For Inspiration: San Francisco and Catalina

I recently took a cruise to SF with a stop at Catalina Island (near Los Angeles). I didn’t get to see the painted ladies of SF, sadly, but Catalina had some interesting architecture. Plus a mini find aboard the ship!

First, the minis. I was on a Holland America ship and in their “Grand Dutch Cafe” (coffee and pastries, yum), they have these little porcelain windmills. They’re displayed inside a table, with mirrors so you can see all sides. I was sipping tea, looked down into my table, and cried, “Minis!!” (Well, I yelled it to myself.)

You can see my tea mug above on the table–the windmills are about that size.

Now, on to buildings:

In San Francisco, we took a bay cruise from the Golden Gate to the Oakland Bay Bridge. We passed close around Alcatraz. It’s derelict, but maybe some inspiration for weathered minis.

Iconic San Francisco (click photos for larger versions). The last photo is a seal statue done with succulent plants on the waterfront.

On to Catalina! I had never been to Santa Catalina before. The little town (which is about two square miles) is called Avalon. It’s an interesting, and quiet little beach town–tourists stay in the marina, and the back streets were almost silent and traffic free. People tool around the town in golf carts (gas-driven ones).

The round building is the Casino–but not a gambling one. They’re using the word “Casino” in the sense of “Gathering Place.” The Art Nouveau entrance (first row of pics) is under the arched portico. They do a film festival and other events there.

As you can see, the architecture goes from cute beach style houses to mansions up the hill. I will have to go back and explore this island!

Mountain Retreat: Roof and Finishing

Between this post and the last one I finished the Mountain Retreat (mostly), then got caught in a lot of work, and then went on a cruise! (The last one was the most fun).

My least favorite task in dollhouse building is the roof and shingles, but this kit makes it fairly simple.

The roof goes on in several pieces. All are scored to show where the shingles should be laid.

Shingles come in long strips, already staggered for a realistic look. They’re cedar shakes, no need for staining.

The shingling starts on the long piece of the front roof, in the valleys between the gables.

Next, I shingled all the gables.

The kit includes narrow strips of shingles to finish off the top edges.

Back roof shingling done.

Shingling done.

Now for the outside and inside finishing details.

Stairs in place. There were two stair support “legs” in the kit, but these broke off. I realized that once the staircase was glued in place, I had no need for them.

The interior railings (including stair railing), stained and ready to be installed.

The floor has holes where the railings are to be inserted. The stairs do not–I glued the railing directly to the steps.

The indoor railings in place.

Once the shingles were done, I glued on the chimney, which fits in a niche in the roof. The porch and balcony railings are painted and ready to be installed.

As with the indoor railings, handy notches in the floor help install the porch and balcony railings. The instructions say to paint the balcony and porch floor white, but I liked it stained, so kept it that way.

Final finishing is to install the kitchen cabinets and finish the cornice and baseboards here. I first put in the upper cabinets against the ceiling as instructed, but realized the ceiling was too high for that to be realistic. A scale-sized person would never be able to reach them! I took them out and lowered the cabinets to a more realistic spacing.

Upstairs the cornices fit against the gabled ceiling.

Adding the gingerbread finishes the outside.

The finished inside.

I have chosen to stop here. The kit includes a base and landscaping, but I probably won’t do that until I take the house back to my mountain house, where it will stay.

I’m not yet sure what I’ll do with the interior. It could be a regular house, or I might make it a ski lodge with snuggy places to sit and a restaurant / bar, with guest rooms upstairs. Not sure yet. When I return to the mountains I’ll visit a ski lodge and make notes. It would also make a cozy B&B.

So that’s it!

I enjoyed this kit. It’s fairly easy to put together–the real work is simply painting and prepping all the many pieces of windows, doors, railings, stairs, etc.

