Entering the Weeds: Miniature Project Phase 3: Orchid Dollhouse, Chapter 1

As hinted in my post about Phase 2 of my miniatures project, I need to learn how to build dollhouses. Serendipitously, I recently spotted a good deal on the Greenleaf/Corona Concepts Orchid Dollhouse kit at Home Depot, and as it is one of the simplest kits, I went for it. I then Googled the hell out of the Orchid and garnered much in the way of tips and tutorials from miniaturists who have built it before, for which I am very grateful. I felt prepared for the worst when I opened the box.

Hrm…

 

orchid 1.1

 

That’s a lot of little diagrams and bits and stuff. Oh, well, in for a penny, in for a pound. I rolled up the old sleeves, cranked up the KC & the Sunshine Band on Pandora, and got busy.

Needless to say, simple is never good enough. Almost immediately, I decided I needed more square inchage and a better floor plan. I built a first floor extension and two more partition walls out of corrugated cardboard and manila cardstock. I also took care to follow the manufacturer’s directions, but I’m finding that some steps need to be reordered to accommodate my changes. Also, I wish I had constructed the windows separately to be installed later rather than finishing and installing them in the first phase as the instructions required. It would be much easier to install paper and siding without having to cut around window frames. I’ll do it that way next time.

The Orchid Dollhouse is a Carpenter Gothic cottage like those that famously adorn Martha’s Vineyard here in Massachusetts, so I’m going for a streamlined version of that look. For the exterior, I’ll be doing a clapboard style in shades of cadet blue with white trim and probably slate gray shingles. I also scoured the internet for inspiration photos for clean, modern interiors. My miniature interior will be a hybrid New England/Scandinavian style. Ceilings, floors and most of the walls will be white. The kitchen, half of the living room and the upstairs landing will feature accent wall colors.

For the floors and ceilings, I first paint two to three coats then draw on plank lines to suggest painted hardwood. Since the cold is upon us and I can’t keep my windows open, I’m using acrylic paint and gesso instead of latex. To get an eggshell semi-gloss finish, I mix PVA glue (Elmer’s) into the paint. It gives it a thicker consistency that holds some brush texture, suggestive of an old house painted many times. I’m happy with the effect. It has a nice, subtle gleam in the right light.

Here are some photos of the first phase of the Orchid construction, the part where my work table looked like a miniature Home Depot loading zone.

 

Step 1: Window frames.

Step 1: Window frames.

Windows and door all set.

Windows and door all set.

Exterior windows

Exterior windows

orchid 1.5

 

The manufacturer’s instructions ask us to finish the window casements, install them into the wall cutouts, then add and finish (paint or whatever) the frames. Then they want us to add the sills, caps and other decorative features, all before we finish the walls. They want us to do all that so we can paint parts of the main walls to match the casements to create the look of double hung windows. However, I don’t like that process much. I think it’s just going to complicate finishing the interior and exterior walls. Next time, I’ll pre-fab the casements and frames as separate pieces, finish the walls, and then install the windows.

The Orchid house comes with one door, which the instructions ask us to build but not install until most of the front of the house is completed. I haven’t got that far yet, and I’m not sure how easy it will be to install the door, especially as I want it hinged. I think I’ll end up changing the order of those steps on my next house as well.

 

First floor extension platform

First floor extension platform

Extended first floor

Extended first floor

Underside supports

Underside supports

 

The kit comes with a strip of wood that supports the floor and acts as a fourth support along with the bottoms of the three side walls (front, left and right).  I cut several copies of that strip and cut them to length to use as floor joists to support the seam between the wood original floor and my cardboard extension. It’s all held together with PVA glue and masking tape and came out remarkable sturdy. It will be gessoed top and bottom and then finished in white. The original wood strip, painted white, will be used to neaten the visible edge of the floor just as it is meant to.

First dry fit.

First dry fit.

orchid 1.10

 

Initial dry fit test for proportion with rough cut extension side walls. As you can see, the original Orchid is a very small house indeed at 1:12 scale. With the extension enlarging the first floor only, I think I’ll have a comfortable cottage.

Finally, the instructions suggest it will take about eight hours to build the Orchid without changes or fancy adornments. HA! Eight hours. Try eight weeks (and counting). It does sort-of follow the Murphy’s Law corollary rule for project planning. When planning any project, figure out how long it should take, then double the number and increase the unit of measure to the next higher unit. Thus you should plan four weeks to complete a two-day project. This one is a bit more extreme in that it increases the unit of measure two levels, but then I am building a whole extension. If you don’t make changes and keep to the basic wood surface of the kit parts, you could probably complete this eight-hour project in sixteen days, no problem. 😉

More progress reports to follow. I’m having a blast with this. 🙂

 

Credits:  Reference links to GreenleafDollhouses.com and the Library of Congress.

 

 

 

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About Mura

Mura Muravyets is the screen-name of Jen Fries, surrealist artist, book artist, hope-to-be writer.
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