The Renovation from HELL

I could pretend that a nor’easter of unprecedented fury bore down upon my little Cape Cod house and wrought tragic destruction upon it, and that would be a good story, but the truth is that I couldn’t bear to look at it the way it was any longer and decided to renovate.  Renovate is a nice, clean word that makes you feel all fresh and happy, but the process of renovation is a plunge into the nether regions of HELL.  And that trip ain’t for the faint of heart.

I dunno!  The dark colors of the rooms, and the kitchen flooring I finally came to despise, and the crazy-making $@&*%$!!! ugly black staircase with the railing and balusters that would NOT stick together all drove me to drink.  (OK, that’s a short trip, admittedly.) Plus, every blessed thing I tried to do for that house was soundly rebuffed.  I filled a bin with failed projects.  Finally, one day, sitting there staring at it with a thought bubble over my head in which I smashed it to bits with a ball peen hammer, it dawned on me.  This is a summer house!  What’s with all the dark colors?  What’s with the homely kitchen floor?  What’s with the kitchen unit that looks like no one uses it?  What’s with the ugly staircase the little people will obviously bust themselves up on when they grab the railing and it breaks off, sending them bum over teakettle to the ER?!

There was nothing for it but to renovate.  Make it fresh and clean and bright, like a summer day at the ocean.  With this new inspiration, I set to work! The staircase was pulled out and trashed and the fireplace was yanked out as well as I totally hated the style and color.  Kitchen unit and shelving was torn off the walls, which then required some patch work. The kitchen floor was peeled up and I took the glue off the floor with vinegar and warm water.

Next came removing the baseboards, door frames, window frames and windows.  When I installed the windows, I thought it was  good idea to put them in backwards so that there were little sills in the rooms instead of on the outside of the house.  What was I thinking?!  Beats me, but it meant that I now had to disassemble the windows, swap out the sashes so that the lower one was inside the room, and stick them all back together.  I used a blow dryer to loosen the glue, so the damage was minimal.  Reassembled them, and stuck them back in the way they were meant in the first place.  I had to use vinegar to get the glue unstuck on the baseboard and door and window frames, and had some damage to the floor where puddles of vinegar turned the wood black.  So had to sand and restain in spots.

Now that the house was bare, it was time to get the paint off the walls.  I thought, what the heck, I’ll use nail polish remover and just rub it off!  Nope.  Not unless I have nothing else to do 24/7 for the next 5 years.  So I started sanding it off.  Better results, but painful and time consuming.  So I took the house outside, pulled out my electric sander, and went at it.   By the time I was finished, my hands vibrated on their own for about a week.  BUT, the house was stripped down to bare MDF and plywood and ready to go!

I bought a Ceramcoat acrylic paint called Oyster White.  So apropos!  Went over the whole house with it using a foam brush to give it a “spackled” appearance which is much better than having brush strokes everywhere.  After three coats, I had the fresh, cool color  – or non-color – that I wanted.  Sigh of relief!

The kitchen was a huge challenge and stymied me for months!  I constructed 4 kitchen units, none of which satisfied me.  I even built cabinets using real life carpentry instructions and they came out great, but wouldn’t fit together smoothly. (Will work on that in next house.) Finally, I broke down and bought Houseworks cabinetry and assembled a small unit sufficient for a seasonal home.  p1000526

I wasn’t crazy about the fact that there are noticeable gaps in the doors and drawers.  I’m not sure that I would buy these again.  They turn out looking sort of…shabby…and not in a fashionable way.  And I couldn’t find a paint that I really liked, so defaulted to a chalk paint called Sage.  Not very nautical, but serviceable.  I covered the paint with some white wax and buffed it out, leaving white in crevices.  Added some knobs made with tiny white grommets and brads.  Do I like it?  No.  Am I going to quit while I’m ahead? You betcha.

I used scrap wood to put the overhead shelves together.  For some reason, the Sage paint came out a slightly different color, probably due to a difference in the wood.  Also buffed this with white wax.  Stepped back and looked at it.  Grrrrrrr!



Again, I know when I’m whipped.  I figure once I put in dishes, and groceries and knick-knacks, the shelves won’t look quite as wretched as they do now. Right?  RIGHT?!


The finished kitchen unit.  (At least until I get another wild idea to renovate.)

Next up: kitchen flooring.  The Sage paint made it difficult impossible to find anything complementary.  I went to Lowe’s and grabbed three vinyl tiles for RL houses and played around with them.  I decided on one that played nice with Sage, a sort of greenish-grayish-ocean-y color.  Slapped that down, and stuck down a new wooden border between it and the wooden floor of the entry hall before I had time to find fault with it.  Finding a countertop that would work with Sage and the flooring proved to be totally impossible absolutely maddening, so I just used more of the tile to make the countertop.  I know this isn’t “done” in real houses, but in the interest of remaining more or less sane, I think it’s a good compromise.

I still had the sink from the first unit, so I primed it and turned it from “stainless steel” to “porcelain” and added jewelry findings for the hardware.  And – how sad is this? – I actually put caulk around the edges of the sink so that there’s not an inexplicable gap between it and the counter. Just like in real life.  Ha!


Pay no attention to the bunny fur!!!!

The last hurdle for the kitchen was the staircase.  I bought stringers and wood for risers and treads and assembled a new one.  It came out OK, but I couldn’t for the life of me get the balusters to stick!  I drilled and redrilled the sockets in the treads for them.  I used three different kinds of glues. No dice.  Adding the railing put me over the edge.  It wobbled back and forth on top of the wonky balusters and the whole thing looked like a poorly maintained bridge about to collapse.  I actually DID bust this up with a hammer, and felt like a new woman afterwards.