This kit is called Elena’s Mountain House by Hart’s Desire Miniatures. She has a shop on Etsy, plus her kits are sold through Hobby Builder’s Supply:

Hart’s Desire:


I’ve also purchased her Tudor “Harper Grace” kit, and I look forward to building it!

PS: On my cruise I went to San Francisco and also Santa Catalina Island and drooled at the houses. I’ll post some pics of that next.

Mountain Retreat: Second Floor

The second floor slid into slots in the walls, Interior walls glued in place.

The second floor slides through the doors on the second floor to create small balconies. Holes will receive the railings later.

The second-floor rooms wallpapered.

Upstairs front window in place. One reason I liked the look of this house is the picture windows on the second floor. The mini people can look out at their beautiful view.

Doors to the balconies are also done.

Side windows (same on both sides). These were tricky–each has three interior and three exterior sashes and three window panes. The overlaying frames, fortunately, were all one piece.

Baseboards in place in the three rooms.

The rooms also have corner moldings between wallpaper and wood wall.

Next–back to the first floor to add ceiling cornices. Then on goes the roof!

Mountain Retreat: Walls and Base, First floor Wallpaper and Windows

Once I had the stonework (scribed wood sheets) on the walls I was ready to glue the walls together. Handy slots in the first floor position the exterior walls, starting with the front.

I continued adding walls all the way around until the house’s shell was put together.

The interior walls in place, plus I have stained the plank walls. The kitchen cabinets set in to make sure the interior wall is positioned correctly.

Next I added the foundation.

Now for the fun. Painting the stonework!

I did not have access to all the recommended paints and wax for the stonework (supply chain issue rears its ugly head). I used Deco Art clear Creme Wax as an undercoat and then spice brown and light ivory craft paints.

Basically, you paint everything with a coat of ivory, then when that’s dry add a coat of cream wax and let dry. Then a thin coat of brown, which you wipe off (highlights the mortar lines). Then you dry-brush dab dab dab on ivory and brown with a sponge brush. I went back and forth between colors until I liked it. I thought at one point to add some light gray, but it looked muddy so I went back to white and brown.

This photo shows how the stonework turned out. Then I masked it with masking tape and painted the siding Evergreen.

After that it was time for wallpaper and windows.

This kit comes with plenty of wallpaper, so if you don’t want the board walls, there’s enough to cover the whole room. You can always use your own wallpaper for a different look. The short sheets of wallpaper in the kit are for the first floor and the larger sheets for the second floor.

The first floor windows and door that I had painted and stained before I left my real-sized mountain house.

Each window has two casings that fit into the window openings, with thin plexiglass between them (the blue squares are the top left are the plexiglass with protective plastic). Then a frame for the outside and a frame for the interior wall.

The large downstairs window finished and framed. (I will be touching up paint later!)

Small downstairs window. This is the kitchen window from the outside.

Downstairs room finished with interior window frame and baseboards.

Kitchen with window frame. No baseboards here because the cabinets will cover the walls.

Entrance with fireplace glued in, baseboards and front door installed.

Onward to the second floor!

Mountain Retreat: Kitchen Cabinets and Starting the Exterior Structure

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve made strides forward on my Mountain Retreat project.

This kit is Eliana’s Vacation House by Hart’s Desire Miniatures, available from Hobby Builders Supply: or from the Hart’s Desire Etsy shop:

First steps are to pre-assemble the stairs and the kitchen cabinets. The stairs are rustic and open, so easy to fit the steps to the stringers. I stained the staircase before glueing it.

A square is best to assemble the cabinet shell. I wanted to paint my cabinets, so I did not stain the before assembling.

The shell of the bottom cabinets assembled with the drawers and doors matched to each one.

The lower and upper cabinets roughed together and painted.

I wanted a granite-looking counter so I painted the countertops gray and then spattered ivory, black, darker gray, and metallic silver over them using a toothbrush (my thumb got very messy). I like how they turned out. Bigger blobs I carefully painted over but a few I left.

