A Flat-pack Kitchen courtesy of a little ELF
by Marilyn Ormson
Before I begin the kitchen saga maybe a little background to set the scene would help. Last year, age 64, I bought my first doll’s house. So everything you read here needs to be prefaced with ‘I haven’t done anything like this before’. That’s not just to excuse the imperfections but it is intended to say – if I can do it, anyone can.
This doesn’t pretend to be the definitive build of an ELF kitchen; Elizabeth has a huge range of choices of styles and finishes. My biggest mental debate was between cupboards which opened or not. I decided that as I don’t have the sort of budget that could actually fill all the cupboards the way I would like, I might as well settle for the fixed door variety. That is just one of the many decisions you will have to make.
My house was a Wentworth Court from Dolls House Emporium with a Burghley basement and the only deviation from plan was that I split the basement into two areas. The intention was to have the large room as a state of the art kitchen and the small room with the back door as a ‘mud room’ where you could change shoes and drop wet coats and have a sink for gardening projects. After living with that thought for a while I decided my family really needed a family room to hang out in and a small kitchen would do very well. In real life I have almost always had small kitchens and much prefer them to the two giant ones I have had where I seemed to spend all my life cleaning the floor and walking miles between counter tops. So, the build begins......
Again, in real life, I have altered and redesigned and had built from scratch several kitchens over the years (on the cheap) so I wasn’t fazed by the actual layout design. I approached Wentworth in exactly the same way and drew up several rough plans until I was happy it would work and then drew a final plan to scale on graph paper.
I knew I had to get in a cooker, fridge, microwave, washing machine and a dishwasher. As this kitchen was the usual quart into a pint pot challenge I had to forgo the double fridge/freezer I would have liked. In a way my first purchases should have been the last (not that it mattered) and I ordered the appliances from ELF (http://www.elfminiatures.co.uk).
I had done a lot of research on the web and knew ELF was the best supplier for my needs. It seemed to be the only place offering a proper fitted kitchen just as it would be in real life. They sell a myriad of other wonderful things too. Amongst these are the terrific Miele kitchen appliances. They look like the real thing. They all open and come with lights and sound (!) Even the soap dispenser on the washing machine opens.
The other great thing is they are perfectly 1/12th scale. Don’t you get sick of the variations in size that you find? They slide beautifully beneath the countertops and fit perfectly in a cupboard width space. I was actually able to give all mine just a smidgen more room so I could get them in and out very easily if I wanted to.
Between the actual design and buying the appliances and the build itself I was in the States for six months so I had ample opportunity to keep going over the plans/theory before placing an order. In reality none of that would have mattered as Elizabeth at ELF is just the best! She will work with you at whatever level you like. You can hand the whole thing over to her just outlining what you want and she will do the complete bespoke thing or, like me, send her some plans on graph paper and a list of pieces you need to complete the project and she will check it out carefully for you and even make suggestions if she feels it's necessary. I wanted a plate rack and I don’t remember the whys and wherefores now, but ultimately after several emails back and forth I decided not to bother. She was in the process of moving home during my ordering stage and still managed to answer emails promptly, kindly and helpfully. She is an absolute star of a supplier of deal with. I wish real life worked the same way.
So to the flat pack itself ....... Right upfront let me say it was truly daunting to open the box full of all the little packets which, in turn, were filled with oodles of teeny bits of wood and, remember, I was working on a small kitchen. Don’t let this faze you; remember to eat the elephant one bite at a time.
Now here’s the first place I went wrong. I am known for rushing at everything - patience is not my middle name. If you want a perfect finish you must, must, must follow the painting instructions to the letter. Wait for everything to dry fully, sand every time you are told to sand and with very fine paper and only with the grain. I skipped all of these things here and there as I went along. The finish on my cabinets is OK but it doesn’t do full justice to Elizabeth’s lovely work.
Some things like not waiting long enough for glue and paint coats to dry I knew I was being naughty – a bit like dieting – if no-one sees you cheat it isn’t happening. Sanding - I just thought it was a case of grab some sandpaper and scrub away. All that chatter about one swipe in the wrong direction means twenty swipes to correct it was just pernickety people making a big deal out of a simple job. I put that mistake down to the ‘I’ve never done this before’ syndrome and have forgiven myself.
