Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Augean Stables? Not really.....

The fifth labour of Hercules was to clean the stables of King Augeas in a single day.   My task was to fill my new stables as quickly as possible, with the help of my faithful family and friends....

Hold on a moment, I hear you cry.   I thought you had a dolls house museum, not a horse-riding establishment?   And this is, of course, quite true.   I have a museum and right from the start it has been bursting at the seams.  

Cue slight diversion: Does anyone remember how Small Worlds looked when we first opened? Until I was trawling photos to put in this blogpost I had forgotten that we began with a completely different layout, not only for the houses, but also in the Children's Corner - a quick reminder:

Original layout in 2013 - one bay
New layout in 2014

Three bays although third is narrow...
But however we fiddled with the layout, not only has there been little space to display any new houses, it has also not been possible to shuffle houses out into a nearby room whilst something else is shown - I had to get things into the car and back to the garage of my house.   In addition, every nook and cranny was filled with boxes, often out of my reach at the top of high shelves.  I never climb a ladder if I am alone in Small Worlds - too many of my friends have come to grief that way - and so any tall visitor was in danger of being enlisted to get something down from the heights.

This usually involved precarious balancing on the ladder whilst opening up many boxes since I couldn't really remember what was in some of them. Many flat items were stored beneath the shelf units and the general effect was very cluttered.

Since I opened Small Worlds four summers ago I have been politely enquiring whether there might not be some available space in the same building - which already houses the town library, my hairdresser, a highly skilled masseuse and a children's doctor. 
I was aware that there had once been a playgroup along the corridor, in what I was told had once been the town prison, but I had never seen a child, other than waiting to see the doctor.   For some reason, however, I kept being assured there was no space free. 

3rd door along on the left
So I was more than delighted when my friend Jana, who gives me great support in all my dealings with the town council, and also sometimes takes over in Small Worlds when I am back in the UK and we open for the Farmers' Markets, told me that she had heard directly from the playgroup leader that she was giving up her tenancy of the three small rooms behind the metal door along the corridor and that we could go and take a look at them.

This was right at the end of July, just before I left for a few days in the UK to celebrate a very special 99th birthday, so we only made a swift visit but I could at once see the possibilities.   I was a little daunted by the rather flamboyant colour scheme of lurid pink, orange and lime green, and the enormous pile of empty teabag boxes in the middle room, but Jana assured me that everything would be cleared away (the boxes were apparently left over from a project that the children had been working on) and I knew that much of the wall space would be taken up with shelf units, thus hiding some of the glaring colour.

After viewing the rooms we hastened round to the Town Hall (which thanks to some EU funding, and to my great relief, now boasts a comfy lift) and sought a meeting with the mayor.   He was very willing to rent the rooms to me though apparently it was going to take a while to get the necessary admin done.   I pointed out that my son and grandchildren would be visiting in a couple of weeks time and that it would be fantastic if I could make use of their services to shift stuff.   He saw no problem with that, even if the formalities could not be completed so quickly, and it was agreed that as soon as the rooms had been emptied, I could occupy them. 

Original Children's Corner

I promised Adam that I would only ask for one day's help so as not to encroach further on their holiday, and my aim on that day was to construct six sets of metal shelves, shift everything that was not a display item, or
Children's Corner 2014
part of the Children's Corner,
out of Small Worlds, and, if possible, also clear my garage of four shelves full of stuff, along with the shelves themselves, plus many boxes that were standing around.   Ah yes, and not to forget the giant dolls house that was taking up one corner of the garage.

All green boxes to be moved
In preparation for much box and book shifting, and knowing that two of the shifters are quite young, I bought a flat-bed trolley and a porter's sack barrow (neatly known as a rudl in Czech).   I sat down and worked out what had to be moved, including such items as the old video cabinet out of the Children's Corner and a couple of the drawer units.   Then, having just got back from the UK, I sat back and waited for the family to arrive.   

