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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Staircase of Doom

In planning the layout of the Georgian house, everything hinged on the size, shape and orientation of the staircase.  The wider the stairs, the narrower the adjoining rooms.  Thus creating the staircase seemed the only logical place to start work on the house so I could determined the final sizes of the rooms.

Oh boy, was that ever a mistake.

The original plan was to have and grand staircase with an elegant sweeping curve to it.  No matter how careful the calculations, I find nothing I work out on paper is ever actually the same when built, so rather than spend hours trying to nut out the staircase, I pulled out a sheet of balsa wood and started cutting steps.  As soon as I began to assemble the stairs I realised there was no way that this staircase was going to fit into the house, not if I kept the study and second bedroom.  Neither of these rooms were part of the initial plan, in fact as little as two weeks ago I had no notition they may ever exist, but once the seed of the idea for each room was born they both became rooms I just had to have. 

So, big hall and grand stairs and no extra rooms or small hall and less impressive stairs with extra rooms?

I'm greedy, I really want it all, so I decided to try and scale down the grandness of the staircase just a little and still squeeze in the extra rooms.  I dismantled the staircase I'd already begun and started repositioning the steps to create a tighter curve, narrower treads.  Still too big.  I took it apart again and tried something different, still no luck.  Eventually I pulled out some spare ready made stairs that I think came out of the house I turned into Highcroft Castle (that's three castles ago) and cut them into various lengths, put landings in, added bends and took them away again.  With each attampt, the stairs became increasingly less and less grand and elegant and more dull and mundane.  And still, with every possible shape and size there was a problem - a doorway was blocked, there was insufficient head room to walk up the stairs, etc, etc.  In the end (a whole day later) I found myself reduced to a straight front to back run of stairs and a very narrow, unimpressive hall in which to put them.

I looked at what I had decided was the only staircase that left space for the extra rooms then closed my eyes and looked at the staircase in my mind, the one that was supposed to be in the house.  There was no comparision.  Clearly I had compromised far, by far too far, too much for the sake of the extra rooms.  It simply wan't good enough.  There was no choice left but to eliminate the extra rooms and go back to the original staircase.  Hey, I could always just build another level onto the top of the house and squeeze them in up there right?  Five floors isn't too many after all . . . . . .

So it was back to the balsa steps.  These were glued together to create a staircase with an elegant sweeping curve just like I'd started to make days earlier.  This is the result:

Imagine it painted to look like white marble with black iron railings.

Now at long last I had a staircase, I could layout the rooms within the shell of the house.  The hard part was over right?

Guess again.

I hate the house I was using for this project.  I've already renovated and redecorated it once.  I was happy with neither of it's previous incarnations.  In no small part this is due to the way the house was made.  It's very thin plywood walls and floors  and is only strong enough to hold together because of 1/2" square pine beams along every edge and corner.  Therefore every wall appears to be 5/8ths of an inch thich when viewed from the font, but the actual wall inside is 1/2" farther out than it looks.  Basically, it's ugly and worse, it's terribly awkward to work with.  The plan this time was to pad the walls out to the depth of the posts to create flat even walls with no jutting out posts.  I had some 1/2" thick polystyrene foam to use for this, but when I went to try it, it turns out that 1/2" and 1/2" can be two totally different depths.  Go figure.  The polystrene foam was somehow too thick despite being the same depth.  The house also has a big solid pediment accross the top of the middle floor.  With the changes I want to make, it'd be in entirely the wrong place so I tried to hammer, chisel and otherwise pry this off.  I broke one end away, but as for the rest I was closer to snapping the floor than shifting the pediment.  Yet at this point neither could it stay as it was because it was so damaged by my efforts.

