Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kitsch....(noun)..tawdry or sentimental art (from German).

A very sentimental frame of mind led me to create a cottage kitchen, inspired by the kitchen roombox I had made years before My Mother's Little Kitchen.

I started with smooth 1/4" birch plywood. I used to always be able to get a nice quarter sheet of good plywood from the lumber yard, but now it seems that it's more a question of just how warped is it? Once the pieces for this project were cut, and I began to dry fit them, I found that at least one or two of them were warped just enough to not want to cooperate completely. When a project depends on two or more pieces being smeared with glue and butting together in perfect harmony, and they don't, well that can be a tragedy. Or, you can work around it and make everything work together, meaning, you glue the heck out of everything.

My project was a little old fashioned cottage hearth kitchen, so of course, there's a fireplace. I didn't want the fireplace to stick out really far, but at the same time I wanted one deep enough so that I could actually put a pot or something well inside it. For this reason, I decided to build a couple of false walls, and here you see my false walls surrounded by real? walls, with an indentation for a fireplace in the middle.

This shows how the false walls fit and how they'll be attached with supports.

Here we step back and see how the pieces will fit together.

In the past I've used miniature clay bricks, or fake stones I cut out of plywood scraps to line my fireplaces, but since I wanted to keep this kitchen simple, I thought I'd opt for painting the inside of the fireplace a nice, well used, sooty black. I applied the paint, and when dry sanded it smooth, adding on another coat of black to even out the color.

I also decided to have a hook inside the hearth from which I could hang a cookpot, so I decided to make an extra support for the front of the fireplace, in order to screw in the hook. In the picture above, you can see 3 supports for the fireplace front, one of which is painted black. If you look carefully, you might be able to see the black hook, and a small hole where I screwed the hook in the first time. I made a mistake and had to turn the "beam" the other way.
The next picture shows all the pieces of the structure glued together. See? I reminded myself of what I had to do next by writing a message on the wall "glue all".

Next I started work on the interesting parts of the kitchen. At first I thought I might make it be a log cabin, but since the last two houses I did were log, I decided against it. I considered board and batten walls, but decided against that too. Those are the walls made of vertical boards with narrow slats that cover the seams where the boards meet. Ultimately I decided on stuccoed walls, a sort of in-between plaster, not too rough, not too smooth, just lumpy enough to be interesting.
I thought about cutting out a window in the false wall, maybe adding a light to illuminate a scene, but decided that would take me into the realm of complicated instead of simple. In the first place, I knew I'd need more room back there for a brighter light, so the false walls would have to be moved forward, etc.,etc., and the whole roombox would wind up bigger than I wanted it to be. In the second place, I didn't really feel like doing it. Therefore, I decided to make a false window on my false wall.

About drywall compound or spackle as it’s also known, there are people who swear by one brand or another. I’ve only tried a few, and have no favorite brand as of yet. There’s also two kinds of the stuff, wet and heavy and the fluffy kind. Generally I prefer the heavy, wetter one. It tends to stay put where I plop it down more than the fluffy kind does. The fluffy one tends to get away from me. On the other hand, there are those that love the fluffy kind, and admittedly, it is better for some jobs. What it boils down to is, if you’re new to using it, you’ll just have to decide for yourself.

Once I got the window set, I began applying the spackle. In the picture above it’s fairly rough. I wanted to smooth it a bit, but still leave it somewhat irregular, so I used a damp cloth to rub out the higher spots and rough edges. You can sand spackle smooth with either a damp rag, called wet sanding, or with sandpaper or its equivalent. If you want your plaster walls very smooth, I suggest sandpaper. It’s messy, but you can get the wall as smooth as glass if you want to.

While the spackle was drying, I started applying egg carton stones to the chimney face.
I prefer to use cut stones. In most cases I like the look better than the rounded stones.
I had a vision of the chimney front being plaster over stones, with just a bit of the stones’ shape and texture showing under the plaster, so I decided to try it and see how it came out. Below you can see my test area. I rubbed some spackle on the paper stones with my finger. After the spackle had dried a few minutes I was able to gently rub out most of my fingerprints. Since it looked like the method was going to work out ok, I started making and gluing more egg carton stones.

Here’s a larger section. If I had been more careful in my cutting, I could have made the stones butt together perfectly, but in this case, since they were going to be covered with spackle, it didn’t matter. Generally I don’t like the look of a lot of mortar in my stonework, preferring a tightly fitted look.