With renewed vigor, I cut out stringers from illustration board because it’s much easier than basswood to cut accurately with a craft knife.  (Because NO, I am not going to attempt to cut out stringers with the scroll saw my husband bought off a pal at his model train club. I’m really very attached to all my fingers, individually and as a group, and mean to keep in close contact with each and every one for the rest of my life.) I made the risers from illustration board, too. I had some mahogany strips lying around which my husband cut down to the correct width and I cut them to length for treads and glued them to the board staircase.  I painted it with chalk paint, Colonial Teal toned down with some Cottage White.  I’ll use some of the remaining mahogany strips to make newel posts and vertical railings – NO balusters!

p1000517Once I get the horizontal railings attached to posts on the staircase, there will be no casualties to ruin anyone’s summer!

Now I’ve had time to do some fun stuff.  And since Oscar Wilde said that initiation is the sincerest form of flattery, I decided to imitate some of the real life stuff that I thought would be perfect for my little house.

Like a jelly cupboard.  I love these tall, narrow cabinets.  I found a furniture maker on the internet that does cool Colonial style and rustic furniture, and this one caught my eye:


So I made this:

p1000493I left off the latch and the hinges because again, I know when to quit while I’m ahead!  I couldn’t get the finish I would have liked on plain old basswood, so found a chalk paint called Vintage Mustard. I’m loving chalk paints because they’re so soft and subtle.

I liked this RL bottle of wine with a thingie to hang the wineglasses from. (What the heck are those thingies called, anyway?! The pic says wine glass holder, but that doesn’t sound right to me!)


So I made this:


I added a base for the bottle to sit in (and to disguise the fact that the bottle will fall over from the vibration of a gnat’s feet walking on a sponge in Australia).  And honestly?  The hole for the bottle is a tiny bit too big, making the thingie slide around kind of fast and loose.  I gotta fix that.  I got the label for the bottle on the internet – it’s from a wine called Clown Fish.  Well, why not?  The little fish complements the whale on the picture I put together using a pic I found on Google somewhere and some strip wood for a frame that brings it out from the wall. I find I much prefer frameless pictures for the walls.  (Again, please excuse the bunny fur – it’s been a blockbuster shedding season this summer!)

And I loved these little wooden sailboats I found on a shopping site for beach house decor!


But I only did one for my house:

p1000498I might complete the set once the circulation in my cramped hands returns to normal after constructing this one. I used scrap wood and just sanded the bits until they took on the shapes I wanted.  I added a little yellow flag just to be a showoff!   Now that I see these together, mine is taller and skinnier than the real ones.  Darn!!!  I may go back to the drawing board on this one.  And let me tell you, threading the “rope” through the microscopic holes in the boat and then trying to knot it is one of the best times you’ll ever have.  If you’re a masochist.

The most fun was imitating these fish dishes I found on the internet!


I’d love to have these in real life!  But in the meantime, I made these:


I bought some plain white porcelain plates, bowls and mugs.  Using waterslide decals, I transferred the fish plate images to my tiny plates.  I LOVE doing waterslide decals!  I could make plates with them from now ’til doomsday!  Unfortunately, the photo included a big blue store sticker on the plate which you can see on my plate as a great big blue BLOB!  Grrrrr!  I was going to imitate the bowls as well, but of course, a round waterslide tucked into a bowl shape equals a wrinkly mess, so I made do with putting a blue stripe around the bowls and around the mugs as well.

Whew!  That’s it for the kitchen!



I just now need to fill the cabinets, put appliances on the counters, get a mini-fridge to go next to the kitchen unit (along with a trash bin), and add some more wall art and other little things that will make it look like a room that people really live in.  And spill stuff in.

Next time I’ll share the living room renovation, which wasn’t nearly as miserable!

Wicked Little Things

First things first!  I’m totally THRILLED that I earned an Honorable Mention in the Undersized Urbanite competition!!!  All the entries were fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed entering so many mini worlds once the heat was off and I didn’t have to worry about being demoralized by the great work everyone was doing.  I had THE best time participating in the competition and the HM was the icing on the cake.  Thank you to everyone who voted for me!

Now it’s back to business!

The Urban Dictionary defines the word wicked as “New England slang that adds emphasis” similar to very; really; extremely.

Having undergone a CMC arthroplasty on March 3 – removal of the trapezium bone in my thumb – I’ve been sidelined for lo these many weeks from construction on the Cape Cod.  First 2 weeks in a cast and now finishing up my second week in a splint which immobilizes my poor widdle trapezium-less thumb.  Total recovery is about 3 months.  I’ve read my Kindle dry, I  can’t surf one more Hulu wave and was feeling totally crazed watching the house sink into a derelict shack, set upon by wind and rain, its roof sagging forlornly. Metaphorically speaking, as it actually has no roof and the weather right next to the pellet stove tends to be balmy, bordering on tropical.  But you know what I mean.

So, for the last couple of weeks out of the cast, I’ve been working on VERY little things.  Wicked little.  Maybe I can’t put in lighting or reconstruct the kitchen unit that I have – surprise! – torn out already, but I can do little projects here and there just to keep a hand in.  And I mean a hand.  Luckily, the recuperating thumb is on my left hand.  I’ve pressed the fingers into service to hold onto bits and pieces securely enough for me to work on them with my right.  But first, here’s the last projects I finished just before I went under the knife:


When you live in a house near the ocean, you need your favorite flip flops for hitting the beach, right?


You can just kick them off into the boot tray inside the front door and let the stones soak up the sand and salt water.  No muss, no fuss!

I attempted to follow the pictorial tutorial done by Monica at Fabulously Small, but she lost me early on!  So I improvised.  I did use her printie of the flip-flop as a template for mine, with a couple of layers of black poster board for the soles and heels.  I found the fabric pattern on and squished it down to size, printing it on plain white fabric using freezer paper.  The straps were just narrow white wire that glued into holes in the soles and colored blue with a permanent marker.