I used wood glue to fix the pieces together. I have since learned that a few miniature woodworking tools would have made it all so much easier. I was working with a craft knife, scissors and normal household tools. A 90 degree angle jig was quickly knocked up out of scrap wood (along with elastic bands) to hold pieces square while the glue dried. I have seen someone who builds whatever supports she needs with Lego blocks. I haven’t tried it but it looks like a good idea. Basically you will need some way of framing/holding pieces as they dry and some way of supporting pieces while you paint them. My gizmo now is a golf peg and Blue-tack (reusable putty). Fasten the object on to the top of the peg using the tack, hold the stem while you paint – it turns around to any angle easily, and then you can stick it in a piece of scrap polystyrene packaging to let the item dry.
I used acrylic paint as I wanted pretty much a matt finish (slight sheen) for my cupboards. Elizabeth sells the equivalent of shiny Formica so you can cover them if you want shiny and I am sure if you are experienced there are all sorts of paints and finishes you could choose. If I did it again I would do the initial sanding, dust it well, paint with a slightly watered down acrylic, wait for it to dry (!) sand again with the finest paper you can get (you can even use 0000 wire wool I believe), dust it well, put on a coat of full strength acrylic and have a good look and decide if it needs another sanding and another coat. Then I would apply a coat of clear wax polish. I could kick myself for not having bought some last weekend from IKEA (!!) about six dollars a tin and in a range of colours.
The sink can be ordered in a mix of sizes and finishes. The one I chose had to be polished with wire wool if you wanted a stainless steel effect, as did the taps. I also found it had a few snags left behind from the moulding and back then I didn’t know how to get rid of them. The answer is a good knife and coarse sandpaper or, better still for those who have them, a Dremmel (not me, sadly). I’d suggest if you are a newbie and don’t want to buy loads of kit as this is the only doll’s house you will ever be doing (laughter can be heard!), that you buy the most finished products you can afford. I did find setting the sink in the counter top the worst part of the project, partly because I was nervy about cutting out the opening in the countertop (Elizabeth will do this, I think), and partly because I had this lump of extra metal underneath.
The only other area I would suggest a slight deviation from the instructions is covering the work surfaces. I couldn’t make them turn over and stick to the narrow edge properly. Eventually I took the cupboards back out and cut off the edges and then applied some glue and stuck them back on. This gave a much sharper edge and better finish. Once again it will depend on what you choose from ELF’s range of products.
I think it took me about a week to make but it would have taken longer had I not short-cut everything. That’s not a full working week, of course: other life also got in the way of building my kitchen. The only construction picture I have is towards the end of the build; the work surfaces are on and cupboards are being joined together.
In terms of brainpower the build was very simple; nice clear instructions from Elizabeth. In terms of patience – it requires a lot. In terms of the physical build it was considerably less demanding on a 1/12th weight than in real life but a bit fiddly gluing all the mouldings on the front of each cupboard. Overall it was sort of therapeutic and soothing more than it was frustrating.
To anyone who hasn’t started their kitchen fit yet – do not fit your skirting boards. Why I didn’t remember this from real life I have no idea. I joyfully tiled the floor (yes do this even if a lot of it will be covered – it stops visible gaps and wobbles); and then I happily stuck in the skirting board with superglue!!!! No, on both counts, leave the trim out until after the fit and never use super glue. Having learned the hard way I suggest you always attach all mouldings and anything else which needs a ‘permanent’ fix to the walls (such as wall cupboards) with a hot glue gun. This will allow you to prise off anything without damage should you need to. Believe me somewhere in the future you will want to for some reason or another. In my case when I came to fit the kitchen I had to gouge the skirting off with all kinds of implements. Luckily most of the ensuing damage was hidden.
After fitting the kitchen cupboards up and down, I slid in the various appliances and made and fitted the cooker hood. The (mock) brushed steel I trimmed from the hood itself went on to make me small plinths to go under my cooker as I wanted to raise it level with work surfaces. It worked a treat.
The appliances like the kettle and toaster and incredible wall sockets (you can see two above the fridge here) are also from another favourite of mine Delph Miniatures (easy to confuse with ELF?) http://www.delphminiatures.co.uk/
She has the same incredible eye for detail as ELF and her 1/12th scale is exactly that. I can’t recommend them both enough for their very best products and excellent service.
I am sorry this piece lacks details such as room measurements and my floor plan, etc, but I spend the winter in Florida and my Wentworth stuff is in the UK, so I can’t get my hands on it until next April. If you want to read more about the project you can find it on http://wentworthcourt.blogspot.com and my next project is on http://letoutparis.blogspot.com. I am very happy to answer any questions about this project, just email me at email@example.com.