Friday, October 16, 2015

A little discovery...

If you have been following the build of my first dollhouse, you may know that I made up a little story about the history of the Canal House and its owners.  A story consisting of general historical facts, some personal preferences and a bit of imagination.

The story starts with the fictional character of Martha van Grootheest de Kleijne, who buys the Canal House in 1742.  Parts of the story reflect my personal interests, as does the decoration of the house.  My preference for tea drinking is represented in the story, and my love for silver can be found throughout the house in beautiful miniature silver objects.  Later in the story a marriage to an English lady explains an English influence in the decoration.

Some of my much loved silver (and blue and white) objects in the dining room of my first dolls house.  

Martha's last name 'van Grootheest  de Kleijne' is partly a reference to my grandmother after whom I was named. My grandmother's last name was 'van Grootheest'.  The first part of the name 'Groot' means big.  'De Kleijne' means the little one, but it is a name I made up myself because I liked the juxtaposition of the two names and the connection to miniatures.

Recently I was searching for something online and I came across my grandmothers last name in the archives of her city of birth, Schoonhoven.  That sparked my interest and I kept reading and clicking and reading some more in the Schoonhoven archives.  It did not take me very long to trace a huge part of my grandmother's side of the family back to that city, going back as far as the 16th century.

The city of  Schoonhoven is renowned for its silver and is therefore known as 'silver city'.  For centuries it has been a centre for gold-and silversmiths and it is the location of the International Silver School.  Without much effort I found several of my ancestors to have been silver smiths.  Maybe this is the reason why I so love silver objects, it must be ingrained in my DNA.

Silver pill box made by my 3x great grandfather's brother Willem de Pleijt in 1854.

Going back further into my family's history in Schoonhoven, I am one of the descendants of Thomas Littel, an Englishman who married Lijsbeth Pieters in Schoonhoven in 1595. Thomas and Lijsbeth are my 11x great grandparents.

Littel.  The name comes from the Middle English meaning little.  Another descendant of the Littel family found in his research the family motto for the (a) Little family:  'Sua Gratia Parvis', which means 'Little things have a beauty of their own'.  Isn't this all a wonderful coincidence?  These little things fitting in so well with the story I made up.

Sua Gratia Parvis: Little things have a beauty of their own.

Of course, by the time you get to the generation of your 11x great grandparents you already have 8,192 great grandparents (yes!), so who knows what other interesting and fun family facts are waiting to be discovered and which other elements I may have unconsciously used in my dollhouse stories!

Another fun little detail I only thought of just as I was about to post this blog:  apart from my love for silver which is visible in my dollhouse, it also shows my love for blue and white porcelain and Delftware.  Three guesses where the 17th century progenitor of my family name came from?...Exactly.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Louis XVI parquetry gueridon...

A class with Geoff Wonnacott.

Several years ago, I believe it was as far back as 2009,  I asked Geoff if he could come over to teach a class in the Netherlands.   Unfortunately for us he was very busy and didn't have time to come over and teach.  In the years that followed several of my friends and I kept asking (or maybe at some point it could be considered as nagging) him to please come over.  Pleeeeeease!  

 Geoff finally succumbed to the pressure and in May he came over to teach us how to make the wonderful Louis XVI parquetry gueridon.  

Cut out the table using a scroll saw.  Not my strong point.  Thankfully sanding will make it perfectly round.

I forgot to take photos at times.  This is a little writing desk (bonheur du jour) I worked on at home using the technique I had learned in the class.

Adding a drawer and, for this table, a half round raised back.

Back to the class piece again.  Working on the checkered parquetry top.

Starting on the parquetry on the rounded front drawer.  The finished piece you see here is not mine unfortunately ;-)  This is Geoff's piece which I was using for reference.

This is my table, almost finished.  It still needs a finish  on the wood.  Unfortunately I could't get the same type of finish Geoff uses on his pieces (which he did bring to class, but as I wasn't finished yet…), so I used spray shellac.

The shellac gives the piece a warmer and slightly darker finish and I think it is not as 'crisp' as  the finish Geoff uses, although that could also be due to my woodworking skills of course ;-)

The gueridon in its new home.  It fits well in this room I think.   In the lefthand corner of the photo a glimpse of another new piece I got in May, of which I will tell you more in my next post.

