:

Yeah, plastic roof.  I would probably feel bad about that if the adorable Tudor trim wasn't made out of cardboard.  I made up for it by making cushions for the settles, a mattress and linens for the bed, and interior window trim.  The butterflies are scrapbook embellishments and the wallpaper on both floors are scrapbook paper (I don't know why the 2nd-floor paper photographed so peach-y; I assure you, it's pink).

So onto stuff I actually want to work on!  As it turns out, though, I will not be returning to the MiniTown Loft just yet.  That is because had an insane sale ($20!) on these little cuties:

A few of my mini-obsessed friends and I are having a kit-building party this weekend.

The loft will not die, but I intend to build the vast majority of what's going in it by hand... and, well, my procrastinating over the Sugarplum has put me severely behind schedule.  I will not have time to execute my plans for the loft before the next show, but I will have plenty of time to do what I want to do with the little charmer above.

And none of it involves tab-and-slot furniture punched out of a sheet of wafer-thin plywood. ;)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A brief detour

A month ago, I purchased a mostly-constructed Sugarplum Cottage for a paltry $5 and decided to rehab and finish it for a friend's kids.  And then I got a new job, and have therefore not spent a lot of time on it.

The time I have spent on it has been... memorable.  First off, the lady that built it wasn't as careful as she could have been, so I've had to do a little patching and re-gluing here and there.  And then there are those spots where things just didn't fit right.

I don't mean to badmouth Greenleaf houses, but lets just say that they are not made of the sturdiest plywood.  Any attempt to separate any misaligned pieces will almost certainly result in their destruction.  Heck; I broke a piece while pushing it out of the plywood sheet and had to glue it back together, so there is no way I'm going to try fixing anything that's already been glued down.  I've had to swallow my pride and my perfectionist tendencies and shrug it off.

I stained the floors, and they turned out pretty well, but then I started painting the exterior... and the plywood ATE the acrylic paint!  I probably should have primed first but since I didn't have a problem with the stain, I assumed the paint wouldn't be a problem, either.  Ha!

So 4 coats later, it's finally acceptably painted and waiting for the application of the trim (which is made of cardboard, fml) and a coat of poly to seal it (I'm a bit worried about splinters).  Pics when I've got it looking decent.

An update on the loft: I got the doors done.  They're stained a lovely shade called "Jacobean"  and I put brass fittings on them: handles on the French doors, doorknobs and a kick-plate on the entry door.  I also stained all the interior window trim (same color), and painted the exterior trim.  It has also benefited from the laziest wiring job in recorded history... but when you're a noob, you need to keep things as uncomplicated as you can.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Know what this thing has?

Openings.  Lots and lots of openings.  It has openings for a door, a small window, two large windows, one very large window and two skylights.  Plus I, in my infinite wisdom, decided to add a powder room to the mix, so there's an additional door.

Oh, on an intellectual level, I knew that there were a lot of openings.  But it's one thing to know about them and quite another thing to work on them; I have spent the last two days painting and staining doors and door/window trim.  And remember, each door/window/skylight has both interior and exterior trim, so I've been having a great time.  No, wait... what's the opposite of a great time? Yeah, that.  That's what I've been having.

The doors are French doors, which means it has mullions.  These, thank heavens, are removable, so all I had to do was cover the plexiglass inserts with masking tape.  Yay!  Then, I will frost the glass on the powder room doors (I thought double French doors would look cooler, even though the powder room isn't going to be much wider than they are) and I'm done!

Sorry for the lack of pictures, but I didn't think I needed to illustrate the application of Minwax. ;)

Oh, and I also did some wiring.  More about that, later.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

And onto the next thing...

I bought the MiniTown Loft Kit from Hobby Builders Supply.

I've uploaded the stock picture instead of an image of my own because I've put the thing together and yes, it does look exactly like this.

I'm envisioning this as a 2-person office space, maybe for a start-up web publisher or something, and I want an urban/industrial vibe to it. The floor on the main level will be concrete, the floor of the loft will be wooden. The back wall will be brick; I will paint the other walls but I haven't decided on a color yet. There will be a small powder room in the rear right corner of the main level, and a kitchenette in the loft. The rest will be office space.

I also bought the component kit because I don't feel like cutting plexiglass and trim for all the windows and skylights. I think the staircase (which also came with the component kit) will take up too much space, so I will bash it into some kind of switchback arrangement.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

All Done!

Because I am a lazy sloth and of course waited until the last minute to finish up, I don't have as many pics as I wanted to have because I spent that time… you know, finishing up. :)


Now that I had the whole thing taped up, glued together and patched with tape and/or oaktag, it was time to do the fun stuff. Like putting "stucco" on the outer walls, using DecoArt Texture Terra Cotta (color is Santa Fe), applied with a small palette knife. I overlapped the exposed brick a bit.

Doesn't that look nice? Yeah, I don't like it, either. I'm going to have to do something about that.

Much better! I made a solution of brown acrylic paint and water (4:1) and sponged it on. I then immediately rolled a wet, wadded-up paper towel over the surface, unevenly removing the wash. And although I didn't get a pic of it, I added an antiqued bronzed brooch finding above the window.

So now that that's done, let's work on the interior.

While working on the bakery project, I discovered that the best source for wallpaper is the scrapbook aisle at the local craft store. Last time, I used regular scrapbook paper and had to apply it to white cardstock to keep it from wrinkling. I then glued the cardstock up with liquid glue. But if you're lucky enough to find an appropriately printed cardstock, you can skip the intermediate step and ModPodge that sucker directly to the wall.

