Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review: Thomas Jefferson, Architect --The Interactive Portfolio-- by Chuck Wills

Those of you who follow this blog and the evolution of Merriman Park know that I am a huge admirer of Thomas Jefferson's architectural legacy and that my own Merriman Park is a bit of an homage to him. So I was thrilled to pick up this book the other day.  This gorgeous tome details Jefferson's most famous works, including his residences, Monticello and Poplar Forest as well as the University of Virginia and the Virginia State Capital.  I had hoped to see a chapter on the homes he designed for his neighboring friends (Edgemont and Barboursville in particlar).  But alas, these lesser-known works are left out.

As this is The Interactive Portfolio, the book comes with copies of some of Jefferson's original drawings, all stored in vellum envelopes.  The sketches are printed on faux crumbling parchment, which is just a tad cheesy, (and reminded me of my pirate treasure map-making days as a boy, when I used to concoct messages made of tea-stained paper with burned edges, stuffed into one of mother's cast-off wine bottles and tossed into the sky-blue waters of Lake Minnetonka --the irony of  pirates sailing into Minnesota somehow escaping me). 

But I digress.

Thanks to this book, I now have two or three plans for future dollhouses.  Everything is there: moldings, trim --just waiting to be built. 

I was a little disappointed at first that the chapter on Poplar Forest showed that eight-sided gem (the first octagonal house in America) with its roof in its unrestored state.  But as I already have books on Poplar Forest detailing its restoration, I am happy to have a record of it in "before" mode.  I saw in a magazine that  they recently repainted the dining room of Monticello in a very intense (but historically accurate) chrome-yellow, and this edition shows the older, and dare I say the more preferable "wedgewood blue" scheme.

Thomas Jefferson, Architect --The Interactive Portfolio--  is a must-have for fans of one of our country's Founding Fathers and for devotes of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century architecture. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More bricks...

Had to take a little break and get away from bricking!  This is SO tedious --you can't even imagine.  I had to turn Merriman Park on its end in order to do the side.  I had hoped that I would finish both ends, but at this rate I'll be lucky if I get this side finished tonight.  My gouge seems to be getting a little dull, too.  It just doesn't seem to glide through the paint and gesso like it did at first, but maybe that's just my imagination.  Or maybe I'm just getting tired.

This is how I'm finishing the corners and the quoins.

Pretty cool, huh?  Ugh, of course I broke off one of my urns while working on the second story.  Bull in a china shop. Guess I'll have to pick up some Super Glue tomorrow. 

Ordered my double stairs this weekend!  Actually it's just two straight flights that I'm going to alter.  I'm thinking one or two steps up to a landing with the split going up each side.  Also ordered some more ribbed roofing so I can work on the aforementioned hips. 

It's still snowing out here in Minnesota.  Looks like another five or six inches.  Sure glad we're heading down to Captiva next month!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


So now I am obsessing about the roof, again!  I'm thinking about adding shallow hips to flank the central gable.  Why?  I don't know why, god knows you won't really see them once the house is perched high on its future shelf.  I'm OCD, remember?  Don't judge me. Truth be told: the flat roof has begun to gnaw on me for whatever reason.  My architectural hero (and the inspiration behind Merriman Park), namely: Thomas Jefferson had the same dilemma with some of his buildings.  He loved the look of a classical, flat roof, but hated the dreadful impracticality that a flat roof provides. Leaky ceilings are such a bore!

Karin Corbin has already convinced me of the complete  travesty that a vulgar, verdigris copper roof  would have been, had I  foolishly installed one on Merriman Park. On the other hand, Karin is absolutely poetical about the supreme elegance, divine sublimity not to mention the utter, unparalleled ton of a weathered, lead roof and honestly I can not disagree with her.  What could I have possibly been thinking?  Why, a verdigris-copper roof is so positively garish by compare.  Like a drag queen in head-to-toe Versace showing up at a DAR luncheon where everyone else is in St John.

So she sends me over to Richard Stacey's website to shop for lead,  and this of course only opens up the can of worms of: real lead, vs faux.  A real lead roof would undoubtedly be gorgeous, if not terribly heavy, expensive and a possible environmental hazard.  (Though Karin, in her subtle wisdom, points out that if I have safety concerns I could always warn my guests that Merriman Park is not a gingerbread house --so kindly do not help yourself to the cornice, thank you very much).