Fortunately, before they reeled back in horror at the ambitious day's work ahead of them, Colin, of the South Bohemian farmhouse which he so beautifully made for Small Worlds after remarking that I really ought to have an example of a local house on display, and his wife Roz, volunteered to spend the day helping us rather than foraging for fungi.   A noble sacrifice!   It turned out that without them Adam and I would have probably collapsed long before we had accomplished half the list.....and the children would have headed back to the house in disgust.

My granddaughter rewrote my list of things to do, thoughtfully adding the phrase "and anything else that crops up during the day" and off we went.   As you can see from the photos we really all worked very hard indeed, from the youngest to the oldest.  


Apart from overseeing what had to be moved I also sped home at lunchtime to prepare a worthy repast for the workers who had shifted pretty well everything out of Small Worlds itself by the time it was cooked, and had built all bar one of the shelf units.

After an unhurried lunch it was the turn of the garage and I blessed the fact that we had two large cars at our disposal.  These made several trips from house to museum and by the last one the children had given up and adjourned to the playroom where we left them in peace - they had earned a rest.

Tired but happy we then locked the doors on chaos, said goodbye and a fervent thanks to Colin and Roz who were leaving for the UK the next day,  and enjoyed the rest of the short family holiday.

After Adam & Co had gone home I unlocked the door and gazed at a giant mess, particularly in the central room.  
By the time these were taken...

...most of the boxes had gone....
The three small rooms run into each other, the furthest from the entrance is carpeted so no use as a workroom since much mess ends up on the floor when I am working.   Most of the shelf units went in there, filling up all the wall space.

The other two rooms have lino on the floor so the middle one was scheduled to become the workroom, with a later addition of a large table, and I decided that, since I am hoping to run small workshops (finally!) round that table, this would be the right room to hold all the books and magazines I possess - many!  So three more shelf units went in there.   

The first room is a sort of ante-chamber and will partly be used for shuffling houses in and out if I want to change the display.   It also contains the all-important kettle.   I decided to go for a lilac kettle, figuring that the rainbow effect of the colour scheme could not get much worse!

Hardly had the family departed, when friend Lynda (of the ballet shoes and liquorice allsorts) arrived.   I know from experience that she is a sorter par excellence and had indeed done much of the packing up of miniature things when we moved from our home of forty years back in 2013.

Here was another challenge for her! Some of the boxes she now found herself sorting through were very familiar to her - 
"I remember this from back then" was her frequent refrain.   I had acquired some brilliant plastic boxes (you can see them just above Lynda's bent back), I think they are known as party trays, but they are completely perfect for dolls house items and I kicked myself that I had only bought up the reduced stock of blue and green ones, ignoring the yellow, because we soon found that we could use many more of them than I possessed.   And there were no more to be found in any branch of Kaufland. 

Fortunately the visitor flow to the museum had almost completely died away by this time so I could also spend time sorting and boxing up items, mainly in Small Worlds itself, and by the

Who on earth keeps hangers in a teaspoon?
and by the time Lynda left a few days later the middle room, which had been piled high with cardboard boxes, was almost clear, with "just" the residue on the temporary table to dispose of....

And all gone!

Once that was accomplished I took great delight in labelling..... 

.....every single smart box that is now on the shelves. 

A few more days passed and along came the next set of visitors from England.   Not so much left to do now.....

.....magazines to get into number order and a giant bag of material to sort through and categorise.  
But since Jill and Sheila were only there for two days that was more than enough. And, indeed, Veronika had already broken the back of the magazine sorting...

Getting ready for the table top
And then, at long last, I could enjoy the utter bliss of having a work table big enough to spread out and work properly on a project, knowing exactly where every single item I own is to be found, and is also within reach.   Before, my workspace in Small Worlds was about eighteen inches by two and a bit feet and half the stuff I needed for a project was always somewhere else.
Scheduled for Small Worlds

Now it is all to hand, I can not only work on the table, but behind me is a giant windowsill to put things on - each of the rooms has one in fact.  A painting project like this could only have been done before when Small Worlds was closed.

