Saturday, 19 October 2019

Miniature castle makes it big!!!

Hordle Castle was proud this week to be featured in the Daily Mail, The Times and Sun!

A very big THANK YOU to all three papers for publishing and to James Somper at Caters News for being interested in promoting Hordle’s story, and to the Miniatura Festival for putting James in touch with me! And of course to The National Trust and many other bigger and grander houses than Hordle for all the inspiration. It’s been great to share my story with so many people!

Here are some of the pictures from the ‘photoshoot’ (done with my partner’s new iPhone 11!)...

The secret passage under the tomb...

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Turkish Bathroom

I am aware that my castle chapel is supposed to include many religious ideas, but it doesn’t include any Islamic motifs. I wanted to balance this by creating a bathroom in a Turkish style - a ‘Turkish Bath’ room - cleanliness is, as they say, next to godliness. Victorians often fancifully used Islamic tiling (eg, Leighton House), so I knew it were possible that a room in my castle could had been decorated in this way in the nineteenth century, but not necessarily in a genuine Islamic way. 

I bought some postcards from the Victoria & Albert Museum of some blue and white Iznik tiles there, and ever since wanted to include them in the castle. On a trip to the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, I bought another postcard of more Iznik tiles that seemed to fit in style and colour. I then found a plastic bath bought as part of a beauty regime kit, which I decided to paint copper with gold legs to match the orange of the Pergamon tiles. You can see the V&A tiles on the upper level of the back wall, and the Pergamon tiles forming an oriental half-onion on the wall above them.

These elements inspired a long search online for all things Iznik, and a visual trawl through Moroccan palaces, and Turkish mosques, in order to find ideas for the rest of the room. I wanted the sink to be based on a Moorish fountain. I wanted ottoman tables, rugs and cushions, and hanging lamps, so that the cool glistening of the blue-white tiles would contrast with deeply coloured rich fabrics.

Eventually I chose to divide the space into two rooms, firstly a more Moroccan themed windowed atrium with cushions and octagonal tables, and beyond that the bathroom room itself with my original postcards of Iznik tiles making it more Turkish. The dividing wall would form a screen with two spiralled plant stands from the Dollshouse Emporium incorporated as pillars. 

After much debating with myself about which tiles I liked best, I eventually scaled down and printed the images and stuck them to the walls, pillars and floors.

The blank walls and ceiling I decided to plaster with polyfilla before painting, so that they have a more genuine Mediterranean texture than paint alone would provide. This however proved tricky, as the room’s dividing wall was a structure I had cut out from corrugated cardboard and foam (so as to be lighter than wood), and I had to cover that in glue before the ‘plaster’ would stick, and add glue to the plaster mix too. Flattening it to a smooth surface was also a challenge; I found that doing two layers helped: the first layer I roughly smoothed with a small flat plastering tool; when this was dry, I applied the second thinner layer and smoothed it down with a damp sponge before it dried. 

I inserted the lid of a cotton bud tub into the ceiling, painted gold with acrylics, just to add a bit of simple decorative variation. I made the Moroccan style lamps out of beads with grain of wheat bulbs threaded inside. 

Now I know what you’re thinking: you have a bath an a fountain for a sink, but where’s the TOILET?! Well, I hope to disguise that under the cushion-bestrewn ottoman in the first room...

Thursday, 31 August 2017

My Dutch baby house

This is the tiniest project I've ever attempted. It began with a coincidence.

In May 2017, I finally gave in to the demands of friends, and started reading the bestselling novel The Miniaturist; at the same time, I happened to be trawling the net window-shopping for 1:12 scale Dutch baby houses (from Bespaq and in Hong Kong). The more I read the book, the more I knew I needed a Dutch cabinet house so that my castle had a dolls house within a dolls house, in 1:144th scale, and at least partly in the style of Petronella Oortman's original dolls house. 

I began ogling at images of her house online, and I fell in love with some of the rooms - the working and best kitchens, the painted drawing room, the hallway - and I decided to base some of my rooms on those. But I also wanted my baby house to reflect other famous dolls houses that have inspired me, especially Queen Mary's Dolls House in Windsor Castle, and the National Trust dolls house in Uppark House which belonged to Sarah Lethiuellier.