I also scrapped the end tables in the living room and made new ones to match the coffee table using walnut strips, which I then oiled until they were nice and dark.  And to keep them dust free I needed a little can of Pledge:


How sad is this?  I stripped a RL can of pledge of its label, scanned it, printed it on photo paper and glued it to a piece of wooden dowel as close to 1:12 scale as possible.  The I cannibalized the top from a felt tip pen for the cap.  I had so much fun I stripped lots of other containers in the house and now the all have their contents labeled on bare metal with a Magic Marker so I don’t go spraying the furniture with Scrubbing Bubbles.

So, after my surgery, I started back in with small projects!


Like some propane cylinders for the emergency lantern if the house loses power in a (perfect) storm.  More stripping and scanning – I love it!


Paint cans for storage in the utility room. Yes, naked paint cans in my basement.


I found this hammer charm, along with pliers and some sort of wrench, at A C Moore. The hammer was a funny bronze color, the handle was metal and of course there’s that big old loop on it for dangling from a bracelet, so I chopped the hammer’s head off and spray painted it silver, then whittled out a proper wooden handle.


I had to bust the pliers to make them CLOSE as they look ridiculous gaping open, and just crazy glued it back together.  Looks a bit wonky, but the lady of the house is no great shakes with tools and has dropped the pliers about a hundred times, and that’s my story. The screwdriver was made from a yellow push pin.   During production, the rabbits called the cops to complain about the noise the belt sander was making (something like a gigantic tractor-trailer squeezing through a tunnel about 2 times too small for it), as well as the distinctive odor of melting plastic.


But I really wanted to make some furniture!  I had planned on a tall, narrow cabinet for the kitchen and found a artisan signed jelly cabinet with a sort of “folk art” painting on the door on Ebay that had sold for $70.  Too rich for my blood. But Ebay very helpfully showed all sides of the cabinet, so I was able to see that I could replicate it pretty easily to my own dimensions.  This was my first effort, which served mostly to show me where I was going wrong.


My second effort was better.  The Ebay cabinet boasted an opening door and shelving.  I dug out some tiny hinges from my stash and after careful contemplation, decided that I could save myself a great deal of agony if I used a false door.  Which means no shelves (ergo, no jelly, but I prefer marmalade anyway).  And no bottom (which would have had to be notched to fit around the legs and that just wasn’t happening).  I painted it with Waverly chalk paint in a nice blue called Agave that I snagged at the craft store just cause it was pretty. Next, I needed a “folk art” painting for the door.


The pictures in my kitchen are by Donna from the folkartbydonna Etsy shop.  I asked her if I could copy some of the photos in her shop and shrink them down for my dollhouse.  She was happy to give me permission.  I chose this one for the cupboard door.


Here’s the cupboard in the kitchen.  Please excuse the mess!  Kitchen renovation is a nightmare! And no, I still haven’t finished the staircase.  The balusters and rail keep falling off.


Good heavens!  Look at all the bunny fur EVERYWHERE!


This is Sebastian, the spoiled brat who has to be with me at ALL TIMES and it’s his fur that litters the Cape Cod house.  He is obviously unapologetic. (And yes, he has eyes, and they’re the sweetest hazel color ever!)

Slowly, but surely, I’m getting back up to speed.  There’s so much work to be done!

My Personal Best

OK.  The UU competition is drawing to a close and I’ve managed to semi-finish two rooms of a four room house.  I guess you’d say that’s my personal best!  And I stand by it!

Not much commentary this time.  You know what they say, one picture is worth a thousand words.  And frankly, I’m beat.  I just wanted to finish up the living room of the Cape Cod house, and I mostly did.  There’s still tons of “little things” left to do in the utility room, the kitchen and the living room.  Books.  Dishes.  Lamps (and the entire lighting system).  Plants.  All those little things that make a house a real home.  Not to mention the wall mounted flat screen TV I’m going to hoist up so the fish decoy can watch Hulu all day.  Otherwise, he gets bored and then all bets are off.  He’s been known to trash the house in a fit of boredom.

I know I said that my sofa and chair were going to be made from a Mitchymoo tutorial.  BUT.  I had had my heart set on this gorgeous sectional on Josje’s A Beautiful World site.  And she has a short tutorial on how she made it.  I took one look at it and thought, “Ummmm…..NO! No way, no how, major bad mojo for me to get into this!”  The Mitchymoo sofa looked so much easier and was lovely in its own right.  But, like an itch you can’t reach to scratch, that sectional preyed on my mind.  I wanted it, and I wanted it bad.  Finally, I broke down and went for it.  I used some of the bits from the Mitchymoo tutorial to work around the fiddly parts that stymied me (fusible bond is awesome!!!!), and it didn’t turn out quite like Josje’s, but what the heck!  I actually finished it instead of tossing it my own personal scrap heap, and I’m proud of that.

I added a low, square coffee table (I would have one in RL about 6′ x 6′, I LOVE those things!)- a pine square covered in walnut flooring strips, sanded and gussied up with some tung oil.  I’ll wax it when it’s dry.  The end tables are also bits of pine with walnut – the legs are temporary.  They didn’t come out the way I had envisioned, but they do the trick for now.   The beach “terrarium” on the table is from GoFloat on Etsy – it’s sold as a ring and I asked if I could the bubble without the ring part.  I love it!  The fish is a miniature “antique decoy” from barbplevan, also on Etsy.  It’s got the cutest little teeth!  I couldn’t get a good shot of them, but take my word for it, it has a delightful fishy grin.  And the lovely teal pineapple cushions on the sofa were made by none other than Brae Oktober – I got them from her Otterine shop.  Pineapples are a traditional colonial American symbol for hospitality and when I saw these cushions – HAD to have them!

I made the framed map of Cape Cod, the little magazines and the newspaper with my own delicate little hands. Which are now merely cramped claws after this marathon miniaturing session. Hah!

Without further ado, here are some construction pics and my (semi) finished living room:
















So much more to do!