Doesn't take me long to make a mess!
I cannot tell you with what pleasure and delight I prepared the traditional Christmas Card for the side window, which will be revealed when Advent begins, or set up a trial run of the new display that even more friends and I put into the main window just before I left for winter in the UK - more of that in the next post.   The space is utter, utter bliss to play in! 

And what is more I can work in the Stables and hear if someone tinkles the little bell at the entrance to the museum itself so that I can spend my time profitably between visitors.

Ondrej, shelf-putter-upper-in chief with assistance from Jana
I finish with a list of thanks to those who helped: Adam, Anya, Jakey, Roz, Colin, Lynda, Veronika, Sheila, Jill, Jana, Jana, Ondrej - Small Worlds would be nowhere without such sterling support.   Thanks too to Mr Mayor Fenc and his colleagues. 

And a final view of The Stables ....

Do join me again soon - ah, hang on a minute - did I hear someone enquire why I call it The Stables?

Well - a hobby in Czech is a koníček - a pony. People who visit Small Worlds often say to me you haven't got a koníček here, you have a kůň - a horse.  And where else should a horse live but in a stable?

Monday, 19 September 2016

With a degree of trepidation.....

This is a blogpost I have put off writing for some considerable while.  The main reason for my hesitation is because I am not sure how the dollshouse world will view the way I have dealt with this particular house.   So I start this blogpost with the assurance that I have done nothing to the house that cannot be undone with relative ease should it fall into the hands of a true collector of vintage houses.

It's a Triang DH 80, possibly dating from the late 1920s, although they were around for quite a while - there is a picture of one in my 1937/38 reproduction Triang catalogue.
This catalogue, which shows the whole range of toys made by Triang at that time, is very popular with visitors to Small Worlds, especially men. People are particularly delighted when I am able to point out the milk float that I owned when I was four years old 

and they love to hear that the Queen had (and still has) the baker's cart from the same series!  It was on display in the exhibition of her toys in Buckingham Palace in 2014.

I have had my Triang 80 house for many, many years. It was probably one of the those that arrived soon after I advertised for a "large, old doll's house" (note spelling!) when Butterfly was four years old.  It has long been on my list of things to do something with but somehow nothing ever happened to it. 

Sadly, mine never looked like the beautiful one belonging to Eileen, which can be seen on the Dolls Houses Past and Present website.  By the time I acquired it, all the windows and the shutters had vanished and someone had slung a coat of pale pink undercoat over the upper facade, and then given up on any further work.   The porch had also collapsed and there was no front door.  (The house standing next to it, by the way, is the one that later became That Old House in Paris)

I think the main reason I got nowhere with it for so long is because I had it in my head to turn it into a village pub plus b&b, complete with Gideon Bible in the bedside table (and a decent reading light - my pet peeve in b&bs is that they never seem to be run by people who read in bed!).   In fact, there is a shoebox clearly labelled "Things for Triang pub) which contains a snooker table and various other pub-like accessories.

But somehow it never quite gelled as a pub and it stood around in my house in England for about thirty years, and then on display for the first year of Small Worlds, more or less untouched.

One day I was browsing pictures of some typical English houses and came across this one of a house in Essex, our adjacent county, and it reminded me strongly of the 80.   I was still thinking in terms of a pub though.

Something else that has been around for a very long time is a bow window, 8 to 10 inches long, that used to hang on our living room wall as a display case for miniatures.   The 80 and the window always went together in my head but I couldn't really see how to amalgamate them without cutting a chunk out of the front of the house itself.

Had I done that, I really wouldn't have been able to hold my head up in the dollshouse community!

Since the house was very visible in Small Worlds - it's large - Butterfly and I decided we needed to at least do something with the outside, even if I still wasn't quite sure how to deal with the interior.   By 2014 I was beginning to think about a village shop/post office and a tearoom.   And the logical step would then be to make the bow window part of the tearoom - the best seats would be there so that the village gossips could keep a beady eye on events in the street outside....