After I glued on all my stones, I rubbed on the spackle. I decided to use a piece of wood to simulate the stone fireplace lintel. I wanted something that would stick out a bit from the rest of the stones, and have a slightly different texture.
To make the lintel, I used a discarded piece from a Michael’s hutch. It happened to be the right length and thickness. I cut it in half, making it narrower, and sanded the routed edges smoothly. Then I bashed the heck out of it to make a few indentations. I gave it a coat of gray paint, and sanded it when dry. Next I blended white, Payne’s gray, some dull brown, and a flesh tone, and painted it to look stone like.

Below you can see how it looked freshly plastered.

Faux stonework - - -
I wrote about making a stone floor for Tall Chimneys, and once again I’ve used spackle (aka drywall compound), this time to make stones for my hearth.
First I spread on the spackle with a putty knife. It doesn’t need to be really smooth, just click on the picture below and you’ll see.
After letting it dry a few minutes I scored the lines that separate the stones with a pencil. I smoothed out any major ridges or lumps created by the pencil, and used the edge of the putty knife to scrape away any irregular bits along the fronts of the stones, leaving them with a definite edge where they were to meet the floorboards.

Next I left it all to dry. Once dry, I dampened a small rag and began to rub the stones to smooth out the larger lumps and any ridges. I didn’t want my stones to be perfectly smooth, that wouldn’t be natural. I also rubbed out any extra bits of spackle that were on the floor around the front of the stones. You can see the result below.

When making flat paving stones this way, you may find that you left some areas too shallow, so that you’re left with deep dips. That’s not a problem. The floor in Tall Chimneys was my second time working with spackle stoning, and I saw quite a few mistakes after everything was dry, and supposedly ready for painting. I simply spread more spackle in the bigger dips, rescored wherever I needed to and let dry again. You can fix and refix as much as you want, as long as you haven’t painted it.

When I wrote about doing the egg carton stones in the previous section, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to treat the inside of the fireplace. I decided to add a little spackle along the inside front, smearing and patting it with my fingertip. It didn’t need to be done carefully, all I wanted was a suggestion of stonework.

Once content with the way the stones looked, I was ready to paint them.
First I sanded them very lightly. The best thing to use is a thin foam backed sanding pad. You can cut these into smaller pieces if you want to, making them easier to use in small spaces. I think they’re also better for very light sanding, giving easier finger pressure control. Wipe away any dust you’ve made from the sanding, blowing away the last minute bits.
Next I blended a little Payne’s gray with some white paint for the undercoat. Now, you don’t need Payne’s gray, you can use black. I’ve got the gray because I took an art class once to learn about watercolor painting, and the artist teaching the class recommended it for shadowing. Payne’s gray is actually a sort of blackish purple color. If I didn’t have it, I’d be perfectly content with the plain old black.
If you don’t have much experience mixing colors, let me tell you that just touching the tip of my artist’s brush to the Payne’s gray (or black), then blending it with a squirt of white left me with a way too dark gray. I needed to add more white. Sometimes you need just the tiniest speck of black or gray to change white dramatically.
Anyway, I gave the hearthstones their first coat of paint and let it dry.
If you follow these instructions and make a stone floor of your own, after the paint is dry run your finger over your stone work. You’ll feel a bit of grit.
I gently sanded the painted stones, just enough to remove the grittiness, then wiped and blew away the residue, finally wiping with a damp cloth.
Next came the coloring process.
Your stones can be whatever stony color appeals to you. In Tall Chimneys I wanted a warm color for the floor, so I opted for honey toned tans and beiges. If I had made the floor gray, the room would have had a totally different look and feel.
In the Kitschy Kitchen I decided to go with a basic gray.
I used the same colors I used to make the stone lintel for the fireplace, white, Payne’s gray, dull brown, a flesh tone, and a bit of black, mainly for soot.

I blended the white, some Payne’s gray and a touch of brown to make a light gray color and brushed it onto the stones. I didn’t blend the color perfectly, by the way, I left it not quite totally mixed. Next I added a little more brown to one corner of the blended paint on my palette, so I wound up with a section of somewhat browner gray, and I dabbed a little here and there, blending it in to the wet gray paint that was already there. After that I did the same thing to another corner of the paint on my palette, this time with a little of the Payne’s gray or black. If an area looked darker than I liked, I added a tiny bit of white, or flesh tone, working it in to lighten the color. Just keep in mind that I didn’t want the color to be even. You can look at some real stones and see how mottled their colors are.
Meanwhile I also brushed in a little bit of black in the cracks between the stones. This helps to define them, and also looks like ashes caught in the cracks. Any black that creeps onto the tops of the stones can be worked into the overall color.