Kitchen Nightmares

If you think you’d heard bad language on Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, all that bleeping is NOTHING compared to what my dear husband had to endure as I struggled to finish the Cape Cod dollhouse kitchen.  I think he snuck out to CVS and bought some ear plugs. I had a love/hate relationship with that room.  I hated it and it loved to make me hate it!

I thought I was being clever by buying a compact kitchen kit from ELF Miniatures in the UK.  It’s a long countertop with sink, stove/oven, refrigerator and cabinets.  Perfect for a small house.  P1000228

I chose a sleek, black little number and figured I’d have it done in a snap.


Now, I might have done if I was a more accomplished person and had a clean room in my house.  As neither of those things were in place, I had a fight on my hands.  The entire kitchen is meant to be covered in black “film” – something like very thin, glossy contact paper.  And it looks great — until you odd little blotches from paint or flying debris or whatever — and then you have a kitchen unit that looks like it’s been spray painted by vandals and hastily covered over again.  So I ripped all the film off.


Not yet defeated, I sanded it down, and painted it black.  The flat finish wasn’t what I was looking for.  Sanded it again and stained it with Mixwax Jacobean, which is fairly dark.  It looked sooty and charred, as if my little householder had dragged it off a fire pit at the dump.  It was too depressing to even bother taking a pic.

I briefly contemplated smashing it to bits with a hammer, but talked myself down.  Instead, I ripped off the doors and drawers, covered the whole mess with illustration board and waded in again.


I rummaged though my increasingly eclectic stash of odds and ends.  Found some “wainscoting” that looked like cupboard doors.  I stained them and cut one up to make three drawers.  Made knobs from black eyelets with a tiny black brad tucked in to fill the hole in the eyelet and attached them.


I salvaged the stove front and replaced its “clock” from the kit with something I found on Google images.  I had accidentally destroyed the kit stove top because I thought it had an adhesive back and only realized it didn’t when the whole thing ripped.  Again, Google images provided what I thought was a nicer stove top which I printed on photo paper and added a couple of rows of silver pin striping tape, then glued it down to the counter.  The “film” I had chosen for the counter top looked far better on my monitor than in real life.  So I got some contact paper and used that for the countertop.

I used another piece of wainscoting for the refrigerator door.  I painted it black and then dipped it in Triple Thick Glaze to try for that glossy fridge door look.  Almost made it, but Triple Thick and I don’t get along and it has glaring BUBBLES in the finish that irk me every time I see them.

One day, that fridge door will by pried off and replaced! I simply can’t stand thinking about those ghastly bubbles.  I punched a hole in the sink and installed a drain – how can you have a sink with no drain?!  I kept the kit faucet, but the handles were indistinct blobs of metal, so trashed them and made handles from jewelry findings. By the time all this was done, I was beat.


What did I learn?  The shortest distance between two points isn’t necessarily a straight line when on that line there are great big holes filled with tar that you keep falling into and wallowing around in for days at a time.  Next time, I’ll just make the whole unit from scratch.  I think ELF Miniature kits come out beautifully –when somebody else assembles them!


My ELF Miniatures kit bash!

I had also bought the upper cabinet kit, but by the time I got to it, I had wised up and simply fitted it out to match what I’d done with the compact kitchen.


While I was wallowing in those tar pits, I managed to put together a coat rack and a boot tray which will be filled with rocks (I saw these on the internet and LOVED them – what better place to kick off your wet, sandy flip flops or walking boots?!).


I also made some pictures for this room.  The pictures were downloaded, printed on photo paper, Mod Podged to take the gloss off and glued to balsa wood.  I found some really neat velcro stickies for posters, cut them into bits and used them to “hang” the pictures.


I also finished the front door with a replica of a colonial door knocker, handles and dead bolt.

P1000262The coat rack is up and the boot tray is tucked in just waiting for a little coat and shoes to finish them off.  I added the kitchen table and chairs and an HOM kit piece just to see the kitchen come to life a bit, but please excuse any bunny hair floating around in the photos. I have six of them all shedding like they’re prepping for a tropical getaway.











With the deadline only a week away, I have no illusions that I’m going to finish this house!  But if I get the living room complete by then, I’ll be content.  It’s a good thing I’m not a contractor – there’d be some poor family camped out in their back yard for YEARS while I was putting up their house in fits and starts.  They’d finally throw their tent and sleeping bags into their car and abandon the whole shebang while I was busting out the kitchen with a sledgehammer for the third time.

I’ve started the sofa using a tutorial on the MitchyMoo blog, and by halving the measurements, assembled a matching chair. P1000313 Now, if I don’t change my mind 15 times on what color the upholstery should be, I may just have a living room together by this time next week.  But don’t bet on it yet.  You might have better luck with the next multi-billion Powerball drawing.

But I’m keepin’ on keeping’ on!

A Woman’s Perogative

They say it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind, and I’ve been pushing my prerogative to the limit.  So between that and just sinful laziness, I’ve fallen far behind schedule.  Construction is mostly now complete on the first floor, but lighting has become a definite PROBLEM which I won’t go into lest I tear out my hair and go screaming into the snowy Maine woods, never to be seen again.

I had a very Merry Christmas and some time off from work, which tends to transform you into a Netflix bingeing zombie cradling a half gallon of chocolate ice cream in your lap with a big serving spoon in one hand and a sticky remote in the other.  It’s a not a pretty picture.  But some ice cream factory somewhere is handing out bonuses due to an astronomical profit margin.  So I’ve done my bit for the economy.

Before I fell into a lactose-induced coma, I exercised that woman’s prerogative and repainted the living room, going from Oceanus to Cabana Blue.  Then I repainted the utility room from Clean Canvas to plain Ceramcoat white.  I began working on the narrow little staircase, and changed my mind several times regarding the balusters and how I might get just enough width to make it plausible that a small person could actually fit between the railings.



Yes, I put tiny little black nails in the treads. The madness continues. Along with some dark wax to make it look old.

