Updates on The Big House

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The pretty pics first:

I finished the porch, adding spindles around the top trim plus brackets. The two different types of brackets gave it a finished look. I have since added porch stairs–I’ll get around to taking a pic of those sometimes.

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Note on porches: If you can get hold of the older book by Fred Stephenson–The Dollhouse Builders Handbook–he has a great explanation on the elements of porches and how they work (and why).

The music room. I redid the floor in here, using parquet from Brodnax. Polished the floor with paste wax. This pic gives a nice shot of the chandelier by Mr. K. (lights are hard for me to photograph). Click photo for close up!

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Now the mess:

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It is high time for me to conquer the fourth floor of the Big House–the attic! At this point I’ve decided to do a library (far right room), an artist studio (middle), and a game room (left). More on that soon!

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This room will become the library.

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Passionate about Pianos

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I started a new obsession by accident. Pianos!

A while ago, I started to build a 1/4″ scale baby grand piano using plans by Karen Carey, published in the Dec 2007 issue of Dollhouse Miniatures. It was to be for the Dutch House I finished, but after I built the body of the piano, I realized it was too big for the room and decided to go with a harpsichord instead.

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(The story of the Dutch House and how I built the harpsichord is here:
http://jennifersromances.com/Miniatures/Dutchhouse.html )

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago–I was going through the same issue of the magazine, because I (vaguely) remembered it also had plans for a 1″ scale room box made of picture frames (a Joanne Swanson article). I flipped past the piano plans, remembered building the body, and wondered if I’d kept it.

Why, yes, I did. Found at the very bottom of my 1/4″ supplies box. Unpainted, made of card and bristol board, it was a nice baby grand with no legs or keyboard. I have room for the piano in the Craftsman bungalow I’m still working on, so I thought, why not?

So I started to build. The plans call for the piano to be closed. But I became obsessed with the piano’s “innards”. Could I replicate it in 1/4″ scale? For the harpsichord, I’d decopaged pictures of the harpsichord’s string board and painted body.

For the piano, I decided I wanted it as real as I could make it. So began my obsession.

I live close to the fairly new Musical Instrument Museum (a MUST see). Upstairs, they have a Steinway, exploded out to show how it’s made.

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Detail of the soundboard (the solid wood piece)

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In the back–keyboard and dampers.

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The plate, where the strings go.

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Also, an issue of The Scale Cabinetmaker (now available again) has plans for a 1″-scale grand piano in faithful detail. (Plans are in Volume 12, Number 2).

Putting all this together, I began to figure out how to do this in 1/4″ scale. I knew I’d have to fake parts, and that’s fine.

So here’s how I did it. I’m happy with the result (for my purposes), although I know building more of these would make them better.

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The “plate”, as close as I could replicate in quarter inch. The base of the plate is cut from card, the struts are made from tapered wooden toothpicks (probably about 3/64″). The strings are from a gold gauze party favor bag (can find these at Michaels or other hobby stores). I was willing to fake stringing the piano in this scale.

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Another view of the plate. Gold paint gave a good finish, plus I added glossy Delta Ceramcoat varnish.

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The pieces ready for assembly: Lid, music rack, plate and keyboard.

For the keyboard, I combed the web for a good photo of an 88 key keyboard. Many dollhouse piano kits, plans, and commercial pieces have keyboards with fewer keys, but I wanted the full 88. I glued the pic to a piece of 1/32 x 1/16 basswood painted Light Ivory. Then I scored between the keys for the 3-D effect.

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As I discovered, grand piano lids hinge in two direction–one opening so you can see (and hear) the strings, the other piece coming down over the front of the piano. The original 1/4″ scale plans called for a simple, closed lid, so I added a straight piece to the front and “hinged” both front and side (hinges are straight pins cut to size and painted gold).

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The original 1/4″ plan also did not include the pedals, so I studied full-sized grands and added the pedal struts and damper rods. The teeny, tiny pedals are cut from plastic toothpicks (which also provided the carved legs). Superglue was my friend for this project.

When I was about to finish, I realized that full-sized piano lids had yet another piece–on the underside of the lid, a strip of wood with holes to hold the prop to keep the lid open. Heaving a sigh, I cut and painted another piece, glued it on, and drilled teeny holes in it. The prop goes into hole number 3. (click photo to see a larger view)

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The completed piano.

I also added a soundboard (which can’t really be seen) underneath the plate–a piece of cherry veneer cut to fit the inside of the piano. (A source for veneer is the Hansens at Cascade Minis–they sell nice packets of veneer in many woods).

Thus began my obsession. The fact that I could figure out how to make this piano in 1/4″ encourages me to try one in 1″ or even 1/2″. I can do much more detail and fake less in larger scales.

I’m also noticing that the couple commercially made dollhouse pianos I’ve acquired over the years make an attempt to replicate the innards (usually with strings only), but have nowhere near the detail I’m now contemplating.

The Scale Cabinetmaker’s piano plans beckon. Another issue (vol 15 no 1) has plans for a clavichord. So who knows! I might go a little crazy.

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