But having a false, painted "lead" roof with genuine lead flashing seems --well, tacky.  I mean, you don't see the Queen of England mixing the Crown Jewels with the Joan Rivers Collection from QVC, do you?

I didn't think so.

 Here I folded a large envelope into a shallow hip roof.  Obviously, the "actual" roof would meet at the pediment gable, but you get the picture.  I suppose the chimneys will have to be higher. *sigh*

Lead wasn't the only roofing material that caught my attention over at Richard Stacey.  He also sells slate roofing, both real and faux, which I daresay would appeal even to the discriminating eye of Ms. Corbin.  

Decisions, decisions!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy VD!

                     HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY !!!

                   From your friends at Merriman Park!

13 February Update

 Like my new, updated banner photo? 

Really got a lot done this weekend.  I finished bricking the front of the house, and three of the chimneys.  Actually, I did paint and etch all four chimneys, but the first one turned out ghetto so I'm re-doing it!  Seriously, I don't know what happened to it but compared to the others, it looks like an ape painted it!  A drunk ape.  On acid.  Oh well --practice makes perfect, right?
            Is it just me, or is there a ghostly specter hovering in the drawing room window?

Here also is the new olive-green door.  Still going back and forth about the knobs.  I just found out the new carriage lamps are on back-order --grrrrrr!  Hate when that happens.

Believe it or not, I got the two end walls both gessoed and base-coated.  I know!  things are moving along...
            Miniaturist diva Karin Corbin says I have to flash the chimneys!

Not sure if I'll be posting any photos of Merriman Park for a while.  I'm going to have to take most of it apart so I can turn it on end to brick the two end walls.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tutorial: How to Etch Bricks

Though there are many ways to simulate brick on a dollhouse --beautifully printed papers, embossed wood or latex veneers, intricate stencils, and many other methods-- perhaps the most realistic way is by etching individual scale bricks into paint.  Nothing can quite compare to a "brick" surface finished in this manner.  It is a cost-effective, but highly time-consuming, labor-intensive process. It is the method favored by the dollhouse deities, Mulvany and Rogers.  And if it's good enough for them, well then certainly it's good enough for Merriman Park!   
                                 (The dollhouse Holy Bible)!

 Deborah Knight of my dollhouse miniatures chat group asked how I do it and I thought, "How funny, didn't I already explain the process in my blog?"   Guess I'm spending too much time blabbing on and on about Dark Shadows, and not enough about the nuts and bolts about Merriman Park.               

How to Do It:
Step One:  With any project, surface preparation is key.  Seal your surface with a quality primer.  I used to be on the enamel-primer-only team, but recent improvements to latex primers have brought me around.  (Cleaning up with soap and water, as opposed to chemical solvents was a big factor in my change of heart). 

Step Two:  Two coats of gesso make up your mortar base.  Be sure to tint your gesso with acrylic paints --the au natural gesso is a bit too bright for most projects.  I used a drop or two of burnt sienna for Merriman Park.

Step Three:  On top of the gesso, apply two coats of your brick base color.  Bricks come in many colors and I mixed mine from artist's acrylic paints, but any latex paint will do.  Keep in mind that your finished bricks will look considerably lighter once the bricks are etched into your base coat.  Let base coat dry for at least twenty-four hours.

Step Four:  With a ruler, mark the horizontal mortar joints.  I used 3/16th" for Merriman Park.

Step Five:  Using a small woodworker's gouge, etch the horizontal mortar lines.  I found it helpful to go up two or three inches at a time.  That is, mark your lines for two or three inches and then go ahead and etch them in.  Continue marking and etching.  If your lines are off by even a little, it will show.  You can always paint out any mistakes and do over, but that is such a drag!  The gouge will leave miniature curlicues of acrylic paint all over the place, so be warned!  Use a small, stiff paintbrush to keep them at bay.

       (One of the first brick mock-ups for Merriman Park.  Always     experiment on a piece of scrap before tackling your project)!

Step Six:  Mark your vertical lines.  This creates the "individual bricks" so take your time and be accurate.  Merriman Park is an eighteenth-century house so they would have used the flemish bond, which is what I reproduced.
              (Photographs do not show the detailed, 3-D effect that etched grout lines produce).

Step Seven:  Have a cocktail, rest your eyes and appreciate your work! (Most important step).

