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Review of The Manor House by Dolls House Magazine

December 8th, 2009

Our dolls’ house kits are regularly reviewed by the hobby’s leading publications. The following review of The Manor House by Sarah Lawrence is taken from Dolls House Magazine, issue 10.

The Manor HouseThe Manor House arrived in two boxes. It was extremely heavy so I got the postman to carry it inside for me. The first thing I noticed was how well each piece was cut and presented. The comprehensive instructions are an absolute dream. Anyone can follow them. First, there is a page with drawings and the names of all the components. This is particularly helpful if you are a little unsure of what you are doing. On page two is a list of all the tools and materials you will require. I decided to follow the instructions to the letter, and did a dry run, holding parts together with masking tape.

I was amazed at the ease of the slot-in construction, and within 10 minutes my dolls’ house was standing (albeit with masking tape holding it together). The next instruction tip was to make pilot holes for the nails (if you choose to nail your house as well as glue it). You are told exactly where to make the holes, and what size drill bit to use. I made the pilot holes with my Minicraft drill. It is a high-torque drill with a variable speed transformer and is absolutely ideal for beginners like myself, and the more experienced. The drill is light and easy, and has opened up another dimension for me (reviewed in issue 9, page 50 of The Dolls’ House Magazine). The instructions also provide tips on gluing, painting, wiring and wallpapering.

Finishing Techniques

Apart from listing all the parts, you are also advised in the instructions which parts to paint before construction – wonderful. Something not mentioned, but I think more important, is to seal all the parts before painting. I used one part PVA glue and five parts water, mixed it thoroughly, then brushed it on each part. It dries quickly so I gave each part two coats.

Now to the painting. I used vinyl silk emulsion as gloss tends to look unnatural on miniature houses. I didn’t use an undercoat as I had already thoroughly sealed the parts. I couldn’t find any off-the-shelf colours I liked so I had a special pale yellow paint (mixed for me at my local DIY store), which I have used on the sides, front, inside front and attic. Slate grey was used on the lip of the base and attic, as well as the sides of the attic and across the top, complement real slates, from Richard Stacey, on the attic roof. More on that later.

Using a small roller, I applied two coats of paint to each piece. I found this a wonderful tool to use as there were no brush strokes.

Glueing the Manor HouseNow for construction

When all the paint was thoroughly dry, I started to construct the carcase, applying the PVA in zigzag lines as suggested. I slotted in the sides and the two inside walls, then the back panel, and applied masking tape while the glue dried.

Next, I put on the top floor and both glued and nailed it in position. I turned the carcase over carefully and nailed through the base, using my excellently drilled pilot holes. I slid the mid-floor in place (after gluing), and glued the attic and two inside walls into position. I then drilled holes in the attic top panel and attached the hinges, then glued the attic top panel in place.

Wiring and decoration

Now is the time to install hanging lights (in the middle two rooms in this case), and to decorate. To do this, I drilled through the ceiling in order to run the wires under the flooring of the rooms above. I then drilled holes in the back of the upstairs rooms, close to the floor, so that I could push the wires through the back of the house unnoticed.

The Manor HouseEach room was carefully decorated. It is important to plan beforehand what each room is going to contain, and decorate accordingly. The Dolls House Emporium supplied me with its deluxe decorating kit and all the light fixtures and fittings. The pack contains a selection of excellent wallpaper designs, skirting boards, dado rails and cornices (which incidently cover a multitude of decorating sins).
Above: The Dolls House Emporium supplied me with its deluxe decorating kit and all the light fixtures and fittings.

I used Deluxe Materials’ wallpaper paste and found it easier to paste the walls rather than the paper, as this enabled me to move the paper around to the desired position before it dried. I applied skirting and dado rails and cornices particularly to the rooms where I didn’t quite get the wallpaper right. To cut all these pieces I used Shesto’s mitre cutting pliers (see test report, issue 6, page 78 of The Dolls’ House Magazine), which cuts brilliantly at any angle.

