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Dolls' Houses
Past & Present

A website and ezine about dolls' houses: antique, vintage and modern.
Plus furniture and accessories.

Issue 32 (March 2020)

Refreshing Eastern Manor

by David Brush

I don't know who made Eastern Manor.  I suspect from the construction it was an individual hobbyist rather than a commercial operation.  I picked it up about a year ago at the Tring Auction House (Hertfordshire in England). Judging from the materials and some of the fittings I suspect it dated from the 1970s or 80s and that the child(ren) it was made for are long grown.  It seems likely that it had been sitting untouched for some years in a garage or attic.  The brick paper on the outside walls was seriously faded and begining to peel.  Bits were beginning to fall off it.  But the interior decor was still in good condition and the structure was sound. 

2 storey dolls house with square bay window and 2 dormer windows

Compare the red brick paper that had been hidden from the light and the faded paper outside.

My track record of making houses from scratch is not good.  I have several part finished models sitting around.  I also have a (step)granddaughter who was just the right age for a dolls house to play with.  Refreshing Eastern Manor ready to be a Christmas present from 'Opa' felt like a manageable project.  Though, in traditional fashion, the last piece of painting was still done on Christmas Eve.  I recall my father doing exactly the same thing some fifty five years ago on my sister's house.

I do wonder if the original builder had the same issue.  He or she had done a great job but there were a couple of bits that felt as if it was handed over a few days before it was fully finished.

There was a little note attached to it at the auction room advising caution - the roof had to be lifted before the door front could be opened.  Which must have made playing with it awkward.  Lifting the roof with one hand and opening the door with the other was a fiddle, though no great issue, for an adult.  But impracticable for a small child.  Fixing this was the first step.  I chose to raise the roof rather than cut down the front wall.

Small part of dolls house with side view of corner of house and dormer window

The roof overhang came down over the opening wall at the front and was corrected by a triangular fillet pinned and glued to each of the side walls.

Side of dolls house showing extra piece of wood added on pitched top

Fortunately this change of roof angle was small enough not to require the dormers to be repositioned.  Two other changes were needed though.

The hinges had not been properly fitted originally and needed to be cut into the surfaces.  Straightforward on flat pieces of wood on the workbench before assembly but a fiddly job to be done in situ.

Inner back pitched roof of dolls house showing how hinges were placed

Reworking is so much harder than building 

More directly as a consequence of raising the roof there was a small gap, visible from the side and from low down, at the top of the front wall.  It was necessary to fix a small new section of wall attached to the roof to fill the gap. 

A hand holding the dolls house hinged roof with a red outline around an added piece

The additional wall section pinned and glued to the underside of the roof

The other adjustment which had to be made was to the chimneys.  These sit on the back of the roof.  The modeller in me, as opposed to the toymaker, was troubled by the fact that the chimneys on the roof bore no relation to where the fireplaces were, or should be inside the house.  Wise counsel, from my nearest and dearest, reminded me that this was for a two year old to play with.  Not for submission to an exhibition judge.

The purpose of the chimneys turned out to be a support for the roof when it was folded back to allow access to the attic rooms.  The peaks of the dormer roofs rested on the flat chimney tops – no chimney pots were possible.  Some repositioning and refixing was needed.  The brick finish for the chimneys was another Model Builders Supply moulded sheet.  Nobody in the family except me objects to the common bond brickwork rather than English or Flemish or Garden wall.  I just think it’s a shame so much brick paper and plastic sheet is the modern common bond pattern as used in cavity walls.

And, at last, onto the decorative refreshing.  The biggest single task in this project was re-roofing.  While brickpaper may be acceptable (though I'm not really convinced at 1/12 scale) I draw the line at tile paper.  The texture of tiles means that something three dimensional is needed. For Eastern Manor I opted for some moulded plastic card pantile sheets 'Spanish tile' I bought many years ago from Model Builders Supply  of Aurora Canada (https://modelbuilderssupply.com).  They are still in business.

Roof of dolls house partly covered with sheets of tiling

Part way through fixing the tile sheets

The size of the sheets and the irregular shapes caused by the dormers and the chimneys meant that I had quite a lot of cutting and fitting to do.  A bit of a jigsaw puzzle.  Plus, I only just had enough and the last section on the back roof was a lot of small bits pieced together.  Not ideal but cheaper than sending to Canada for one extra sheet.

With hindsight I should have taken more care than I did.  I figured that I would be able to make good with filler but it proved harder than I expected.  So what's new?  I used a wood filler which is tougher and better able to be being shaped and sanded  than wall filler.

Front of the roof all tiled

A bit further on

To glue them on I used a heavyweight combined glue and filler from the builders' merchant section. You know, the rigid plastic tubes mounted in a cage and forced out with a trigger mechanism.  The moulding on the plastic sheets is deep and as well as gluing them it was necessary to fill the voids between the sheets and the roof substrate.

Now the work really began.  I wanted to make the roof edges look a bit realistic. My chosen method was to glue wooden strips along each exposed edge, fill the gaps between the wooden strip and the curved tiles with wood filler and then carve the edge tiles.  It kept me entertained for days.  Weeks?  It was a labour of love.  A good job I was not charging my pre-retirement hourly rate!  I omitted unfortunately to take any photos during this stage.

Edge of roof on front right corner

One little section of roof edge, on the dormer roof, finished and painted.

The ridge tiles were L shaped plastic strip from the DIY store.  The flashing covering the joins between the dormer walls (and the chimneys) and the tiles was simply folded cardboard.  All the way through, as I filled, scraped away glue and filler, sanded, filled again and re-sanded my undercoat of choice was Rustins red oxide undercoat. As sold as an undercoat for metal and familiar from car repairs. I am a big fan of this product.  It covers beautifully, dries matt and sands to a smooth even finish showing up all imperfections still needing work.

Dolls house roof from above showing ridge capping and chimneys

Showing the ridge tiles and chimneys

Which just left the fun part.  Repainting. I stuck with the yellow colour chosen by the original maker, though I toned it down to something a bit more muted.  I also stuck with white window frames and a red front door.  For the roof I went for a brown shade, a sort of dark mushroom.  If the target grandaughter had been English I would probably I have picked something redder but little F is Dutch and houses there tend to have brown or grey on the roof.  Both the yellow and the mushroom are DIY store emulsion tester pots.

And here it is.  The finished product.  Eastern Manor, refreshed and ready to be enjoyed by a new generation. The little window boxes of tulips, the door, the name plate and topiary trees are all original.  I can take no credit for them.

Front of finished dolls house

As delivered on Christmas afternoon 2019 - complete with a string of lights along the front.

A copy of this article is also available on David's own site MiniatureBuildings.co.uk

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