How to Smoke a House

South Bend Kitchen after Smoking

People were smoking a lot of things in the ‘70s, but we may have been the only ones smoking houses. And I’m not saying what might have been growing on our porch in those ancient times that might have caused some of these ideas to work into our miniature houses. When we visited old homes and historic buildings we looked behind doors, up at the ceilings, and explored the lumps in the wallpaper–it wasn’t the amenities that interested us, but what made the house feel old.

Today I discovered some interior photos that show our developing detail work. First, the South Bend  kitchen has a patch of smoky grease over the wood cookstove, a detail we took from our very own house (okay, I just didn’t and don’t have time for scrubbing  ceilings). Our kitchen ceiling in Seaview was over an electric stove, but Noel’s penchant for frying meat at the highest possible temperature before ignition resulted in a brownish, shiny stain on the ceiling. Eventually we put in a venting system which did a great job of getting rid of most of the smoke, but the owners of our little houses didn’t have such amenities, hence the necessity for stains. The ceiling stain was the most intense result of the overall technique of smoking a house, one of our final steps toward helping along what we called the illusion of reality, whereby Noel placed an ashtray ringed with lit cigarettes on the mini woodstove, along with some wood chips, and sealed off the house with newspaper. Fire hazard or not, it was necessary to leave the house for a few hours while the nasty weed did its job, as it made the whole house smell like an ash tray. Unveiled, the mini house was fully fogged, but as the smoke cleared, it revealed subtly yellowed walls, with convincing darker areas in the corners, and an overall shading of grime on the sills, moldings and floors. It took “the new” out, and gave the rooms a surprising depth and character. The effect wasn’t instantly apparent, but part of the overall feel of age and human habitation. What was apparent was the awful stink of nicotine and cigarette smoke, which sometimes took weeks to dissipate. Due to customer and spousal complaints, we eventually switched to burning hickory chips as the sole fuel, but, as Noel says even now, “Without nicotine it just wasn’t the same.” The bonus with the hickory chips was the slight hint of maple, which I thought made the house smell as if someone had just finished cooking bacon. A homey smell. Hey—go for all the senses, right?

Attic of Unknown House

And speaking of smells, along with the mini spider webs, we added smelly dust to our attics, garages and crawl spaces. Not just any dust, but vintage dust from the vacuum cleaner bag we brought with us from California in ’74. It only took a light sprinkling to get that musty smell of closed-off rooms. No one ever said anything, so I guess it was pretty subtle, or it was a smell no one wanted to get to the root of.

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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