Spider-rama, or, the Chocolate Summer

The North Head

By June of 1977, with the start of The North Head, our 14th house, we were beginning to get down the vocabulary of Victorian. Noel came up with 3-point design of two gables with a tower between, plus a showcase chimney, that established the basic components for a handful of commissioned projects, as well as our Tower House kit for do-it-yourselfers. While Noel devised the intricate chimney brick pattern, I cut and applied endless rows of decorative and roofing shingles. The radio kept us entertained (and somewhat sane) with Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (the ridiculous) and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the sublime). That same month Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown, the Alaska Pipeline opened, and Apple II, the first practicable personal computer went on sale (as long as you had a TV for a screen and could run audio tapes).

Slightly aged diamond and fishscale shingles

The North Head was destined for Hawaii, and our enthusiastic client plied us with packets of chocolate macadamias and Kona coffee via the post office. We experimented more with aging details—breaking out some of the lattice under the house (where the dog went for shade), more wear and tear on steps and staircases, and a few more stains under the window ledges. While we were known for our aging techniques, it would be a while before customers would encourage us to do more. Noel developed his black wax formula for floors—Johnson’s paste wax mixed with cigarette ashes (yes, it smelled awful–eventually we replaced the ashes with Mars Black tube acrylic paint). It was applied after the floors were stained and laid, hand-rubbed in with a darker build-up left in the corners. It was one of those largely unnoticeable details that made a room feel real. It seemed to register in the sub-conscious of the viewer as evidence of human occupation. For us it took “the new” out. We added glass etching to our repertoire, which allowed us to embellish the houses even more—by then we were totally immersed in Victorian ornamentation. Jim Marcus introduced us to the wonderful gelutong, a dense wood, similar to basswood, but with almost no grain that allowed Noel to cut intricate gingerbread shapes on the scroll saw with minimal breakage. One of my favorite elements was the glassed-in back porch off the kitchen, very close to the sunporch on the front of our own house, where we ate dinner during the summer.

Back Porch

Late nights after we finished work, Noel often stayed up and just looked at the house, waiting for new ideas. One of those brainchilds came from noticing a hatch of baby spiders on our front porch, which he moved to the attic of the miniature house, then closed the door to the studio and came to bed. The next morning I opened the door to find the entire studio webbed–little white threads connecting the house to the ceiling, worktables, spare wood strips, tools and bottles of glue—everything linked to the next. And yes, the attic had tiny, in-scale webs strung across its ceiling.

About smallhousepress

In 1974, my husband Noel and I began building aged miniature houses for collectors and museums. We were 70's dropouts. We quit our careers in advertising--art director and writer, respectively--and escaped Los Angeles in a VW camper and a Bug for a simpler life on the coast of Washington State. From a tiny studio in our home, we built 64 houses and buildings. Our specialty was aging--making a structure that reflected the scars and wrinkles of time, the elements, and human habitation. In the 80s we began teaching our techniques in workshops around the country, and I began to write our how-to's in Nutshell News and Miniature Collector. In 2000 we migrated across the Columbia to Astoria, OR, where , in 2011, we retired from miniatures. We are Fellows of the International Guild of Miniature Artisans and taught at their annual school in Castine, ME. By avocation I am a writer and poet. The blog is my way of working back into a writing routine, as well as recording what we did, and what we learned along the way.
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2 Responses to Spider-rama, or, the Chocolate Summer

  1. kc says:

    I have not seen photos of this house before. Love the details and the gull grey and white color. I recall you made a Hawaiian bungalow too. Was it for the same customers?

    • We never made a Hawaiian bungalow, though that would have been a good project. We did make a Hawaiian fruit stand for the same customer, after a euphoric visit to Hawaii, and then another one for ourselves.

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