Next came baseboards.  Apparently 18th century baseboards were pretty tall, and cutting 45 degree angles into bits of wood too tall for the cut saw or the mitre box was a nightmare challenge that I truly loathed enjoyed. Finally, after a lot of swearing cheerful humming, I stained them with Ipswich Pine, put on dark wax and installed them (except for the kitchen, which will have a compact kitchen unit unless I totally mess it up in which the little people will get an old stove and refrigerator from the dump). I also stained a bi-fold door for the utility room, and gave it a good buffing with clear wax, no aging as it’s a new door in the old house. I HATE the giant hinges on the back side, but they’re totally cemented to the door, so I have to live with them.


I then embarked on the 12 over 12 colonial windows from scratch, and if you believe that, I have a flying reindeer on my ceiling.  Once again, after many trials and more errors, I came up with a plan: I bought single-paned, double-hung working windows, then stained and waxed all the bits.  Then I painfully measured the panes and drew up a frame and mullions using a desktop publishing program.  I cut them out and glued them to illustration board, which was (hallelujah!) exactly the right thickness to lay flush with the window frame.



You may not know this, but cutting tiny little squares out of illustration board was a method of torture during the Tudor era.  Henry VIII actually sentenced Anne Boleyn to life with illustration board hard labor, and she stuck it out for a while.  She was only beheaded because she literally BEGGED to be executed rather than face one more #!%*# little square. Luckily, I only had 28 of these window frames to cut out, so I survived.  But I’ve gone totally gray.  I then painted them, and stuck one set of mullions to each side of the window, et voila!


Christmas then intruded, and I was able to uncramp my hands and enjoy the day with my little ones.  “Dad” very sweetly put up stockings for Santa to fill, each with their name (Dunkin, Merri, Pooh, Koko, Moses, Sebastian) so they’d know which was their own.  HAH.


The carrot tops concealed rich little packages of rabbit junk food from Pet Smart in the stocking toes.  They went at it like starving savages.


After the festivities were over, I was able to install all the windows (except one, which didn’t survive my experimentation – replacement on order).  I was going to install a Deerfield door until I realized that the decorative little urn at the top came up over the roof line.  I had to cut the bottom out of the door opening in the dollhouse, lower the door, and then plug up the empty space at the top.  The framing will cover the new piece on the inside, but the outside may present a problem which, like Scarlet O’Hara, I’ll fiddle-de -dee think about tomorrow.

I’ve been monkeying about with making newspapers, magazines and Yankee Candles, but in the meantime I swept out the house as best I could to take photos of the current status:



That’s it!  I’ll keep plodding along.  Happy 2016!!!!

Cape Cod Girls (Just Want to Have Fun)

Cape Cod girls ain’t got no combs

Heave away, haul away!

They brush their hair with codfish bones

And we’re bound away for Australia!

What better way to begin than with a rousing sea chantey!  Wikipedia says that “a sea shanty, chantey or chanty is a type of work song that was once commonly sung to accompany labor on board large merchant sailing vessels.”  So, if you were a sailor back in the day, these cheery songs made your heaving and hauling much more pleasant.  And distracted you from the fact that you were homesick, seasick, suffering from scurvy and forced to pound your bread on the table to make sure the weevils fell out before you ate it.

I could have used a chantey these past few weeks as I labored on my little Cape Cod house.  Unfortunately, much of this labor was in vain. I had big plans for the kitchen floor, and spent hours affixing tiny little paper squares to ceramic tiles before I realized (duh) that the tiles were about 5 times the height of the hardwood floors I’d already laid.  I toyed with the idea of simply building a slant into the kitchen tiles down to the hardwood to convey the squirrely floors of an old house.  But I was only kidding myself.  My tiny inhabitants would have to climb Everest-style with pick axes and crampons to get from the front door to the refrigerator.   I then spent more hours affixing even more little paper squares to illustration board to cut the height, but they turned out very wonky when laid down.  As if the mason was drunk at the time. So, I cut my losses and bought some pretend linoleum from Earth and Tree.  It’s NOT what I wanted, but I know when I’m licked.

I wisely moved on to the fireplace and its chimney.  I cobbled together a mantelpiece using thin basswood on which I glued bits and pieces of wainscoting, chair rail and other trim.  Trying to get the lean, clean lines of a Federal fireplace. Like this real life one:cff0d7cf5a27a767aeed88ccd3e92d98


When I was satisfied with that, I turned to the actual firebox.  That’s when genius struck.  Or madness, as I think my husband would describe it.  I decided that the the firebox had to go from the mantel in the living room through the wall into the pantry/utility room next door and connect with the chimney.  Why?  Because I hate looking into a shallow fireplace and seeing that it goes nowhere!  Granted, as you will see, my firebox doesn’t really connect with the chimney, but it looks like it does.  I left the house while my husband used some screeching power tool (shudder!) and when I came back there was a (not so) neat little hole between the two rooms.  OK, there was a crack in the wall – well, two, actually — but he did the best he could and I’m passing it off as the natural deterioration of an historic house.


I was now overwhelmed with this (gaping) hole and it took some time to figure out how to do what I needed to do.  I finally decided I needed 4 pieces for the firebox – two angled sides, a nice deep back, and a top.  My husband pointed out that no one could look up into the fireplace to see the top, but I pointedly ignored him.  I was on a roll!  I had to resort to using a ruler, which was excruciating, but managed to show him how I needed the pieces to be cut.  More banshee squealing of power saws, and I had my pieces! I glued the sides to the back and prepared my bricks.


I spent a few days binge-watching horror movies while I cut approximately 1 million 7/32 x 1/2 inch bricks.  Horror movies are perfect for this because you can follow the simplistic dialogue like a radio program and only have to look up when the screaming starts.  I followed the tutorial on The China Doll site, which recommends slightly snipping all 4 corners of the brick to give it a more realistic look.  This takes on the flavor of medieval torture after a while, but I think well worth the misery.  I used 1/8″ graph paper to line the inside of the box to help keep the bricks straight and set to work.