I found a really nice piece of cardstock that looks like Venetian plaster that has seen better days. Perfect! I used dark green paint on the casement window, then added some of the leftover brown wash (I let it dry instead of wiping it back off). I then put on a coat of "weathered wood" texture medium and when that dried, I added a thin coat of green again. This gave the paint a slightly shabby look that didn't photograph as well as it looks. The window handles are from Houseworks (Houseworks is great; just don't buy their clapboard siding). I sealed the taped-up edges with Sno-Tex.

And now, the finished product… all furnished up!

On the walls, left to right: a miniature painted plate given to me as a gift, two jewelry findings connected by a twisted length of red embroidery thread, two enameled charms with the hanging loops clipped off.

In the window: a clay geranium purchased from Hobby Builders Supply.

On the floor, left to right: a terra cotta planter from HBS (filled with pieces of a floral pic purchased from a craft store), a basket and some grapes, both from HBS (I made the grape leaves from punched floral tape and fine-gauge floral wire), and a pair of pruning shears, also from HBS.

Furniture: balloon-back chair from HBS, handcrafted table (made from a mahogany wooden disk, a resized-and-printed image of a mosaic tabletop and bent-wire legs covered in DecoArt Texture Fierro).

On the table: battery-operated brass lamp, reading glasses, wine bottle and wineglass (all from HBS), and a miniature newspaper purchased at a craft store.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Building the walls

Now that we've got the floor squared away, it's time to put the walls together.

The walls were pre-cut from foamcore, but they still weren't quite ready for assembly. For one thing, they were flat. In order to make them fit on the base, they needed to be bent. Foamcore doesn't really like to bend, so it needs a little help.

The answer is to v-e-r-y carefully score it with a sharp craft knife, resulting in a sort of hinge (miraculously, I managed not to cut all the way through the foamcore but if you do, there's no need to panic; you can always tape the pieces back together). I also cut window openings into both walls.

Once I scored the pieces, it was time to put them together. The larger wall went in back, and the "wings" bent forward so that the entire construct fits neatly on the base. There is a largish gap between the front and back walls, but only in the center; the side pieces fit together snugly. I taped the side pieces securely together with masking tape. You can't see it, but I stuffed a couple of pieces of styrofoam into the center section for stability's sake. And I dry-fit the adorable casement window (from Houseworks) for about the 50th time, just because.

The kit also came with a few patches of "brick", also made from spackle, that were intended to give the walls that "lived-in-but-not-necessarily-well-maintained" look. I'm planning to stucco the exterior wall and I want it to look like the stucco came off in a couple of places, exposing the brick. In order to do that, I could glue the patches of brick onto the walls and then cover them with a thick layer of stucco OR...

I could do what I did, which was trace around the patches of brick and using that sharp craft knife once again, cut around the outlines and peel away the paper. Then I carefully gouged out the foam to about half the depth of the wall and glued the bricks into the resulting holes. Voila!

Notice that I taped over the corners of the outside wall, where the "hinge" left gaps.

I gave the bricks the same treatment I gave the floor: I painted them (brick red, what else?), further tinted a few of the bricks with pastel chalk, and then slapped a coat of varnish on top. Once everything was nice and dry, I grouted it... but this time, I wasn't so careful cleaning up. This resulted in a pleasantly shabby-looking effect.

The last thing I needed to do was cover up the gaps between the center sections of the interior and exterior walls. I used oak tag (also known as "the stuff they make manila folders out of") to cover the top and to line the window openings. In order to make the oak tag bend cleanly, I had to score it. I know my limitations, so my handy-dandy sharp craft knife remained securely in its case because there was NO WAY that I wouldn't cut all the way through (oak tag may be thick, sturdy paper, but it's still just paper). Instead, I lightly went over it with my paper cutter, being careful not to exert any pressure. This gave it the light scoring I needed to give it a nice, sharp-edged bend. I also cut notches into the top so that the stiff oak tag would curve neatly over the tops of the walls.

And here's the finished product, complete with somewhat grungy-looking brickwork.

Next time, we'll finish up the walls.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hi! Long time, no post.

Well, things have been crazy busy for quite some time, but I'm finally back in the swing of things... just in time for the upcoming show!

This year, I've got something a little different: a vignette. This is a very simple structure consisting of a pair of foam core (aka paper-backed foam board) walls and a round, "flagstone" floor cast from, of all things, spackle. Sounds like fun, yes?

Let's start with the floor. I would love to tell you how to cast one but, unfortunately, I'm not the one who did it. I can tell you that spackle-cast pieces are flat and flexible; mine came glued to a circle of foil-faced insulation. Obviously, the pallid color of the spackle wasn't going to cut it, so I painted it a nice, flat slate gray.

Nice enough, but not very interesting.

There are ways that you can spice it up, though. The instructions say to use acrylic paint to dry-brush some other colors onto it. I, however, am a cheapskate so I just used some pastel chalk that I already had lying around. I rubbed the chalk over the surface of the stones and then used a stencil brush (though any stiff-bristled brush will do) to blend the color in. I then gave the whole thing a good coat of varnish and let it sit for a few hours.

After it was nice and dry, I added some plain old sand-based mosaic grout, waited 15 minutes and wiped off the excess with a damp paper towel. Then I let it cure overnight before giving it a more thorough wiping with another damp paper towel. I want this vignette to look a little dilapidated and the pristine look of the dove-gray grout didn't really work, so I made a 1:1 mix of black acrylic paint and water to serve as a wet wash. It dirtied the grout up nicely.

So here's the finished floor. The colors are actually more subtle than the photo depicts:

Next up: the walls.