It was a really good class in which I again learned a lot.  I hope Geoff will be back to teach another class!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Summer souvenirs...

It seems like I have skipped an entire season!  I suppose I have taken a summer retreat, but with the weather turning cooler again, I have returned to my miniatures workshop.  

I have put a few summer souvenirs on the fireplace mantle.  

Beautiful fossils and semi-precious stones which I actually got last summer at the summer school in Tune from an Australian miniaturist who's name I can't remember!  (Edit:  her name is Jan Jones.  Thank you Elga!).  I mounted the fossil on a block of ebony which I think looks great against the white ivory pedestal dish with the (fake) coral (made by Vonas Miniaturen).  

The red colour of the coral is picked up by the red in the semi-precious stones.  I don't know what the stones are.  The red one has crystals in the center and the smaller one has a ring of blue-green crystals  near the edge with a more solid red colour on the inside.  

Late summer sun streams into the Yellow Salon.  On the mantle is a little bronze sculpture of a bull which I bought from ArtForge at the Kensington Dollshouse Festival Summer Show.  I also bought the very summery flowers there.  They were made in metal by Gill Rawling (Petite Fleur).

Near the window is a Louis XVI style parquetry gueridon which I made in a class with Geoff Wonnacott.  More on that in another post!

Summer is nearly over.  The white marble statue is a reference to the coming season 
('Autumn' by Sue Cook).

Friday, April 17, 2015

The making of…the fireplace mantel

In my last post I promised to show you how I made the different elements of my dining room roombox. One week later than promised (I blame the nice spring weather we've been having), but here is the first episode:  the making of the fireplace mantel.   

Let me start with a reminder of what the room box looked like 'naked'.  In the next three posts will show you how I've made the fireplace, the mirror and the alcove cupboard.

I used this photo of an 18th century Louis XVI fireplace from a house in The Hague as my inspiration.  I was not trying to make an exact copy, but I did want it to have those 18th century characteristics and a similar 'feel'.  

Start of the fireplace mantel.  After determining the size and sketching the design on paper,  I transferred the design onto a piece of wood.  I have cut out the shapes with a saw and then used a router to create the curved and raised moulding.  

Shaping of the detail in progress.  I used Milliput to add the 'carved' detail to the mantel header.  Milliput can be shaped like clay for a while before it gets hard.  When it has cured you can cut it, drill it and file it like wood.  I use many different tools to create the end result:  dental tools, cutters, a surgical knife, files etc.  

The mantel legs are fluted and rounded using the router.  The legs consist of several elements to match the lines and shapes of the mantel header.  I could have routed both header and legs as one piece and then cut it, but that would have made it difficult to handle while routing.  

The assembled fireplace mantel.  On the bottom of the mantel legs I added plinths with the same shape as the mantel legs, just a little bit bigger.  
The mantel shelf (foto below) echoes the shape of the header.  It took me a fair amount of time to get the right shape on the shelf without it looking clumsy and out of proportion.  It was interesting to me how a job like this, which seems simple and straightforward, can be much more difficult than it appears.  

The finished fireplace mantel.   
For the marbling I used acrylic paint which I applied in layers using a cotton rag.  Layer after layer after layer of colour, until I was happy with the colour and the effect.  In between the layers and washes of paint I used clear varnish and then polished with very fine steel wool to get a shine.  I applied the veining with a fine brush, a stick and pencil.  After a final varnish I applied a coat of thin wax to give it that lovely shine which marble has.  

Next time: the making of…the mirror.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Fine dining...

Last week I promised to show you the dining room I have been working on for several months.   It is a dining room designed in collaboration with A.Aardewerk Antiquair Juwelier after an eighteenth-century example, to display part of their collection of 18th century silver miniatures.  The roombox  was on display at the TEFAF Maastricht art and antiques fair last month.  

Apart from the beautiful antique silver miniatures, the roombox (including the fireplace, the mirror and the table) was entirely made by me. 