The first step was the cabinet itself, and after trying to import an unfinished Bespaq cabinet from the USA, and failing (Bepaq had run out of stock), I eventually opted for a different brand from

I was nervous about making furniture in so tiny a scale, so I ordered some brilliant kits from in the USA. I also ordered some tiny LED bulbs from her brilliant website. Along with the import duty from Hong Kong and the USA, this was proving to be a pretty costly venture, just as Petronella's house had been! I had to be very careful not to make any mistakes making it from here on in...

Once I had my cabinet and knew the dimensions of the rooms, I trawled online images of wallpapers, pillars, landscape paintings (Claude Lorrain's in particular), portrait paintings, flooring, tiles, as well as photographs of Oortman's and Queen Mary's Houses. These I cropped and shrunk down on the computer to the right size, and put into a word document ready to be printed and cut out. I then folded the walls, floors and ceilings so that they could be slotted into the rooms. This was sometimes painstakingly difficult, especially where the room was slightly narrower on one side than expected. If you are trying this yourself, be aware of the thickness of the paper at the corners which, at this minute scale, makes a big difference!

Then I began making Cynthia's kit furniture, adapting it where necessary or desired. For example the shelves in her library kit were too big for my room as they were designed for a Bespaq cabinet, so I left the side panels off and had to trim the fireplace to make it fit. I also shrunk and printed different upholstery for the chairs and sofas. 

I chose my own paintings and portraits and put them in Cynthia's kit frames. One room has 'Petronella' herself with her parakeet having above the fireplace, and on either side her merchant husband, and her sister-in-law dressed in black. 

Since childhood I had always loved gazing at the guidebook to Queen Mary's Dolls House which my mother had brought back from a trip to Windsor (I eventually saw the house myself last year). I particularly loved the library and the King's Bathroom, so I decided to base my baby house rooms on these. I cropped, shrunk and printed photos of the library's books and paintings to adapt Cynthia's kit. 

I did the same with a photo of the end wall of the bathroom, and then marbleised a strip of paper in green, layering it over with cut white card for the panelling. I decided not to marbleise the bath as Cynthia's kit bath had legs. Was this the right choice? 

Then came the really fun part: making tiny ornaments for each room! I was fortunate with another coincidence: I found on the pavement one day a 'gibbetycatch' (I don't know the real name for it). 

Each knob of this plastic fastening would be a perfect vase if painted white with blue Sharpie patterns dotted onto it. And the catch section would make a table lampshade.

I used other 'vases' from this as decanters, drawing on the 'brandy' or 'wine' with orange or red Sharpies respectively. I made tumblers out of see through new clothes tags, cut about 1mm high. 

I also made a cardboard Gouda cheese and wrapped it in a piece of rizzler (I don't smoke but an acting colleague left one on the table in our digs where  I was working, so it was fair game!) I also made a brush out of a longer bit of clothes tag and the end of a flossing brush.

I also made all the green furniture in the working kitchen myself, all out of cardboard. Bear in mind that the whole room is only 1.6cm wide and you will realize just how tiny all this is! 

The final touch was the lighting. Cynthia's tiny LED bulbs are about 2mm wide, so they were the right shape and size to be picture lights. I decided to use them as lights over the fireplace pictures in most of the rooms as that would place them high up enough to light most of the room, but the effect is actual a little like candlelight. I coloured the wires in gold with a gold pen.

But I also wanted to experiment a bit, so I tried a chandelier in the music room: I threaded a few tiny see-through beads onto some gold thread and tied them in a circle to glue around the bulb. Then I threaded a couple more beads over the wire and glued them in place, to give it a more tiered look. Because I bent the bulb to face the ceiling, I like the way it lights up the ceiling painting above it.

I also attempted to light up the fire in the stove of the working kitchen. I fixed the bulb into a thin red straw and then painted black around the fire opening. I added tiny strips of black card for detail and painted them black too. The wire, also painted black, became the chimney.

So here is the whole cabinet lit up... enjoy all the pictures!

The bedroom, I should add, is really just a fantasy room of mine based on many red damask walled rooms in stately homes. But I have a portrait of Sarah Lethieullier above the mantelpiece in honour of her English dolls house in Uppark House. 

The hallway has a lantern I made by folding up black card around an LED bulb, and four Canaletto's of Venice.

The dining room has a rotting sugar cone in honour of The Miniaturist's storyline: it's the tip of a cocktail stick painted white with a black Sharpie mark on it.

The library has a portrait of Queen Mary, on whose dolls house it is based, on the left hand wall.