I haven't done Step Eight, yet, which is to go back and highlight individual bricks in a random pattern. I'm working on bricking the chimneys right now.  (Chimneys with pots, I might add, thanks to Karin Corbin!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

English Style vs American

The American dollhouse is typically two-sided:  there is the outside "front" elevation and the interior of the house is viewed through the open "back."  I designed Merriman Park in the English dollhouse tradition in that the house only has one side.  The back of the house is unfinished and is meant to sit against a wall. The front facade opens up like a cabinet to reveal the finished interior.

I believe the English have it all over us Yanks when it comes to dollhouses.  For one thing, you don't have to turn an English-style dollhouse around to view the interior.  I can't even imagine having to flip Merriman Park around every time I wanted to see the inside --it weighs a ton!  Even on a turntable it would be cumbersome. (You would still have to pull the house away from the wall to make the clearance).  And then there is the dust factor.  An American dollhouse interior, being open and exposed to the elements, would collect a lot of dust in contrast to the English dollhouse, which is closed off when not on display.

When it comes to space-saving measures, the English dollhouse style again reigns supreme.  Designed to sit --or even hang-- flat against a wall, the slim and trim English dollhouse leaves the bulky, American style wanting.

I am planning on setting Merriman Park on a future cabinet of shelves in my dining room.  The shelves will house my ever-expanding  library of books as well as my aforementioned rapidly-turning-obsolete stereo equipment. (Should have just stuck with the Victrola).  LOL!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Changes Afoot...

Merriman Park has undergone a lot of changes since I first conceived it in its first, crude sketches as a Palladian mansion inspired by the architecture of Thomas Jefferson.  But that's OK.  After all --it's my house!  I can't imagine if it were a commissioned piece for some client and I wasn't free to make any last-minute alterations to the plan as I worked along.  I have decided to implement yet another change: this time to the Entrance Hall, which is the first room inside the house that I plan to decorate.
              Rough sketch for Merriman Park drawn on a napkin.

Thomas Jefferson was not fond of staircases.  He felt they were a waste of space.  When he traveled to France, classical, one-story houses were de rigueur at the time in Paris and staircases were tucked discreetly in out-of-the-way spaces.  Jefferson brought this idea back home with him when he designed Monticello and many of his other American works also feature a "suppressed" stair.  My Jefferson-designed, inspiration house also lacks a grand stair, and so I opted to leave a staircase out of Merriman Park.

But I want a stair!

I mean, do I really want to explain the the whole story above every single time someone sees the finished Merriman Park and inevitably asks, "Where's the staircase?"

So I am going to put a stair where a staircase ought to go in my Entrance Hall.  Jefferson may not approve, but again --it's my house.

So there!
 Joan Crawford (Faye Dunway) on a "Hollywood Regency" staircase, showing how classical design is adapted to contemporary styles --in this case, the Art Deco.   


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bricks, Bricks, Bricks!

I just finished two coats of gesso and one coat of "brick base" on the right side of Merriman Park.  (Or maybe instead of saying left-side/right-side I should start referring to it as the West Wing/East Wing)? 

It's cool how the brick color lightens when you etch in the mortar lines.  Reminds me of my former costuming days when a red dress with white polka dots could read as a pink dress on-stage, if the dots weren't large enough.

I'm thinking olive green for the front doors.  As far as hardware goes I'm going back and forth between either brass handles or round knobs centered on each door (which is very Regency). I've got a brass kick plate for the bottom of the doors, but they need to be cut to size and frankly, I'm a little scared to do the deed, lest I bend or scratch the little things.

All in all, I'm very happy with the results so far on my very first dollhouse! (Unless you count the ones I made as a kid for my sisters.  My brother Greg: [spoken with utter contempt] "Yeah, right.  It's for the girls."

Barnabus Doll in Dollhouse!!!

OMG! I want a Barnabus Collins doll/Action Figure!  Did you catch he even has the silver-handled walking-stick and the black, onyx ring?!  Only, I want my Barnabus in 1/12th scale so he can live in Merriman Park.  There IS a small cellar space under my house, but is it big enough to keep Barnabus' coffin?  I LOVE this guys ham-handed version of Josette's Theme played on the piano (at 1:30). His arrangement is much more complicated than mine --though I was only ten or eleven when I made mine up. (No future Mozart here).  I was rather disappointed in the Josette doll --her dress was a little bit Kountry Kitchen, when Josette's trousseau was supposed to have come from Paris, France and NOT from Walnut Grove, Minnesota.  Seriously, she looked more like Ma Ingals than Josette duPres.  I think with all the clothes available in Barbie's closet, we could have done much better than this ensemble,  um-kay? and can we talk about her hair for a moment?  Two words: UP DO!  But I'm pretty sure that some of these dolls were actual Dark Shadows merchandise available in fine stores everywhere when the series aired back in the day, so you KNOW today they're worth a gazillion dollars.  Speaking of which, I so wanted this game but had to settle for a Ouiji Board, instead:
"Milton Bradley makes the best games in the world and the Barnabus Collins Game is the scariest! So get it!" LOL!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