Being at this point somewhat short of patience and having a huge amount of the polystyrene (salvaged from the packaging when my Mum bought a new bed last year) I decided the easiest way to proceed was to knock the old house apart competely and use the bottom floor as a base from which to build an entirely new house out of solid polystrene foam.  It seemed so much easier than trying to fix the numerous problems with the old house.  So after a few well placed knocks with a hammer, the house came apart and I started rebuilding it out of polystyrene.  While I was going I added an extra floor for the study and second bedroom and yet another for the basement kitchens.  I also increased the ceiling height of the main floors because they were a little on the low side before.  Dumb move that because the already constructed staircase was built for the lower ceiling height.  Not that that mattered as it turned out.

Yikes!  Suddenly I had a house as tall as I am!

It was one of those moments when you stand back, look at what you've done and think "Nuh-Uh, no way".  As one single unit it's just too big.  I realised I would have to cut it into at least two stackable parts and probably take out a floor as well.

And then a cat jumped ontop of it.

Some people have made houses out polystyrene foam and they work.  Obviously these people don't own cats.

The thousands of little beads of polystyrene that had acumulated while I cut few into the air and same down like snow and when the air had cleared, the cat had vanished and the walls and floors of the house were a broken crumbled mess.  So much for that plan.

At the end of the week, what do I have left?  I have the start of a swanky staircase and this:

A pile of walls and floors (with broken pediment still attached) hidden under a cupboard.  I have no house unless I re-assmeble this pile.  If I do that I'll have all the old problems back to haunt me yet again.  Broken Pediment, silly plywood and beam construction.  Is it worth it?  And if it's not, what do I do?  Draw up a design and cut a new house out of MDF?  I can't do that because a house that size would end up being too heavy to move.  The polystyrene foam obviously wasn't terribly practical.  By a new kit house?  Again, it'll be MDF, thus heavy, plus it'll be ridiculously expensive, won't arrive for weeks and when it does get here I'll need to totally change it anyway.  Give up on the idea of the Georgian house altogether?  But I already have all this furniture, most of it the expensive type, I can't just let it stay in the cupboard where most of it has been sitting for almost a year already.

I think the only practical solution to the hole I'm currently in is to go away and cry.  I really don't know what else to do.


  1. Sigue, continúa intentándolo, la escalera es hermosa!
    Un abrazo

  2. Oh dear, about all I can do is offer you a tissue to mop up your tears! There's no easy solution that I can see except perhaps using mdf for the outer walls but use foamcore for the inner partitions. That will give you stability while cutting down on the weight at the same time.

  3. You poor darling...I know only too well the frustration you are feeling...hugs...the staircase is fab tho! Hopefully with some "down" time from the project a light bulb moment will solve the problem for you. xx

  4. Oooh, sorry your house is in ruins now!
    Maybe this is a solution to the moving dilemma: build the house out of MDF but each floor seperate. So build the ground floor as one section, the first floor as a seperate section, the second floor...etc. This way when you have to move the house you can lift off each section and it won't be as heavy.
    It will probably need some thinking and planning with the outside walls and electrics, but it can easily be done. I am doing something similar with my new house. I will build the outer walls of the house as one large empty shell, then I am making each room as a seperate box and when finished they will all stack together to form a house.

  5. Great job. It's fabulous.
    Bye Faby

  6. I feel your pain.. Sometimes it's just like that, nothing works. But let's hope it will lead to something even better? And as much as I love cats, they just don't "work" well with a dollhouse.. =D Keep on going!

  7. I too feel your pain. I have a house torn apart in the stages of remodeling and can't move it to where I can work on it because I have something else torn apart on the table LOL. Big Hugs, I know you will come up with a brilliant plan to save the house or construct a better cat proof one.


  8. Oh, DEAR!!!! Alennka, you are in a Tight spot! I know from experience how those Dreams require Square footage that we often don't have! My Cupboard House is really Very tight spacings.... and I know I will be compromising a Lot just to fit stuff in! It sounds as though the foam packing material you used was more fragile (breakable) than the builder's foam we have here. Maybe a combination .... plywood for the floors and foam for the walls... that way you save some weight. I have no solutions to the Grand Staircase dilemma other than to Give it the space it wants.... making your house quite large....
    Good luck getting this figured out!