I have always loved crafty activities of all sorts. Drawing, painting, ceramics, modelling clay, even knitting for awhile, although the fabric-related arts have never been my forte... But building things was always my favourite thing to do. My mom loves to remind me of the cardboard house I made for my Popples when I was really little (yes, child of the 80s here); all the furniture was made from those styrofoam containers McDonalds used to have. The only thing I remember is that I used the bottom half of a Chicken McNuggets box for their bathtub, because the bottom had sort of textured bumps in it (so the Popples wouldn't slip in the tub!!! Yes, that is the kind of dork you are dealing with). Later on, when I was 8 or 9, I progressed to the white pieces of cardboard that come with men's shirts; my mom saved those for me and I built a hospital for my Playmobile people with that. It took up a third of the rec room floor, and whenever someone gave me a new medically-oriented Playmobile set (like the operating room or whatever), I'd add another row of rooms to my hospital. Ah, those were the days! :P
I also had a children's dollhouse, which I loved. The Playmobile people lived in that (when they weren't in the hospital with little plastic casts on their limbs...). I didn't do much to that dollhouse except make carpets for it, but I loved everything about it. When I was a teenager I did a lot of ceramics, but only hand building; I have a whole collection of really small clay animals from that era. I also drew a lot of floor plans for some reason. I liked making up fancy hotels, houses, and... spaceships (major life-long Trekkie girl here).
In fall 2003 I started grad school and wound up with a roommate who has a dollhouse she's been working on since she was nine. It was a kit her dad helped her make, and she moved it into our apartment because she wanted to start working on it again. Needless to say, I thought this was the coolest thing ever. My roommate had a whole stack of miniatures magazines, too. I don't remember which magazine it was, but I was blown away by the intricate detail people could achieve. If I hadn't known what kind of magazine I was looking at, I would have thought those were real rooms! Up until that point, I had no idea that this was a major hobby for adults. Just try googling "miniatures" sometime and see how many zillions of things pop up! Everything from miniature food to model railroads. I do remember visiting Miniature World, a museum in Victoria, and loving all the tiny recreations of famous scenes, houses, and stories, but it had never occurred to me that I could do something like that. That's where the roommately influence came in. She was very nice about letting me touch her dollhouse and telling me all about how she made it, but I wanted one of my own, dagnabit! You can only live vicariously through your roommate for so long, after all. But what kind of dollhouse?
Around that time, I got my first three Lord of the Rings action figures: Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. I wasn't one of those people who read LOTR in grade 3 and immediately became a lifelong fan; I wasn't even exposed to Tolkien until Peter Jackson's amazing movies came out. My friend Moosefluff actually had to drag me to my first viewing of Fellowship of the Ring, but it didn't take long to convert me. I think I went home and got ahold of Tolkien's trilogy the very next day, and read it every spare minute I had until it was done. Sooo good. But my favourite aspect of LOTR was, without a doubt, hobbits. To this day there are huge chunks of Tolkien's universe that I know hardly anything about, but I do know my hobbitses. I just thought they were so great: Their simple, pastoral lifestyle, their parties, and, above all, their awesome houses under the ground! Having read the above intro, you can probably guess that the hobbit holes particularly caught my imagination. I never could get the look of Bag End in FOTR out of my head...
So, given what I did with my Popples and Playmobiles, can you guess what I wanted to do with my LOTR action figures? 0:-) Build them a home, of course! Naturally assuming it would be a ridiculous undertaking to actually build a scale model of Bag End, I started off with some doll furniture I got at a nearby miniatures store, a lot of cardboard (my medium of choice!), and... a shelf in my bookcase:
This satisfied me for awhile. But eventually, I really wanted to expand. I looked online at dollhouse kits, but of course there is no kit for a hobbit hole. There isn't even a kit for a dollhouse with only one floor and circular doors and windows. My roommate's dad generously offered to provide the plywood and cut it up for me, if I wanted to design a hobbit house and build it from scratch. This I most definitely did want! But I was hesitant; I had never built something permanent like this. Everything is different when you're only planning to use cardboard! It took me a long time to work up the nerve to actually attempt something in wood, but I just knew how much fun it would be, from a crafty point of view. It would combine all the elements I loved: designing the floor plan, making tiny food and things out of modelling clay, sculpting the Hill, and other things I had no experience with--woodworking, stained glass windows, masonry, to name a few--but thought it would be a blast to learn. Once I decided to make it out of wood, I figured I might as well go all the way and make everything as good in quality as I could. I knew it would take a couple of years, so the expense would be spread out; I just didn't want to put in all this work and wind up with a piece of junk that would fall apart in six months. I want this thing to still be around to pass on to my grandchildren! So while my inner cheapskate demanded paper-printout floors and nonworking lights, I resisted those impulses and went with sheets of real strips of wood for the floors, real wood wainscotting, and electric candles. And I'm very glad I did.
