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Copying a real house in miniature


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ElgaKoster

So where do you start when you want to copy a real historical house in miniature that is privately owned. For me it started with a lot of research both on the actual house and general building techniques of the era which happens to be the late 1700's in South Africa. Quite a few big houses were build at the time as the colonists started to prosper with some older buildings being renovated with big new sash windows and majestic door entrances. Fortunately for me because the building style known as Cape Dutch is unique to South Africa, quite a few books has been written on the subject, some even including floor plans and drawings of architectural details.

It was still quite a task deciding which parts of the house I was going to build, I would have loved to copy the house as it is...but then it would fill a whole room and I don't have the luxury of so much free space and I guess most of us don't. In the end I decided to do the front part of the house with all the main rooms, the house will have an entrance hall, parlor, dining room, bedroom and kitchen on the ground floor. In the 1700's the loft was mostly use for storage of food and old furniture, I might be tempted to make some rooms here.

Something I found invaluable in deciding on the sizes of the rooms was to make a card board mock up of the house, it quickly showed me that I needed to keep the room sizes exactly to scale with the real house if I wanted the miniature to have the same sense of space.

The next step was to decide on how I was going to construct the walls, the houses at this time had very thick walls and I wanted to keep that feature, so I decided on a hollow core structure to keep the weight down as much as possible. This house will keep me busy for quite a few years as I only started it recently, so far I have build the entrance hall and am now busy with a big doorway with four folding doors called a screen door that I guess was opened up completely when they had a party to accommodate all the guests.

This is a work in progress that I will post about from time to time, I would love to hear from other builders how they approach building a house from scratch. Here are photos of the real house and how my entrance hall looks so far with the door opening for the screen door on the back wall.

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Wm. R. Robertson

Thanks for sharing this and we really hope to see the progress as you go. It is also so refreshing to see different styles of houses modeled.

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NellCorkin

This is a great topic, that I th ink will be useful to many miniaturists.I love this house, with its Dutch gable.

 

Reproducing an actual building is something I frequently had to do during my years making fx models. It could be quite a challenge, as we often had to work only from not very good pictures, and no measurements at all; and of course, the finished product had to look exactly like the original!

 

I agree with the cardboard model to start with - something I usually do myself when starting any kind of new building. Since I work in 1:144, I can use card stock.

 

The hollow walls are a very good idea, as they will give your house the look and feel of the original building without making it absurdly heavy.

 

Did you have any measurements of the actual building, or did you have to extrapolate?

 

I look forward to seeing future posts!

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ElgaKoster

I had measured drawings Nell, from a book written in the 1930's, it also has lots of lovely measured drawings of many of the details like the doors and windows, a great help in planning the house, the book is available as a free download.

https://archive.org/details/EighteenthCenturyArchitectureInSouthAfrica

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  • 1 month later...
miniarquitect

Hello Elga,

thank you for your comments and for visiting my web.

This new project looks very interesting.

As you know I mainly build houses and structures.

In my case, houses of late XIX whose walls are usually very thick also (façades about 30-33 mm, inside walls 17-20 mm minimum) for this reason I build an structure and walls in each side, in this way, as I leave the hollow interior, I can pass the wiring.

Maybe it can help to you!

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ElgaKoster

Francisco, my walls are 40mm thick, slightly smaller than exact scale. The bricks they made in the Cape at that time were quite porous, so they had a thick layer of plaster and were all lime washed to keep the water out. I have read some books and water damage were a real problem back then, I am sometimes amazed that so many of them are still standing.

Thank you, I do plan on feeding my wires through some of the back walls into the floor and ceiling space.

Right now I don't have any time to work on the house, only in October again will I have time.

I would love to see more of your houses and how you build them.