One Side Down, One to Go

Finished the bricks on the left side tonight.  Tedious but strangely gratifying work. I mean, how many times do you toil at something for hours with nothing tangible to show for all your efforts?  As mind-numbing a task as etching 3/16th by 3/4 inch bricks into gesso is, I have to say, at least when you're done for the night you can pat yourself on the back and say, "Good job."

I ordered coach lamps to flank the front door today.  They are powered by replaceable watch batteries.  (The center component of Merriman Park  lifts out, so there isn't really a way to wire it --at least not by any way that I could figure how to do without electrocuting myself)!  So when I saw these coach lamps I was pretty excited because I had resigned myself to having non-working lamps out front.  I am a little worried about the bulbs being LED, as I find LED lights to be generally too garish.  I flat out REFUSE to use LED Christmas lights.  They're just, I don't know --tacky.  And NOT in a good way. Of course this is from a guy who still uses wax candles on his Christmas tree.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Early Design Influence: Dark Shadows

When I was a very young, tow-headed boy, the afternoon soap opera Dark Shadows used to scare the living crap out of me.  Vampires, witches, ghosts, werewolves, blood curses and floating, severed hands all made appearances in this campy, schlock-fest.  But the star of the show for me was the creepy, Gothic sets.  We grew up in a cozy, little house on a lake but I forever daydreamed of living in a spooky mansion on a cliff next to the crashing sea!  One of my favorite interiors on the show, and one that left an indelible impression on my young mind was the elegantly-appointed  boudoir of the ill-fated Josette duPres-Collins.

                  Kathryn Leigh Scott serving Regency realness :

I so wanted to live in a room with the haunting  portrait of Josette Collins hanging over the fireplace!  Candleabras burning.  Crystal chandeliers tinkling overhead.  The paneled walls.  The "antique satin" draperies.  Heaven.  I even learned to play Josette's Music Box on the piano (and can still play it).  BTW,  love the Casio "B-Section" in the video!  Geek Alert:  I can also play other monster DS hits such as Quentin's Theme and At the Blue Whale, a veritable classic which my sisters once owned on 45.

I also recall there being a story line involving a haunted dollhouse (I know)! and a ghost played by a very young Kate Jackson, of later Charlies's Angels fame.

I hear they're remaking Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp as Barnabus Collins. Not sure how I feel about that, I mean, I love me some Johnny Depp, but is he really of Jonathan Frid's acting caliber?  I think not.

P.S.  If anyone runs across a miniature fireplace mantle like the one in the very beginning of the video, please let me know!

Going Up

This is all the further I got last night.  I started making mistakes so I quit early.  Actually had to paint out a few rows and start over.  It's hard not to want to hurry and get it over with but really, what's the rush?  It's not like there's a deadline or anything.

I think I might mount the whole house on a decorative wooden plinth, stained dark.  I thought it could extend out from the house an inch or two and I'd finish this as a cobblestone walk.  The plinth might have drawers for storage.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Flemish Bond

I was chomping at the bit at work today to get home and start etching bricks into the facade of Merriman Park. But after working at it for an hour or so I was all like, "Is RuPaul's Drag Race on tonight?"  (And more importantly, will Miss Changela throw another Absolut cocktail on some other queen's face)?   I do recall how in my Holy Bible of Dollhouses, namely: Magnificent Miniatures (see prior post)  the authors, Mulvany and Rogers,  mentioned that etching bricks was a rather tedious chore and I now realize how right they were! 
But they were also right about how magical it is when the bricks emerge and the whole project comes to life!  The photos do NOT do justice, I have to say.  There is a total 3-D effect  in the process that that camera just does not capture.  It will be enhanced when I go back and highlight individual bricks (I hope)! 

In the second photo you can see how much lighter the lower wall is from the unfinished, upper wall.  Which is good, because I was a little worried that the base color was too dark.

I kind of thought I'd get the whole wall finished tonight but --ugh!--  as Miss Scarlet used to say, "Tomorrow is another day!"