"The table is laid for six, with a rare, complete set of cutlery consisting of six forks, six knives and six spoons. Between the candlesticks in the centre of the table is an equally rare oil and vinegar cruet set and a pair of sauce boats."  (text by A.Aardewerk Antiquairs Juweliers) 

"The pièce de résistance is the wall fountain in the alcove, which can be closed off with two sliding doors. An actual fountain of this kind would have been filled with wine. Costly engraved glasses were displayed on the console tables around the fountain. During the meal, diners could take a glass and fill it with wine before resuming their place at the table. The set of six dining chairs around the table is exceptional. There is a silver fire back and a hearth plate in the fireplace."  
(text by A.Aardewerk Antiquairs Juweliers)

You all probably know by now I love silver and I felt so very privileged to see these exquisite antiques in this room.   No, they're not mine, but that's all right.  I am happy with these photos as well.  

Next week I will tell you a little bit about how I have made the room.  Until then, Happy Easter!

All photos © Emiel Aardewerk

Friday, March 27, 2015


Something I was working on a few months ago, a recessed buffet for a dining room.   The room was designed around some beautiful antique silver miniatures.  I will show the finished room next week.  For now, please enjoy my feature film 'Handwork':


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Curtains for the floor...

Progress on my second Canal House is slow.  But I suppose that is what happens if you don't work on it, isn't it?  Having said that, I did get some work done...

I wanted to have plain pinewood floor boards in the dining room.  Something which you often see even in the grander houses of the 18th century.  During my last private visit of the beautiful canal house on the Herengracht one of the caretakers of the house told me that pine floors were very expensive in the 18th century as all the wood had to be imported from the Nordic countries.  

I started making the floorboards from wooden slats from discarded blinds.  With some knots drawn on the bare wood the floor was starting to look like pine.   The wood did look a bit too new so I did several tests with different finishes to find the perfect used look...

I found the perfect finish to simulate an old, unwaxed pine floor.  Or so I thought.  On the sample it looked perfect.  When I applied it to the floor, my carefully drawn knots almost disappeared and the overall colour was too dark, too new looking.  So that floor is not staying.  I will probably sand it and start again.  Or put down another floor, using a different wood.  I don't know yet.  

I also started making the curtains for this room.  This time I used a fine blue cotton which I lined with  white silk.   For the roman blinds I hand dyed silk to match the colour of the wallpaper.  Getting the right hue on the fabric was a lot of work and involved several dye baths, drying the fabric in between each bath.  I dyed just enough fabric to make the three roman blinds for this room.

After a break of a few weeks, I wanted to get back to working on the dining room.  As I was setting up the room to decide what to do next, I just could not find one of the roman blinds.  I looked absolutely everywhere for it, but it was nowhere to be found.   Out of frustration I decided to clean up my workshop instead.  As I grabbed the vacuum cleaner, my eye fell onto something blue inside the dirt cup.  

Yup, the missing roman blind.  I just cannot understand how I could not have noticed that being sucked into the hose.  It's not exactly tiny like my poor little teddy bear from several years ago.  
After a quick rinse and dry the curtain was fine.  Thankfully, as I did not have any fabric left to make a new one, and with hand dying it is almost impossible to get the same colour again.

So, on with the windows and doors.  And the floor of course.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Warm light, cool light..

In November all the lamps of my first Canal House suddenly started giving a very feeble light.  Pretty though it was, it meant there was something wrong in the electrical circuit.   In order to get to the root of the problem, I had to turn my house so I could reach the back where all the wiring comes together.  Quite a big job and I didn't have time for that until last week.

After a time consuming process of elimination, I found the defective light on the upper landing and was able to fix it.  While I was able to reach the back with my soldering iron, I added a couple of new lamps to the system.

In my electrics drawer I found the table lamp with the two hearts.  I'm not sure where I got this from, but it was a cheap light which I bought online I think.  It fits perfectly in my Arts & Crafts room with the heart shapes reflected in the chair backs and the shape of the foot of the lamp reflected in the little Moroccan table.

I still have to remove the white sticker pad underneath the lamp, I don't like those at all.  

In the kitchen I finally plugged in the small refrigerator I made ten years ago, it still works!  So that is now ready for use.  

Looks good!  At last we can see what's in the fridge at night too.

There is not much in the fridge.  I think a food shopping trip is in order.

Ah, there's the basket with groceries.  Some white wine and...hang on, what's going on there??

It's that rat again!  The one who stole my radishes in the garden.  And now he's got a sausage!  Cheeky little bugger.   I think I need another cat!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Best wishes...

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