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miniarquitect

Hello Elga,

I know that this forum is to talk about miniatures but I'm shocked about your latest comments and I would appreciate if you could solve some doubts

You may know one famouse building in Granada, La Alhambra, the ancient royal palace of Caliphs, was built with bricks more than eight centuries ago and it is still in perfect conditions. In Barcelona, as well as in other cities, many centenary buildings are made with bricks, sometimes with seven floors, and the wall are 30 cms width only in façades, the other structural walls and party walls are 15 cms width. So I don't understand the problems of a ground floor with walls over 50 cms width. When you talk about "brick" is a piece of clay cooked at a very high temperature in an oven?, or you talk about "adobe", in english "sun-dried brick", then I can understand the problems with water and its exagerated width.

Second question: plaster (plâtre in french, yeso in spanish) is used in thin layers of 1-1,5 cms maximun in inside coatings and only in dry rooms. Plaster is like an sponge, so in wet rooms we used a lime mortar, as well as in façades. If this lime mortar is more sophisticate, then we have the stucco.

So, if you use "sun-dried bricks" and a coating of plaster (although painted with lime), I agree with you, it is a miracle that these houses are still standing up!, maybe thanks to a continuos maintenance through the years.

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ElgaKoster

Francisco I think when we build miniature houses based on real ones it is important to know how the real ones were built even if we use different techniques. In answer to your question about the bricks, I took screen shots out of the book I mentioned in one of my above posts, I hope it answers your question, I find it all very interesting.

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  • 3 weeks later...
ElgaKoster

I thought I would tell you a little bit more about my plans for the Cape Dutch house, here is the floor plan of the original house together with a drawing of the back facade.

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Because I want to furnish the house as a real house, I decided to go big with my rooms, so I cut out the middle part of the real house, here is my floor plan, opening doors will be on the sides of the house and the entrance hall will have an opening door at the front. As you can see I used my eraser extensively while drawing the house and I just realized that for two pieces of furniture in the kitchen I used Afrikaans words, the "meelkis" is a flour bin and the "bakkis" was used for making bread dough and leaving it in there for the bread to rise.

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One of the features of the Cape Dutch houses that I love is the built in wall cupboards they had, in this photo of a real house you can see one and get a sense of the space the houses had.

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miniarquitect

Hello Elga,

I have been watching the photo of the façade, as well as the section, the elevation and the floor layout, the original one.

It seems that have the same layout of the typical country houses here in Catalonia, a big hall in the middle, plenty of doors that drive to the different rooms, or at least I have read "dining hall" and "entrance hall" and in both sides "room" or "bedroom"

I think, it is my humble opinion, that it is a pity you miss this potential. The image of a large  hall, with a big glassed door at the end that goes to the entrance hall, and those doors opening to different rooms can be very interesting.

If size is not a problem, I would try to keep this idea. you can open the house from the lateral façades. You can see the different rooms, through their doors the central hall and even the opposite rooms.

Then in both main façades open only the part of the entrance hall and in the other one the part of the dinning room. In that way you can accede to all rooms to decorate them and you don't miss this central room that seems to be the most important

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ElgaKoster

Size is the biggest problem with the dining hall, Francisco, I would have loved to keep it, these houses were built in either U or H shapes and the dining hall in this house is actually an addition that were added later, so the original house were build in a U shape around the large entrance hall. The model will have the large front door, the back wall of the entrance hall will have four very high doors with glass looking through to another wall with a glazed door and windows, similar to some other houses that were built with a wide corridor behind the entrance hall. Here is a photo of the real house looking from the front door, I will keep all these features, and yes, my opening walls will be the lateral walls that have no windows.

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I didn't want to lose the back courtyard, this is the only one left in Cape Town with it's original wooden gate and fence that dates from the late 1700's. And I didn't want the house to end up with solid walls all around, the court yard is typical of enjoying the long warm South African summers, even back then, I am sure the women especially enjoyed it, I just can't imagine being dressed in all those petticoats and long dresses on hot summer days and Cape Town has winter rain so it can become very hot with almost no rain in summer.

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