The bricking went fairly quickly and was actually fun!


Using sponges, I blotted on raw sienna, burnt sienna and yellow ochre acrylic paints (as per the tutorial), but I’m no da Vinci, so was unsatisfied with the result. I scraped some gray and black chalk sticks and used the powder to darken the interior of the fireplace to suggest the bricks had darkened with soot.



I bricked the top (that no one will ever see) and tested it with the box.  I then put down 3 coats of Ceramcoat varnish to protect the paint from the mortar.  I had some scary moments wiping the excess off, but none of the bricks peeled up, so I got away with it!



I recycled some of the failed kitchen floor tiles that I had made from illustration board and slapped them onto the front of the firebox to simulate a sort of slate surround.  Then, I bricked the outside rear of the box. Finished!


On to the hearth and the inside floor of the fireplace!  I now had a use for the ceramic kitchen tiles, using them to fashion the hearth and the firebox floor by gluing them to paper.


I then glued the firebox floor onto some thin basswood to raise it to the level of the living room floor, and mortared the sides, making it a slab for the firebox to rest on.  Glued that to the utility room floor.


I glued down the hearth to the living room floor and mortared both hearth and firebox floor together.


It took some fiddling and filing and sanding to get the firebox through the hole in the wall.  I had left one side bare of brick – the side which won’t be visible once it’s installed – for a particular reason, which I’ll come to later.   And a good thing, too, or I would have had to have my husband bust out more wall.

The moment of truth came when I attached the mantel to the firebox.  I had to turn the house on its end so that the mantel was lying flat, and then weighted it with a big can, appropriately enough, of Boston baked beans!  When I righted it, the mantel didn’t fall off and I counted that as a success.  But I don’t breath too hard on it.

The chimney came next.  Again, I gave my specs to my carpenter and he gave me the pieces.  I ditched the original chimney, which was a solid block of plywood.  Not only was it dangerously heavy (I found out just how heavy when I dropped it on my foot), I realized that I would have a fit aligning it through holes cut in the second floor and the roof.  Forget it!  I got basswood and made a hollow, 3-sided box, just the height of the first floor, with some stabilizers tucked inside to give it some strength and a little give.


I bricked one side and the back.


The chimney sits on the firebox, but not secured to the wall.


It sort of plugs into a smaller block of wood covered with painter’s tape to keep it tight.


Here’s the plan with the chimney:  I hate round wiring, so my plan is to light this house with LEDs inserted into lamps that I’ll make myself (hah hah).  Which entails hiding the battery and the switches.   I want sconces on either side of the Captain’s portrait over the mantel, and realized that the chimney would be the perfect place to tuck the batteries and switch!


I’ll cut slots in the bare side of the chimney for the switch.  The battery will go on the wall inside the chimney.  Which comes off so that I can change the batteries if I ever need to, or get to the wiring for the sconces.  This is the plan.  We’ll see how it works!

So the fireplace is finished!



And the Captain tried out his spot over the mantel.


In other news, I selected some Sherwin Williams paints at Home Depot and purchased little sample pots of each color.  I used Clean Canvas (sounds nautical, like a new sail!) to paint the pantry/utility room and did the floor in gray, as befits a storage space. I used  Oceanus for the living room.

I also finished the hardwood floor of the front entry, extending into the kitchen.


And put down the linoleum. Sigh.  I pouted for a while about my ceramic tile tragedy, but life moves on even though it’s more comfortable to wallow in self pity.


Next up: the staircase.  I had one lying around from another kit and it’s so narrow that in real life you’d have to turn sideways and suck in your stomach to squeeze up the stairs.  I have a plan to make it passable by even broad-in-the-beam mini people using bits and pieces from my shocking stockpile of miscellaneous stuff.   A mountain of epic proportions that makes me look like Smaug the Dragon sitting on his treasure trove!

And after that, 12 over 12 colonial style windows, made from scratch.

Yeah.  Right.

How about another round of a chantey to get me going?!

Cape Cod cats ain’t got no tails

Heave away, haul away!

They lost them all in the northeast gales

And we’re bound away for Australia!





Pumpkin pine, Truro wine & a Captain divine!

Before I begin, check this out!


Is that the prettiest little quart of beach plums you ever saw?!  When I saw a luscious pint of blueberries in the aMusing Miniatures Etsy shop, I sent off a message to Jennifer, its talented proprietress, asking if she could do beach plums. My house is now officially a beach house on Cape Cod, so a tiny basket of Prunus maritime on the kitchen counter is a perfect detail.  Jennifer did an awesome job, and I love them!

OK.  Construction continues with first floor glued in place, and floors being laid. Since this is an 18th century cape, I’ve decided that the floors should be appropriately…how shall we say…well trodden!  Having lived in Massachusetts for 12 years in very old houses with original floors, I can vouch for the fact that some of them are pretty rough!  (You haven’t lived until you catch your sock on an antique protruding nail which sends you flying bum over teakettle.  And I can’t tell you how many earrings I’ve lost in the cavernous cracks between the boards. Good thing they were all cheap.) But I find the old, wide pine planks with their scars and cracks and big black nails, and their soft sheen from probably millions of footsteps to be simply gorgeous.  According to Wikipedia, “Freshly cut eastern white pine is creamy white or a pale straw color but pine wood which has aged many years tends to darken to a deep rich golden tan. Occasionally one can find light brown pine boards with unusual yellowish-golden or reddish-brown hues. This is the famous “pumpkin pine”.  As below.


I wanted this sort of antique flooring for my house, so I set to work in an attempt to create something which would suggest original wood in a very old home.  I grabbed some 1/32 sheets of birch plywood and lightly sanded them with fine sandpaper just to get to fresh wood.  Then I put a thing coat of boiled linseed oil on, followed by three coats of Minwax stain – Ipswich Pine (which originated – ta da! – in Ipswich, Massachusetts!).

