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Spiral stairs (and bad customer service) from Lumenaris

The back-to-back Victorianna has two towers, which I enclosed with French doors to turn into little rooms. The one in the master bedroom will be a small office / writing room. The other tower is attached to the nursery, and I couldn’t think of anything that a baby would need in an enclosed room besides a closet — and as much as I love dollhouse closets, that seemed like a waste of a good space.

This is the tower with the cupola made out of a 1:48 scale gazebo, and it seemed strange to have those windows up there with no way for the little people to get to them, so I decided to put a spiral staircase in that tower. (The parents will keep it locked so the baby doesn’t wander up there!)

I once made a spiral staircase out of a wooden fan, and it turned out okay, but this time I wanted something sturdier with (in theory) less work on my part. (Famous last words!) I also wanted stained treads and Tuscan Beige risers, like the other staircases in the house, rather than the fan’s wrought iron look. While thinking about what materials could easily be turned into staircase treads, I realized that the roof pieces of the gazebo would be perfect.

I loved the idea of using leftover gazebo pieces to create a staircase to reach the gazebo, but for the staircase to be to scale I needed more than eight steps, and I only had eight pieces. I tried cutting them in half, but then the holes had to go, and without the holes to stick a dowel through the staircase lost all stability. I tried. And failed. And destroyed the pictures. (It was a sad day.)

So I went online to look for spiral staircase options. There are some kits available in 1:12 scale, but the only 1:24 kit I found, from Dollhouse Laser Designs (the same company that made the gazebo), didn’t appeal to me. Shapeways has some but they’re expensive and I wasn’t sure if the dimensions would work in my tower. I wanted a kit so I could modify it as needed.

(Note: this was back in August. At the beginning of September, Alpha Stamps added a half scale spiral staircase kit to their website. If only I had a time machine made out of a Delorean!)

Then I came across this kit from a company named Lumenaris.

This kit is billed as 3/4″ scale — seems like an odd choice, since that scale is even less popular than half scale — but in general Lumenaris doesn’t sell miniatures, they sell educational toys. (Maybe they’re trying to appeal to the Brinca Dada crowd?) The space between each step is 1/4″ and the steps themselves are 1/8″, so that’s a 3/8″ rise from one step to the next — slightly large for half scale (the equivalent of 9 inches), but considering the staircase will be tucked into the tower I decided to try it.

It shipped 10 days after I placed the order and I got a shipping notification with a tracking number. With shipping, the cost was $25.61. This is what’s inside the box – no instructions or parts list, but how hard could it be? (As noted on their website, the 1/4″ dowel isn’t included.)

The kit comes with 16 steps plus a landing and there are two rings between each step, so I should have had 34 rings — but my box only contained 25. There should also be three straight railing pieces to go on the landing — my kit had none. I wasn’t sure yet if I would use those railings, but I definitely needed the rings. (Actually, it turns out I didn’t, but I thought I did. Also I wanted to use the extra pieces for something, maybe a set of library steps. Hey, I paid for them!)

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Aging the faux copper roof

Continuing with the Victorianna’s “copper” tower roof — it doesn’t take long for pretty, orangey copper to tarnish and turn blue out in the elements, so I need to dirty it up.

To do so, I bought a set of Vintaj Patina paints. This set is appropriately called Weathered Copper and includes three colors: moss, vertigris, and jade. This stuff is meant to be used on metal but it’s just paint, no reason it can’t be used on wood.

I started with the moss since it was the darkest and tamest of the three, using my favorite dry brush technique to splotch it on. (Dry brush technique: dab a stiff bristle brush in paint and then splotch most of the paint off on a paper towel before using it.) It didn’t look quite right, but I figured if I didn’t like how it turned out I could always repaint the roof copper and start over.

Next I splotched on some vertigris. Yikes, that’s bright.

And finally the jade. This is definitely not the look I’m going for. Back to the drawing board painting table.

For my second attempt I used a sponge brush and applied the paint more liberally. Here it is with a coat of moss.

Followed by vertigris (just one panel in this photo, to give you an idea of how the vertigris changes the overall color).

And finally the jade. This looks better than the last attempt, and is reminiscent of a tarnished copper roof. But I want my roof to be mostly copper with a hint of oxidation, not the other way around.

Using a dry brush again, I re-applied the copper paint. This process reminded me of the eraser tool in a program like Photoshop — splotching on the copper paint effectively “erases” the other colors until only a hint remains.

Here’s how it turned out. I might play with it some more when I do the other tower roof.

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Tower with a gazebo widow’s walk cupola

Edit 9/24/17: As I continue to look at pictures of “gazebo thingies” at the top of turrets for inspiration, I’m starting to think that what I’m making would more accurately be called a cupola, not a widow’s walk. I changed the title of the post to reflect this.

Last time, I posted about the bell-shaped copper roof for the Victorianna’s left tower. I didn’t want to do the exact same thing on the right side. Since the house is made from two Victorianna kits built back to back, it’s perfectly symmetrical, but Victorian houses usually aren’t symmetrical. So I decided to make one of the towers taller than the other.

(Note: In hindsight I wish I had eliminated one of the towers completely and turned it into a peaked gable to look something like this. Too late for that now.)

I poured over photos of Victorian houses with turrets and started thinking about turning the top part of one of the towers into a sort of observatory with windows. Some Victorian houses have what looks like a gazebo up on the roof, and I thought I could use a 1:48 scale gazebo to emulate that look. Most of the ones I found were six sided and my tower has eight sides, so my options were limited.

I ended up buying this one from Laser Dollhouse Designs. I’m leaving off the base, and I’ll add strip wood to the windows to make them look more like the lower part of the tower. This picture shows the roof from the kit, but instead I’m going to use a (smaller) bell that matches the other tower roof.

The inside dimension is only 2.5 inches tall (the equivalent of 5 feet) which is a bit short for a half scale person to stand up in, and I also wanted the windows to have a purpose and not be a separated-off thing that these imaginary people could never reach. To address these issues, I cut holes in the floor and ceiling. The piece with the hole below is the kit piece that’s supposed to form the bottom of the tower roof. I traced the hole onto the octagonal pieces from the gazebo kit.

(I’m using what would have been the very bottom of the gazebo, if I hadn’t left off the base, as the top piece that goes above the windows. It’s slightly smaller than the octagon that normally forms the bottom of the gazebo roof, and closer in size to the bell I bought for the roof.)

Geoff helped me cut them with whatever this is. A circular saw hole saw attachment on the drill press, I think.

The traced hole came too close to the holes that the gazebo wall tabs get inserted into, so we made the hole slightly smaller than the original. It’s also a little bit off-center but you won’t be able to tell.

At 3.25″ across, this octagonal piece exactly fits inside of the tower walls, so I decided to do away with the piece from the kit that fits into these tabs (the one shown above with the hole in it).

I used the utility knife to cut off the tabs. Of course this would have been easier before the tower was assembled! I started by making several vertical slits in the tab.

Then I cut sideways, and the tab chipped off in pieces as the knife reached each of those slits.

After cutting off the tabs I sanded with the mouse sander to make the wall tops relatively flat. I’ll position crown molding inside the tower room so the floor of the gazebo can sit on top of it.

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