Next I dabbed some stony color onto the spackle along the sides of the fireplace, working it in with some black paint towards the back sides. When blending the black into the light gray, you pounce backwards with the gray and forwards with the black till they blend in a satisfactory manner in the middle. That’s the best way I can describe it,. You need to practice this sort of thing, and once you’ve got it, you know just what to do.

I mentioned pouncing colors on in the landscaping section when talking about painting grass, shadows, etc. I use an old artist’s brush, one that’s rather worn and splayed out towards the top. I should probably do an episode sometime called “Your old brushes and what you can do with them”.

Lastly, I did a touch up with some black along the back and sides of the fireplace where it meets the hearthstone, and then I blended a little gray with some black to liven up the back of the fireplace.
Oh yes, I also worked in a little more black in the central area of the hearthstone to simulate soot and ashes, and a tiny bit forward, on the stone directly in front. Later, If I feel I need more black, I can work it in.

I visualized my little window as having an interior shutter, so I cut a piece of basswood to size and scored it to simulate boards. I glued the shutter open, so I didn’t need to make any battens for the back. A batten is that board that goes across a door or shutter. The boards that make up the face of the shutter are nailed to it.
I wasn’t ready to glue the shutter when I took this picture, so I just laid it in place. I still had a bit of work to do on the window.
Next I started making the floor boards using “tongue depressors”, that I found at a hobby shop.

I took apart a Michael’s hutch to make the first furniture for the kitchen with the help of my microwave oven.

It took 30 seconds to loosen the glue enough so I could take the 2 sections apart. I was able to just pull them apart with my hands, though I have to say it's not always that easy. Sometimes I've had to slide a butter knife in the slight gap to work them free of each other. I've even had some cabinets snap and break. Thank goodness they're inexpensive.
For those who are unacquainted with Michael's miniature unpainted cabinets, Michael's is a chain of crafts and hobby shops in the US. Miniaturists here have been happily painting, tearing apart and regluing these cabinets for some time now. I am proud to say that I've been nominated as a Michael's Hutch bashing queen a few times.

This, by the way, is what you get if you leave your hutch in the microwave too long.

This was an earlier mistake, and I've learned my lesson. Don't walk away from the microwave!
Here's a picture with a couple of furniture pieces for the kitchen.

The shelf is part of another Michael's cabinet.

I used the top of it to make the cabinet. It took 30 seconds for the glue to melt so I could take it apart. I wanted to remove the interior shelf so I could cut off about 1/8” off its width, but the darn glue just wouldn’t let go. The cabinet got so hot I had to hold it with a towel while I wiggled the shelf, which broke. Not to worry, though, I fixed it, using contact cement.

I used to think that maybe contact cement and rubber cement were the same thing, but I decided to find out for sure. They aren’t. They work similarly , but contact cement is a permanent glue, while rubber cement is meant to be repositionable and was used for years in the art and design community before it was discovered by the general public. I read that rubber cement doesn’t make a permanent bond, items can be pulled apart.

Now, about contact cement. It comes in a tube or bottle. Generally, you spread some on the thing you want to glue, and some on the surface you want to glue it to. Wait 10 or 15 minutes till the glue is dry, then stick the two pieces together and they’re glued. For good. No repositioning if you made a mistake, but also no clamping or holding it in your hand till the glue dries. Sometimes I’ll use it. Other times I prefer wood glue. I used contact cement to reglue the main section of the shelf to the little sliver of it that was left behind inside the cabinet, because I needed it to make a firm bond right away. However, I stained the wood before I glued it. Stain won’t work on glue.
A little note, I prefer contact cement in a tube rather than a bottle. I’ve bought little bottles and found they don’t have a very long shelf life. I don’t use contact cement a lot, and found that each time, glue got hard inside the bottle before I got around to finishing it. Once I found the new bottle I got at the hardware store had already dried, so I returned it. On one occasion I bought a tube, and it stayed wet all the way down to the end, so I prefer tubes when I can find them.
Back to the miniature cabinet…..

I stained it with a reddish stain, Minwax Sedona Red. I wanted some color, and originally had thought about painting the thing, but I didn’t want to do a lot of sanding. Some people just paint the cabinets, and don’t bother with sanding them at all. Others take the cabinets completely apart so they can thoroughly sand each and every piece smooth. I fall somewhere in between. If I paint, I really feel the need to sand the exterior sections till they’re as smooth as possible, and the interiors as well as I can. With stain, there isn’t as much sanding, sometimes you hardly have to sand at all.
So here it is, with a coat of Sedona Red stain.