It took me a looong time to come up with a floor plan that satisfied me. It actually doesn't totally satisfy me, because it's basically a compromise, but we do the best we can. :P Ideally, of course, I would have made an exact replica of the Bag End described by Tolkien:
Unfortunately, as anyone who builds dollhouses probably knows, you can't really have interior hallways in a dollhouse. Also, if I were to copy the above floor plan exactly, the resulting dollhouse would measure about 12 feet by 4 feet. Not practical for a dollhouse. So, I had to satisfy myself with making something more "representational". ;) I figured out a way I could squeeze an eight-room plan into a 3 feet by 4 feet space:
I can't find my drawing of the outside, but these rooms were meant to be covered with styrofoam or papier mache to make a nice grassy hill. It took even longer to work out how to arrange everything so that the hill wouldn't be too steep, but would still hide all the right-angles of the rooms within. Here is the basic structure after my roommate's dad cut out the pieces and I put them together:
The roof will always be removeable, and the front wall too. The back is open (and I prefer to imagine the smial continues past where the dollhouse ends!). So there are two rows of rooms. This is dollhouse scale, 1 inch: 1 foot, and the two rows of rooms together measure about 25" by 36".
A lot of people assume this project was very difficult and time consuming, but you might be surprised. The hardest part, I found, was the planning. Should I nail down the walls first or paint them first? Should I glue down the floor before or after I stain it? Should I put in the windows or build the Hill first? I actually sat down once and made a huge list of what things had to be done in a particular order and what things didn't. When you're not working from a kit, there are all sorts of things you have to figure out that you never would have thought about otherwise! As for the actual crafty parts, there was a lot of trial and error involved. But I had my roommate to advise me, and a number of my online friends had relevant experience and could answer my questions. As for the time involved... I'm a full time grad student; I work 50-60 hours a week, and I have bible study, tutoring, and sometimes orchestra rehearsal on weeknights. And I go out with my friends, watch TV, spend time on my other hobbies, etc. The only time I can spend on the hobbit house is maybe one or two evenings a week, plus the occasional weekend-long marathon. As fun as it is, this dollhouse is not something I would want to spend every waking moment working on; working on it slowly and a little at a time is what makes it fun and satisfying.
Anyway, I spent about a year wiring (this was new even to my roommate--I had to buy a booklet to read on the subject) and installing the wood paneling and flooring. The woodwork was by far the most time consuming part of this; I had to stain and polyurethane every one of those panels, baseboards, chair rails, and flooring sheets. And of course, I did a lot of buying of furniture. I don't have the tools or knowledge to make furniture from scratch, but I buy a lot of it unfinished, like the two fireplaces below, and finish it myself--in the case of the cooking fireplace shown in the first picture above, I had to make it myself because I couldn't find one to buy that was small enough to fit in the kitchen! The red tile floor in the foyer and the grey stone in the kitchen, pantry, and bathroom are all sheets of textured rubber; I just painted a layer of gloss varnish over them to make them look shiny and tile-like.
Then I turned my attention to doors, door frames, window frames, and stained glass windows. These three features took me a very long time, not to make but to figure out how to make. You can buy lengths of miniature doorframe from any dollhouse store, but of course those are always straight pieces! No one I knew had ever made circular doorways, in any scale, and I don't have any woodworking tools other than carving knives. What I did in the end was cut out the circular outer parts of the frames by hand--I used thin sheets of basswood, which is really soft--and then I made strips out of sheets of reeeally thin, bendy wood that would bend in a circle to line the doorway and cover the white paint over the edges. I did the same with the window frames, except I didn't bother with the bendy inner part. And I learned all about stained glass windows from some kit that somebody got me from an art museum years ago! It came with glass paints and everything; I just bought a sheet of thick acetate and traced on the patterns I came up with, using liquid "lead" from a craft store. That stuff also came in handy for making the pattern on the back of the front door (yes, I copied that from the movie).
Shall we finish with a Tiny Chimney? :P I had a little trouble figuring out how to use mortar, but my friend Elwen (who makes beautiful beds and curtains, btw) gave me some good advice and this is the result:
Heh heh. I just love those teensy bricks... I am having way too much fun. In any case, I'm always
looking for advice and ideas. If you have any ideas for things I can add in the future, or improve now, please let me know!
EDIT: Pictures of the finished interior can be found here, and pictures of the dollhouse decorated for Christmas are here.