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Getting started on the Artist’s Cottage (half scale Spanish revival house made out of gatorboard)

Last summer I bought this scratch built half scale house shell at a mini flea market for $2. I’m trying to finish off some smaller projects before I dig in on the Little Belle, so after a year of it sitting on the shelf I pulled it out this week.

The woman who sold it to me told me the shell is made out of gatorboard, which seems to be similar to foam core. The joints are glued and also held together with pins.

The inside wall has already been textured, which gave me the idea to make it a Southwestern style house with a stucco exterior and red barrel tiles on the roof. But in poking around online for ideas I learned that Southwestern houses always have flat roofs (like this). A stucco house with a peaked, barrel tile roof could fall into the category of Spanish revival or Mission revival (as in Spanish missions, not Craftsman Mission).

I’m making up the design as I go along, so the semantics don’t really matter, but for the sake of having something to call it I’m going to refer to it as Spanish revival. Since it’s only one room I’m envisioning a funky “off the grid” studio cottage located in some hippie area of Southern California.

This doorway to nowhere gave me the idea to add a room to the side. I bought a Petite Properties lean to greenhouse kit with the plan of building it “inside out” so the door is at the back (to prevent having two doors next to each other at the front of the house). While playing around with the house this week, I decided that an artist lives here and uses the lean-to room as her studio.

I bought a 4-panel exterior door and three 12-light windows to fit in the pre-cut holes. On the corner, the two windows needed to be modified so they don’t bump into each other.

I started by removing one side piece on each window, which was pretty easy to do just by wiggling until the piece broke off.

I cut back the edge of each side piece and also had to cut some notches in the windows to make them fit. I didn’t think it through carefully before cutting and ended up with some holes visible from the inside, but they can easily be covered up with trim.

With the corner windows figured out, I stained all of the components using ACE Hardware Red Mahogany.

Next I stucco’d, using watered down wood filler and a sponge to make the texture. (I used this same process on my Rosedale).

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Categories: Dollhouses.

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Half scale Victorian bed how-to

I recently bought a Victorian bedroom set for my half scale Queen Anne Rowhouse. I really liked how the ornate bed looked with the damask wallpaper and wood trim in the room, but the only good place to put the bed is up against the window, which then gets blocked by the tall headboard.

I wanted to replace it with something equally ornate, but with a less obtrusive headboard. I did a Google image search for “Victorian bed” and this was one of the pictures that came up. Pretty!

The only bed I could find in half scale that looked remotely like it was this one, made by Town Square Miniatures, which retails for $16 (plus shipping). It’s cute but doesn’t have the elegance I was looking for, and I figured I could make my own for less than that.

I got a package of filigrees in the jewelry section at Michaels, and a package of Houseworks legs from the mini shop, for a grand total of $7. The rest of the wood I used were pieces I had on hand already, but even if I’d bought them I think the materials would come in at less than $16.

And the end result is much prettier. :)

Want to make your own? Read on for a tutorial!

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The Little Belle — a half scale dollhouse by Jim Marcus and Lew Kummerow

Earlier this summer I went to a sale at Peg’s Dollhouse in Santa Rosa and bought what might be the coolest dollhouse I’ll ever own. Peg buys and resells old stock and estates, so she’s guaranteed to have stuff you can’t find anywhere else. When I visited her shop once before I got a bunch of old furniture kits and building supplies including the hard to find Littlewonders Lumber flooring strips I’m now in love with. This time she was selling off the contents of Studio 7, a Bay Area miniatures shop that closed about thirty years ago. The stock has been in storage ever since.

The Little Belle was up on a shelf but even without being able to get a good look at it, I knew I wanted it. Peg asked for $100; I handed over cash.

After I paid for it I realized I’d seen this house before, in an old Nutshell News article from 1980. Even then, the Little Belle was no longer in production, so I knew my chances of ever finding one were slim to none. Still, when I read that article a few years ago, I’d told myself I would find one someday. Apparently the gods were listening!


Two Little Belles pictured in the June 1980 issue of Nutshell News

The Little Belle is a front-opening, half scale dollhouse (1/2″ = 1′) that looks like a San Francisco rowhouse. This house is unique because the front is cast resin, made from a mold of a facade that was hand carved by Jim Marcus. I didn’t know who he was or the significance of owning a “Jim Marcus house” until after I bought the Little Belle and started researching it. There’s very little information about Jim’s dollhouses online, so I decided to post everything I’ve found out about the Little Belle to document the house’s history.

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Half scale book roombox (part 2)

With the book roombox’s wainscot finished, I moved to the upstairs. I didn’t like the clunkiness of the piece of wood anchoring the top of the staircase, so I used fan pieces to make a decorative cover for it.

Sprayed this with semi-gloss black to match the stairs. Geoff wasn’t around so I did it myself this time, with uneven results. After the paint dried I ended up sanding it and repainting it by hand with my matte black acrylic paint.

We’re getting close to the “putting it all together” stage. Since this floor is like a loft and it’s open on the left side, I thought about adding a railing to keep the little people from falling off. I used my micro drill to make three holes that would accommodate toothpick spindles.

Here’s how that would have looked.

After I’d gone and made the holes, I realized that adding a railing there meant there wouldn’t be enough room for the resin pedestal I’d been planning to put to the side of the bookcase, and I really wanted to use that. So I filled the holes back in.

Wood filler was not the right way to do this. I tried staining the holes with a stain I thought would match the rest of the floor, but it only resulted in a dark space around the holes (the woodfiller itself didn’t “take” the stain at all) and then I had to stain the rest of the floor to match, making it darker.

After doing all this I remembered the trick my dad taught me for filling nail holes in stained wood with a wax stain pencil. I ended up doing this to fill the holes and it looks better now, but I still have a darker floor. I stained the bottom floor to match it, but if I had a rewind button I’d go back to those lighter floors. Oh well.

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