Then, I sliced up the sheet using a heavy duty cutter which supposedly has a self-sharpening blade you never have to replace, but we’ll see how that works since I don’t think Fiskar’s had WOOD in mind when they made this bold statement.  I made what I thought were “wide plank” boards – about 1/2 inch wide.  I could have gone wider and still been in scale, but to my discerning eye, anything bigger started to look like something that should go into a Barbie house.  So I quit while I was ahead.

I cut out a black poster board subfloor and stuck down the “planks” with Aleene’s tacky glue.  Once it was dry, I lightly sanded again, slapped on two more coats of Ipswich Pine and…here’s where it becomes a case of “OK, seriously?!”  My “OK, seriously?!” moments are when I decide to do something tedious and minuscule that will leave me wondering if I’ve completely lost my mind.

I decided that the planks MUST HAVE little black nails!  So I ordered some practically nonexistent brass nails from MicroMark which have heads that are 40/1000th of an inch in diameter.  Yeah.  And then I stuck 100 of them in a piece of foam and laboriously dotted each head with spray paint primer for metal, and then with black spray paint.  You still with me?  Then, I drilled itty bitty holes in the planks, inserted the nails and gently tapped them in with a little hammer with a cloth covered head so the black paint wouldn’t come off on impact.  And the paint stayed on…until I put down three coats of Myland’s mahogany paste wax. And buffed most of the nails back to their (ghastly) brassiness.  I would have screamed, but, dizzy  and hallucinating from stain and wax fumes, I had no energy for a meltdown.  I merely crept off to bed and collapsed.


But I have to say, I rather like the end result!  All the cracks and scars are there (courtesy of the Fiskar’s cutter), just like some RL floors I’ve walked on.  The camera’s flash washed the pumpkin-y look out of the second pic, but it shows all the wear and tear and THE NAILS!!!

Along with the major, ongoing construction, I like to do little projects with a quick result because I’m fidgety and impatient.  I figured that, along with the beach plums, there will be other items in the house specific to Cape Cod.  Truro Vineyards is located in North Truro, Mass.  I can’t tell a Pinot Noir from a Pinot Grigio, but I know a nice label when I see one, and I love these ones!

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So, I ordered a couple of green glass mini wine bottles, scrunched the labels down in Word and printed them on photo paper. (I have an inkjet and I get the cleanest and clearest results from photo paper when I’m feeling too lazy to run down to Staples and get images laser printed.)  I then peeled the paper from the back of the images, trying to get the thinnest layer possible for the label.  After a lot of futzing around with ink and water, trying to imitate white and red wines, and getting appalling results, I broke down and went out for some cranberry and apple juices, and squirted them into the bottles.  More futzing around with paper clay, trying to seal them.  Paper clay not being my forte, that was quickly abandoned.  But then I found some shrink wrap in my voluminous stash of mini stuff.  I punched out a little circle from the wrap and then cut a short tube to pull down on the bottle neck.  I tucked the little circle in on the top, then used a blow dryer to shrink the tubing.  A little trimming and voila!  Nicely sealed!  My joy was short-lived when I realized the juices were evaporating!  So, the shrink wrap will come off and I’ll cork the bottle air tight before shrinking again.  That’s for another day.  The biggest struggle was getting the labels to stick to the glass bottle!  I tried everything suggested by anybody on the internet: Mod Podge, white glue, beading glue, super glue, rubber cement – you name it!  Finally, I grabbed a lowly glue stick, scrubbed some on the labels and…they stuck!  I couldn’t believe. it.  Glue sticks don’t work for ANYTHING!  Well, now I know better.  They work for little wine bottle labels.


My other little project was a portrait for the living room of the Cape house.  I navigated the web, looking for portraits of sea captains in Google images.  And while I found many which were perfectly fine, when I found this divine gentleman…

627a6b881083a92cd5c267be31a5ead7-2 I knew right away HE was the ONE!  

His name was Captain John Howland, and according to what I’ve read, he was born in 1776 and went to sea at age 12, as a cabin boy.  By 20, he was a captain.  Not too shabby!  This portrait is by an unknown artist and apparently hangs in the New Bedford whaling museum. (While I definitely do NOT endorse whale hunting, the museum is a lovely place to visit, even given the grisly subject matter.)

I printed his portrait on photo paper to get the best result.  Of course, too glossy.  So, with a sea sponge (hah!!!), I gave it a couple coats of Mod Podge.  Nice textured matte effect, looking something like a portrait with brush strokes.


Using bits of chair rail, I assembled a frame.  Because I wanted the frame to look like an antique, I put on a coat of antique gold Rub ‘n Buff and then used a straight pin and fine sandpaper to pull some of it off.  I then dirtied it up with some more Myland’s mahogany paste wax, so that the frame looked more like it had been banging around for about 200 years.  Captain Howland was carefully installed within, and he’s ready to take his rightful place above the mantel.   When there is a mantel.


I just love his calm, handsome face!  He looks so cool and capable, as though he could have easily brought even the Titanic safely into port.

Back to work!  I’ve cut about 9 million bricks from egg cartons in preparation for the chimney, and have to find some proper linoleum for the kitchen.  And there’s the staircase…!  No rest for the wicked, as they say.

The Lurking Menace…and Construction Begins!


The Lurking Menace is my Californian rabbit, Merri.  Woe betide me should I leave projects unprotected!  As she lies demurely under my worktable, you’d never guess she’s reduced a Mini Mundus desk to rubbish, rendered a HOM Queen Anne wardrobe a  hopeless splintered mass, and devoured my Newport instruction booklet nearly whole. Her nickname is The Great White Whale, and like Moby Dick, she is unrelenting and remorseless!  And can drag heavy objects off low-lying tables to boot.  Beware!!