The kitchen cabinets and appliances ready and waiting for knobs and to be installed in the house. You can see where I did my spattering!

Next, the walls.

The kit’s instructions have you gluing the walls to the first floor (the stained piece in the picture) and then using contact cement to put on the stonework and siding. I don’t like contact cement (toxic, stinky, and if you don’t get it right the first time there’s no give), so I used wood glue.

That meant I had to apply the stonework and siding, plus the wood plank interior walls before I put the house together. The siding etc is very thin, so will warp. I used many clamps and weights to make sure there was no warpage, and it turned out fine.

Next post–the walls go up!

Christmas Minis

I haven’t done munch mini-ing since moving back to the desert because a) I went to two conferences back to back, b) hit the holidays, c) had to move the rest of the stuff out of another house to put it up for sale.

However, I did some small projects and some Christmas minis! Plus I’ll share my minis from past Christmases.

First, this un-Christmasy suitcase, mixed 1/4″ and 1″ scales. Safari time (old-time safari, that is.)

Then I did a Christmas scene kit:

Quarter-inch scale vignette–this is only about an inch deep, if that.

More mini Christmas scenes!

This scene I put together from a bunch of Christmas items I’d collected over the years, some given to me, some purchased, some found. I arranged it all in a clear acrylic cube, and it stays on display all year. I love this one.

Then we have this micro scale Christmas house, paired with a little lighted tree my husband bought at a show (the lights blink).

I have not yet furnished the interior, but maybe next year! (Click photo to see larger versions)

Finally the peddler wagon! I love this. It’s 1″ scale. I used one of my old Breyer horses to pull the wagon, making him a nice blanket and garland. I’ve had this horse since I was ten years old!

I will return to working on the Mountain Retreat house at the beginning of the new year. It has been a busy fall! It will be a busy spring too, but hopefully with more time for minis!

Credit where it’s due: Most of these are kits from Robin Betterley, except the mini Christmas tree and gifts scene (which is stuff I acquired all over the place), and the gingerbread house on the front seat of the wagon–that one is a kit by True2Scale. Also the blinky Christmas tree came from a show–not sure who made it, or if it’s commercially available.

Mountain Retreat–Unboxing

I tried to do a video of the unboxing of Elania’s Vacation House kit, but it was a dismal failure, so here are photos instead.

There is a ton of stuff in this box. The walls, base, roof, and floors, plus stone and clapboard siding, plexiglass windows, logs (if you do the log version), shingles, landscaping materials, stairs, trim, windows (casings and frames), wallpaper, and the full built-in kitchen.

So many little pieces! The first step was to clean off the laser burn with a bleach wash, something I haven’t done before. I usually sand or wipe of the burn, but I have to say the bleach did the job. A little in a jar, swish the pieces around, and then weight them while they dry.

I am now staining and painting all the stairs, doors, windows, floors, ceilings, etc. Once I have all that done, I can begin the actual building.

I’ll be doing the “Aspen retreat” (I’m calling it the Mountain Retreat), which is the one with stone facing and green siding. Don’t know if I’ll do the snow or just landscaping. Summer or winter–I haven’t decided!

Little Projects

I’ve been living about a month and a half in our mountain retreat, and after gathering supplies, was able to do a couple of small projects (micro scale).

I had to start from scratch, so I bought the table, lamp and supplies, and my husband put together the little shelf unit for me as a surprise. I put together the table myself, but it was pretty easy. Very simple and sturdy, perfect for this space.

First project I did was this mini suitcase with a scene inside. Part of the Betterleys “Secret Suitcase” kit club. Real traveling is difficult, but imaginary traveling can be fun, right?

This on is “At the Opera” and has mixed quarter inch and one inch scales.

There is one suitcase for each month. I am way behind–I’ve only put together two. I signed up for this club late last year–I don’t think they are selling these on the website.