Still musing on how I could further this plan without vandalising the house, I painted the front white and, with Butterfly's help, created some "pargetting", by adding some Liden whitewood furniture embellishments to the patterned card she had run through her Big Shot.
I wonder if anyone remembers Liden?   It was hugely popular in the fifties and sixties. You could create your very own classical French furniture by sticking bits of plastic onto plain wooden cabinets, painting the furniture white and picking the decorations out in gold 

After painting and pargetting, we got on with tackling the gaping holes that were supposed to house windows.   Basing our ideas on the house in Essex, I made some simple black frames and Butterfly fashioned some leaded lights.
Her work on what is now called The Essex House can be found part way through this blogpost.  

Finally, during last summer, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and do something with the interior. The problem with working when the museum is open is that room is very limited  (but watch this space!).  Nevertheless I put the house on my small worktable and made a start.

Much to my surprise, from that point on, things went fairly quickly.   I already knew what I was going to use for bedroom furniture - a set made up from a pink plastic bed and dressing table and a brown plastic wardrobe, all transformed a long time ago by the power of paint and used for years as a room setting in a breadbin.  

For the bathroom I resorted yet again to my large stock of pink plastic bathrooms and all the equipment also got the benefit of repainting.

The central room upstairs was planned as a living room and I wanted two of my extensive collection of Raines Take a Seat chairs to feature prominently. There are many of these wonderful chairs, made of resin, (a terrible Czech word for me to pronounce - pryskyřice, I keep trying to soften the wrong r) scattered around the houses in Small Worlds. Most of the room, except the chairs which are a fairly new acquisition, had already existed in a small room box made of artists' foamboard.

A second reason for my reluctance to write about this house emerged at this point.   I am not a purist when it comes to scale, working usually by eye, rather than by measurement.   But in this case I have very deliberately, though reluctantly, broken all the rules of scale in a dolls house.   The upstairs is 1/16th scale, because I wanted to use the yellow bedroom and the Raines chairs, downstairs, because I wanted to use the original Triang dresser in the kitchen, is 1/12th.  

Shop fittings are also easier to come by in 1/12th scale and by now the central room,  which had been going to be the tearoom, was scheduled to be the village shop.

This decision meant that, joy of joys, I could attach the bow window to the front and use the two central, unglazed windows as part of the shop display by putting shelves into them, thus avoiding any cutting of the front at all. 

The end room became the tearoom.   I usually distribute the furniture around the undecorated house so that I can decide on wallpaper and flooring.   Once the decisions were made, I set about cutting stiff card to fit all the walls and then papering that, to slide in over what was left of the original Triang wallpaper. None of it was actually in very good condition anyway.  

I struggled with the card cutting for the staircase.   It's horribly narrow and I have big hands and a complete inability to reverse patterns which is deeply frustrating.

This house is inhabited - how else could one run a shop and tearoom?   The couple who live here, however, are in their seventies and would desperately like to retire.  

Sadly no one is interested in buying the shop and tearoom as a going concern and they have to plod on, despite their age and weariness.

I have no idea where they came from - I have a feeling they were in a job lot of furniture that I bought in a charity shop a couple of years ago.  Maybe they will ring a bell with someone?  They have great character, despite their rather small size.  They are fine upstairs - the problems start when they try to work in the kitchen and shop.....


All in all, I was pleased with how this long delayed project worked out.   It is now the first house that people are shown when they come into Small Worlds and their delight in it is a joy to see.   I will end with a series of photos of both work in progress and the finished house.


Getting ready to stock the shop

Liquorice Allsorts by Lynda - can she make anything smaller?

Aha! The Gideon Bible made it in the end......

There are three blog posts brewing for the near future - two of them feature Christmas so you will have to wait a while but the first contains some exciting news for Small Worlds and I hope I will be able to post it very soon.  Watch this space!  

Thank you for being with me so far, it's lovely to see your comments and to know that you are enjoying Small Worlds almost as much as I do!

Addendum - as I said just above, comments are lovely, and often very useful.   How could I not have thought of a size comparison for Lynda's Liquorice Allsorts? Here is one for the European readership - in £sd, euros and Czech korunni:

Thank you Andrea!