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Despite the threat looming over it, construction has begun on the Cape Cod (style) house which I’ve chosen for my project.  Very successful dry fit.

I discovered that the kit has an interesting floor plan – centered partition designs which leave parts of the interior front tucked away from view.  I wasn’t sure I liked this, as it seemed “wasted space” but as I began to muddle with it, I began to warm to the idea of peeking around corners or peering through windows or the front door to see these hidden places.  This will necessitate getting it right before the ceiling goes on, because there will be no turning back!

I had decided that unlike my previous efforts, I wasn’t going to just slap this house together in a crazy, half-assed sort of way, consequences be damned, just because I want to SEE something done.  Nope.  Cool, calm, collected PLANNING is the order of the day.  And that’s where the trouble began.  Researching genuine antique Capes on the internet (like this cute little 18th century job below) revealed that they are designed around a central chimney.  I want this house to be like a REAL Cape, so nothing would do but I had to have a central chimney.  Even in a house with no cluster of partitions, this can present a problem.  Putting in a chimney from floor to roof eats up a lot of prime real estate!colonial-cape-cod-2268048

My husband suggested just putting a chimney on the roof and “pretending” the rest of the chimney exists  out of sight somewhere. I couldn’t even dignify that with an answer.  Then he suggested I put the chimney on one end of the house. Horrors!  I’m building a Cape, not a tarpaper shack! A little Googleing can turn you into a right architectural snob.  He rolled his eyes, but diplomatically didn’t press the issue.  I spent an ENTIRE Saturday fudging the partitions around, dodging hubby’s helpful suggestions, trying to figure out what to do with the flippin’ chimney!


My rabbits boys, Pooh and Koko, wisely remained silent, letting Mommy think.  Finally, the dim bulb over my head flickered weakly – put the chimney in a pantry in the kitchen!  That’s it!  When the old place was remodeled, they smushed in a little niche around the chimney to keep stuff in.  Genius!  And on the second floor – an exposed chimney with a small closet squeezed in next to it.  The idea is that this house is a nice getaway place, but old and small.  Cramped quarters, if you will!  So the idea is that space will have to be utilized to best advantage while preserving the old historic bits.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Once I got the chimney question sorted out, it was time to remove all the tape and add windows and a back door.  As I may have mentioned, I can’t use a ruler.  My husband says, “Measure twice, cut once.” But for me, it’s more like, measure five times, cut once and it’s still wrong.  I let him do the measuring AND the cutting, as power saws make me plug my ears and run screaming from the room.   You should have seen the look on his face when I told him I needed 9 more windows and a door!  He doesn’t know the half of it yet.


More windows!!  And an “oooops!”  Decided I didn’t want this window after all and had to plug it up.  I’ll stick some spackle in the chinks.  It’ll be fine!


And so the first floor is glued together, using my trusty clamps and one of my 5-pound hand weights.  Notice the nibbled end.  Merri strikes again!  And there’s the chimney.  I know it looks gigantic, but once it’s covered in egg carton bricks, and the second floor and the roof is added, it won’t look like a massive blank totem pole about to topple and crush the clueless tiny inhabitants.

So far, so good.  Early days…!

Ethical Disclaimer & The Beginning

My mother’s formal education was cut short at an early age, but she was a voracious reader. She taught me to read before I went to school, and there were always lots of books in our house.  She used to say that if you know how to read, you can do anything.  A lofty claim, but it’s mostly true.  I suppose that even if you were urgently required to shut down a runaway nuclear reactor, you could do it, if someone has left sensible instructions taped to the desk.  Which brings me to my ethical disclaimer.

When it comes to miniatures, I’m not a creative genius.  Everything I’ve accomplished so far, I’ve done with the help of many scarily talented and incredibly generous miniaturists posting very kind tutorials, complete with photos, for people just like me.  I can read, and therefore can do (almost) anything with written (or photo) instructions.  Any talent I may possess consists of giving the finished product my own spin.  Well, they do say God is in the details, right?  Or is that the devil?  Hmm!  Anyway,  I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due, so whatever I materialize for this contest, I’ll be happy to point out whose fault it is.

And so it begins!

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Re: the Undersized Urbanite contest, this little chair is what got me thinking.  I “won” it on Ebay by being the only person to bid on it.  $10.  What a deal!  It’s very neatly made, and it’s signed “Bill and Leona” which I Googled to discover that they are famous.  So there.  I have a tutorial on this same sort of chair which involves microscopic nuts and bolts which, frankly, gives me the heebie-jeebies to contemplate fiddling around with.  To save my sanity (and my husband’s), I decided that letting Bill and Leona do the work was the safest bet.


Here is Vicki, showing you the chair is not only cute, but sturdy and comfortable. Vicki should be wearing a bikini, but she’s happy enough wearing her fall ensemble, which happens to be her ONLY ensemble.  Clothes for this little person are shockingly expensive.  She lived in a pair of Victorian pantaloon thingies for the longest time until I took pity on her and bought this outfit from JingsCreations on Etsy.  She will remain barefoot for the time being.  Shoes for her are out of the question when I can spend the same amount of money at Payless on a pair for myself!  When she’s impertinent enough to complain about her shoeless state, I remind her that she’s living RENT FREE in a RealGood Toys Newport and hasn’t the least idea of what life in the real world is like.  Besides, I have a tutorial on making doll shoes.  Before she knows it, she’ll be staggering around in a grossly misshapen, but well-intentioned, pair of something vaguely resembling shoes that I will be happy to cobble together for her, albeit with a great deal of swearing.  She’ll love them!

But I digress.  The little chair, Patti Page singing Old Cape Cod, and a colonial dollhouse kit (called “The Windham” which arrived today with the lovely scent of Earth and Trees Miniatures lingering on the box) is forming a tiny little idea in my brain!  Whether I will ruthlessly stamp this tiny little idea out or allow it to flower remains to be seen.  More to come!