Next project was this one–a microscale shop called Lavender Lane (another Betterley kit). The structure only took me a few days to put together (it would probably take most people a day, but I can only snatch time here and there). I have the kit for the interior, which looks adorable, and I looking forward to finishing the whole thing.

The ground floor will be a shop and the second floor a bedroom.

This is part of a set of shops called Watercolors: I’ve been collecting them all.

I’m particularly fond of Lavender Lane because in 2019, when I was in Rome, I got an email saying that this kit was on pre-order (the latest of the Watercolors shops). I love the shops to much that I jumped on the pre-order. Now, I was in ROME! A beautiful, beautiful exciting city, and my priority at that moment was ordering this kit! This is my devotion to miniatures. (I did enjoy Rome too and dream of the day I can go back.)

I have another month and a half to go in our retreat from the heat, and I’ve decided do something bigger than more tiny kits. I had some stocked a few full house kits, but of course I left them at our other abode.

In an issue of American Miniaturist, I saw an ad for Hart’s Desire Miniatures on Etsy, so I went to her site and purchased a 1/4″ scale house kit. The kit arrived two days after I ordered it!

This is the one I chose–you have options to make either a stone house, or a log cabin style house or a mix. The kit includes everything, even the kitchen.

In my next post I’ll show you what’s in the kit and my thoughts on getting started. I will be doing the stone mountain retreat to celebrate my own mountain retreat (though we are living in a small wood-sided townhouse, not a lovely villa like this one!)

Hart’s Desire:

Hobby Builders Supply also carries her kits:

Quarter Inch project and moving

This is the last mini room I finished before my husband and I decamped to a cooler climate for the rest of the summer:

This is the “Romantic Reading Room” kit by True2Scale. I picked it up at the Good Sam show last year–loved the colors and the books! I’d love a she-shed like this in real life!

After I finished this, we packed things for the next couple of summer months and moved to the mountains. I brought emergency rations miniatures:

As many tools and things as I could fit in a box plus a few little kits. There are hobby stores here, so I’ll go on a paint and glue run soon. I bought a table to work on today and hopefully I’ll start mini-ing soon! Not only the kits but some new ideas on things to build.

I am enjoying the mountains. So relaxing.

Halloween Kits

I just got this email from Robin Betterley–if you like starting your Halloween scenes now, here are some kits (most 1/4″ scale, some 1″ scale):

BEWARE… H.a.l.l.o.w.e.e.n. is CREEPING up on Us! Grab some spooky kits now and be ready for a ghoulish fun time.

1/4″ (1:48) scale Kit Olde Crowe Apothecary
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1/4″ (1:48) scale Kit Open Book – Ricky Raccoon and the Very Scary Crows1/4″ (1:48) scale
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3D Gourds Kit 1/4″ (1:48) scale

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3D Apples Kit1/4″ (1:48) scale

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Haunted Houses Kit 1/4″ (1:48) scale

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3D Skulls Kit1/4″ (1:48) scale

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Apothecary Bottles Kit1/4″ (1:48) scale

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Spooky Books Kit1/4″ (1:48) scale

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A Little Scary Kit 1/4″ (1:48) scale


Petite ShopThe Black Hat Society Kit1″ (1:12) scale


Creepy Canisters Kit 1″ (1:12) scale


Scary Mugs Kit1″ (1:12) scale


3D Jack O’ Lantern Kit1″ (1:12) scale

3D Skull Kit1″ (1:12) scale


Brew Cabinet Kit


Photo shows how we filled our cabinet – What would YOU do?
*Cabinet and Accessories Sold Separately*

Back in Stock!! 1″ (1:12) scale Dollhouse & Cabinet Kit with Microscale Rooms


Secret House – Ravenwood

Microscale Furniture Kit to fill up ALL of the spooky rooms inside the dollhouse!

Interior – Ravenwood


Visit our Website Robin Betterley’s Miniatures 

I don’t work for them! But I thought I’d pass on links to the goodies.