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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dry Building the Retreat and Bakery

With a holiday for Australia Day and with Cumberland Castle in the mail, I thought I should practise my assembly skills by dry building the two kits I already have, The Retreat and the Stratford Bakery.  I started with the very simple Retreat which literally fell together.  All the parts fit together perfectly and needed minimal tape to hold them in place.  I bought the Retreat because it was small, or rather looked small in pictures.  The real thing is bigger than it looks . . . In fact it's huge.  There is so much space on the ground floor I'm wondering how I'm ever going to fill it! 
I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet.  I have a few ideas, all going in totally different directions, but there are a few things that will happen to the Retreat no matter what else I do.  Firstly, the stairs.  The stairs that come with the kit must be the most ugly stairs ever conceived.  I have no idea what DHE were thinking, but those stairs have to go.  I'll be replacing them with a spiral staircase.  The other change I'll make to the basic kit is the addition of a balcony on the top floor.  The standard images of the Retreat on the box feature one with a door added to the upstairs front with a small balcony.  I really like the look of this and think I have a single door somewhere that matches the double doors downstairs.  The last basic change to make is the front windows.  I had assumed there was a row of three doors along the front.  It turns out only the middle door opens, the two on either side are fixed in place and meant to be windows.  I think if they're windows, they ought to look like windows, not doors.  I'm thinking I'll block off the bottoms of these two side windows, perhaps adding planter boxes to make the windows stop well above floor level and look more like windows.

With the Retreat built, photographed, measured, disassembled and packed away again, it was time to play with the Stratford Bakery.  This has a lot more parts than the Retreat, but started out going together just as easily.  The first few parts the instructions say to assemble are all easily distinguishable and slot together beautifully.  Then you get to the "overhang" room which is supported by little more than two posts.  Even in the instructions for the proper build you are supposed to prop the room up on the posts without attaching them, you do this at a later stage when you add the beams under the room.  Needless to say this room falls down.  Often.  Half a roll of tape (or thereabouts) saw it secure, but when I come to build it permanently, I'll be assembling the overhang room first and attaching it to the central wall  while the wall is flat rather than vertical and when that is dry I'll attach wall and room to the rest of the building.

Aside from the odd collapse of the overhang and the first floor occasionally falling down, assemly was pretty simple . . . until I came to the roof.  There I lost the plot totally for a little while.  Even Dapper Dan (formerly known as Naked Neville) couldn't quite figure it out.  The first part of the roof to be assembled is the bottom of the rear side.  What throws you is that the diagrams in the instructions show the appropriate pieces as almost square.  They're not,  in fact they're rectangular.  Next problem, the diagram only shows half of one of the next two pieces you're supposed to assemble.  So when you're trying to figure out which pieces you need by eliminating the pieces that you need later on you glance quickly at the next few steps, miss the truncated diagram and get totally confused.

After a short break I decided to take the chance that the pieces I thought were the right ones and had to be the right ones because nothing else looked anywhere near right.  I'm guessing there must be a reason why the lower rear roof comes in so many pieces when the upper rear roof is all in one, but it isn't very good for the sanity of the kit builders.  With a few more pauses to scratch my head, I got the rest of the roof together.  The front roof over the overhang room was a nuisance.  Because the overhang tended to droop a little, the room pulled itself off square and so the roof didn't quite fit right and when you tried to jiggle it to go together it all came down.  It will detinately be a good idea to secure the posts and beams underneath this room before trying to put the roof on permanently.

Like the Retreat, there are a few things about the basic kit that need to be changed.  First is the door to nowhere.  At the side under the stairs there's a door.  It leads a solid wall.  I really don't understand this feature.  The door goes nowhere.  It's at the back of the side, so would be hard to see in the finished article.  So why include it?  What's it's purpose?  Where is it supposed to lead?  It would make more sense if there was a doorway out of the back of the side wall of the ground floor room so you could walk right through under the stairs (at least if you were six inches tall you could).  At the moment, I'm at a loss as to what to make of this feature.  The other alterations I may make to the kit are small.  I'm not sure I like the stair arrangement.  I usually think of Tudor era steps as being open/backless, the ones that come with the kit are solid.  Also, the roof over the stairs really hides them and makes them fell boxed in.  I'm toying with the idea of replacing the roof section with some trellis with vines growing over it that will still feel like a roof, but also be more open.

I still have a lot of thinking to do over both kits before I unbox them again for their permanent builds.  I bought both because I liked them and knew I might not have the chance to buy them in Australia again, not because I had really brilliant plans for them.  The (hopefully) rapidly approaching Cumberland Castle kit is different.  I always know what to do with a castle, but I'll blather on about my ideas for that a little later on.  For now, I'll share a photo of Ginny the cat with you.  I said in my last post that I'd been looking though old miniatures magazines to look for ideas, well here's the proof that I have been doing that, but not on my own.   


  1. Alennka, I'll be interested to see your kits progressing!

    I made up a Retreat into a Finnish Lakehouse recently -

    It was my first dollhouse, I had great fun, and learned a lot :)

  2. I am so excited to be able to follow from the beginning!

  3. Hi Glenda,

    Thanks for the link. Your Retreat is amazing. I saw it before when you first blogged it, but didn't have a retreat myself then so just admired it for it's beauty rather than the ideas I might be able to steal! Sadly, looking again at yours hasn't helped me decide what to do with mine.

    Hi ScrapBabe,

    Glad you found my blog. I now have three kits to play with, so following from the begining might mean a long wait for the final results!

  4. It sounds like a good Australia Day effort! The Retreat is a lovely property and I have been really enjoying seeing what people do wih it. Nearly everyone comments on how big it is, yet it looks small without seeing it in 3 dimensions.

    How odd is that door. I can't quite picture where it is.

  5. That door is at the back on the left side, under the stairs. I must admit that since I dry built the kit I have seen pictures of other tudor style houses with doors under external stairs that clearly don't go anywhere. Perhaps this area was used for storage or some such in real houses of the era. . . . but it still seems pointless in this particular house to me.

  6. I am a great fan of DHE kits, I have 5, and they are very easy to build but agree the stairs are awful. In recent kits I have done away with staircases completely and either put in walls to hide them or simply put in false door to pretend they are somewhere else. To me they take up to much time and space.

    I love the Bakery, but the posts look a little too small to me, maybe you could replace them with sturdier, thicker columns.