Also, I wanted the “panes” to be solid, so I decided to cut 2 panels from 1/16th” thick basswood and glue them to the inside of the doors. That’s why I needed to make the shelf inside narrower. I painted one side of each panel black, glued them into place, and stained the backs to match the rest of the inside of the cabinet.
The cabinet reminds me of a Mission style cabinet I have in my family room, which happens to be in a red oak.

Next I wanted to decorate the black panels with folksy artwork.
I drew the designs with a pencil. Pencil marks reflect light, so you can see them on the black background as you shift them toward the light. Next I painted the penciled sections white, and when that was dry, started painting. I used a fine line black marker for lines on leaves, etc. Wherever my stems got too thick, or I wanted to adjust a misshapen leaf, I used a little of the marker or covered up with a little more black paint.

I sprayed the cabinet with Krylon matte spray, and later gave it a few more coats till it was covered with an even finish.

This is the settle that will go into the corner of the room. It’s pretty easy to make. I had to decide how tall I wanted the sides and back to be, then I drew a right angle on paper, and experimented with several variations of S shapes for the curved sides, until I got the look I wanted.
After that I just needed to measure how wide it needed to be to fit into my space, and cut rectangles for the back and the seat.

Another thing to remember is to cut a couple pieces of wood to glue under the seat. This picture shows the one towards the back. These pieces are what really hold the whole thing together. This one is glued to the bottom of the seat, and the back and sides of the settle.

And below you can see where the other one goes, towards the front of the seat. You can make this piece flush with the front of your bench, but I wanted mine to be a little recessed.

Here’s how the bench looks in the room. I hadn’t glued the wall shelf in yet, so I laid the room on it’s back on the floor.
By the way, I decided to do a two toned stain on the hanging shelf. I thought the stain I had put on it originally looked a little bland above the other cabinet, but I couldn’t go darker, because the inside of the shelf had a bit of glue residue. Keep in mind that the shelf was made from a cheap Michael’s hutch, and their gluing is not always the finest.
If you use a light colored stain over a glued area it’s often not too noticeable, but a darker stain will heighten the flaw. Fortunately too, there will items on the shelf that will help cover the lighter areas.
So, to perk up the shelf, I used a light coat of the red stain I used on the cabinet below it, but just on the outside, and along the front face.

I also sprayed the pieces with a satin finish polyurethane varnish.

Miss Frobisher has agreed to serve as a model so you can see the scale of the room.

I decided to give the table base a curve to echo the curve in the bench, and gave the stool straight lines for a little contrast. To make the stool more interesting, I drilled holes in the sides in a sort of petal pattern.
If you want to make a table or bench yourself, here’s a view of the underside, so you can see how the pieces glue together to make a sturdy piece of mini furniture. There’s a light stripe on the piece that keeps the stool’s sides glued in place. That’s because I was originally adding another small piece, which I cut just a hair too short, but then I realized I didn’t really need it anyway. Of course, the more pieces that glue into each other, the stronger your structure (or furniture) will be.

Also, I wanted to add a little “glass” to the window. I could have used a piece of acetate, but I didn’t want the window glass to be perfectly smooth. I could have tried clear nail polish, but I didn’t have any. I was going to brush on some Mod Podge, but then I saw something on my shelf called Liquid Laminate, by Beacon.
I poured a little inside the window frame, then I placed my muntins to form panes, and let it all dry. You can’t see it well in the picture, because it was a bit cloudy and there’s not much of a reflection, but you should be able to just make it out along the lower edge of the window. The liquid tended to get thicker along the sides, but I could pour on some more if I wished. The stuff also acts as a glue, keeping the wood strips, or muntins, in place.

The finished kitchen --
The twig and sunflower wall hanging was made with dried vines, fabric “sunflowers” and artificial leaves.
All the other little accessories, the baskets, skillets, food, etc., are from New England Miniatures, except for a red jar sitting on the shelf. That’s a bead from my personal collection.

I also added ashes in the fireplace. I make my piles of ashes and embers from Paperclay.


  1. Beautiful work,I adore the painting on the cabinet !Jeannette

  2. a quedado una cocina estupenda.

  3. You do great work! It's so homey. I love it!

  4. You've inspired me to make something similar for my daughter!
    Long live the kitschy kitchen -- I love it! Thank you!