I had previously applied Rustins teak oil to all the skirting boards, which gives a rich, finished look without taking away the beauty of natural wood.

I particularly enjoyed decorating the Manor House, though I deviated slightly from the instructions at this point and stained all the windows with a one-coat, American walnut wood dye from Colron, available at your local DIY store. As a final touch, I finished the windows in Colron natural colour finishing wax, which rendered the wood with a slight shine and also evened out the wood dye to a certain extent.

The inside doors and stairs were stained with the same teak oil as all the skirting boards, cornices and dado rails. Be sure you use a lint-free cloth when applying wood dye, otherwise the cloth fibres will stick to the wood.

Raising the roof

At this point you should attach hinges to the attic front panel, install the roof panel and fix the dormer windows in place, making sure you do not over-glue the acetate as it will smear. After completing this task I slated the roof.

The Manor House RoofThese thinly-cut slate tiles are genuine slate, add the most realistic finish to your roof. They are 20mm x 40mm, and can be cut to any size required. The tiles are supplied with helpful instructions, telling you first to glue a thin 2mm x 2mm strip of card or wood across the lower edge of the roof. This allows the first row of tiles to lay at the correct angle for the following rows.

Work out where the first row of tiles will come to and mark a pencil line across the roof. This makes it easier to keep the row straight. Continue to draw lines right the way up the roof and remember to allow each row of tiles to overlap by just over half of their length.

Glue the tiles into position one row at a time using a PVA glue, making sure that the glue is in the right position for the tile to stick to the roof and to the previous row. If you need to cut any tiles (and you will), score a line on both sides of the slate with a craft knife and snap the tile (for safety, use a dust mask).

The gullies between the roof and the dormer windows needed to look like lead, so I mixed some black paint with PVA glue and, as you can see, this seems to have done the trick.

Now glue on the chimney cappings and chimneys. I painted my chimneys with terracotta paint for authenticity.

The Manor House lightingSwitched on!

Although many people cringe at the thought of electrifying their house, it is really easy and satisfying. On the back of the instructions is a comprehensive diagram showing you the best way to lay out the copper tape. The basic principle of wiring a dolls’ house is to create an unbroken circuit of tape, whether this be on the inside or outside, containing a negative and positive supply.

The simplest way, recommends The Dolls House Emporium, is to wire the outside back of the house. As long as you have fastened two strips of copper tape down the outside back, you can wire it. Following the wiring instructions, put four lines of copper tape on the outside back of the house. Each line consists of two strips of tape, the width of the pins of one of the light plugs.

Join the two vertical lines of tape with two horizontal tracks of tape and solder where they meet. Now check your transformer with the bulb supplied. Cut off all the plugs to the lights (or simply remove the pins from the holder to reveal bare wire), and position all the wall lights on the back wall of each room.

Mark the desired position with a pencil and drill a hole (using a 1.5mm drill bit) through the back.

Separate the two strands of wire from each light fitting and solder the exposed pieces of wire onto each tape. Test each light after soldering, by fixing a terminal block with connecting wires to the bottom of the copper tape with eyelets (or solder, or both), and connect it to the transformer.

Remove the plug from the mains before testing each light. After securing each wire satisfactorily, put masking tape over the copper tape and the joins. Plug in the transformer and presto, you have light.

The Manor House complete!Climbing the stairs

Although the staircase was incredibly easy to assemble, the upper staircase was not quite long enough. I had to improvise with several small pieces wood, which had been included in the kit for exactly this purpose. All Manor House Kits, says The Dolls House Emporium, will now include instructions for assembling the top staircase.

The only jobs left for me to do now were inserting the windows and door into the front panel, and hinging the front panel to the carcase. The end result has been well worth the effort!

The Manor House has now been discontinued, but visit the main to see the large selection of other dolls’ houses available.

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