The first canal house
In February 2003 I bought a 12th scale Dutch canal house. Named after one of the famous canals of Amsterdam, ‘De Singel’ is a large house with 12 rooms and an attic. The house is 1.33m high, 1.00m wide and 0.40m deep. (h.52.4″ x w.39.4″ x d.15.76″). Typically deep and narrow, the canal house’s rooms are viewed from the long side of the building.
The canal house came as an unpainted MDF shell, with wooden windows, doors, stairs and removable walls. As most canal houses have brick facades, I covered the front of the house with a special paper which has the look and feel of real brick. The windows were painted in the typically Amsterdam colours ‘canal green’ (just had to use that) and ivory white.
I’ve changed the oval top window into a feature which can be found in many Amsterdam canal houses: a large shuttered window. Household supplies would be brought into the house through these windows using the ‘hoisting beam’ above it. Using a real hoisting beam as an example, I made the miniature hoisting beam out of a combination of wooden mouldings.
October 17th 2004
Today I have found in the online Amsterdam archives an old photograph of the house with the real address ‘Singel 224’. I chose this address for my house because ‘Singel’ is the model name used by ‘de Stolp’ and 22-4 is my birthday. By coincidence the real ‘Singel 224′ looks very much like my house, while the other houses on the block don’t look anything like this! The two white ‘blobs’ at the top of the gable are two men in long white overcoats painting the gable. Just like I do now, they liked to keep the paint work in good condition then too!
The real house in the old photograph has probably been built in the 19th century. The façade of my dolls house will be 18th century in the style of Louis XIV (Louis Quatorze) which was used between ± 1700 – 1740. For inspiration I have looked at many photos of houses from that period.
For obvious reasons, a gable of this shape is called ‘bell gable’. The gables in the Louis XIV style, although relatively rare (probably because they were mainly used on the more common houses), were richly decorated with playful ornaments, often topped by beautifully architectural scrolls or a decorative vase.
The flower-ornaments on the gable came with the house when I bought it. To connect the ornaments I used an old wine-box lid to cut curved architraving and moulding fitting exactly around the ornaments. An existing 18th century house on the Singel canal served as the inspiration for the ornamental vase and the hoisting beam. I sculpted the ornamental vase from Paperclay.
I modified the front door to include a ‘cast iron’ grill. Even though the grill is copying the 19th century example of my real front door, I used it because I like the way it echos the vase on the gable. After modifying the door I decided the door frame needed to be more monumental by giving it pilasters and a broken-bed pediment. Using leftover wood and some bits of an old brooch I made the pilasters and the ornaments on the pilasters. The two lions on the pediment holding the coat of arms of Amsterdam came from a fridge magnet.
The steps or ‘stoop’ are a feature typical of most Amsterdam canal houses.
Traditionally made of Belgian bluestone, mine are painted wood. The stoop banister (partly made from chop-sticks) gave me a lot of problems , again! (See ‘The Hall’) I just can’t seem to figure out how to cut the right angles. Maybe someday I’ll understand….
The pavements and road surfaces of the canals are mostly paved with bricks. For my paving bricks I painted sandpaper in various brick colours, cut them into brick sized pieces, mixed them up and glued them down. I used a herringbone pattern on the road surface as this is standard for most roads in Amsterdam. The ‘concrete’ curb stones separate the pavement from the road.
I bought very fine gravel from a model railroad shop and used that in a few places between the bricks and the curb-stones and the steps to the basement. Small weeds and grasses have begun to grow in the cracks of the pavement. A dandelion (drawn on and cut from painted printer paper) is flowering close to the stoop.
The lantern hanging in the basement entry is one I had originally made for the window above the front door. It looks better here. The lantern is made from card stock and packaging plastic ‘glass’.
In front of the house I have put a few potted plants. I made the hydrangea and the daffodils from kits and bought the pots of lavender at a show in London.
Of course there has to be a bicycle in front of the house! And more birds. Two common blackbirds fighting over some breadcrumbs. The blackbirds were made by Georgia Marfels from Germany.
In 2009 I made a beautiful flowering clematis to put by the front door. (A Bloomin’ Easy kit by Bonnie Lavish). I shaped the flowers and leaves while they were slightly wet from the watercolour paint I used to give them some extra colour.
Update 2016: The flowers are still looking good, but they have suffered from some fading even though they are not in direct sunlight. There is a beautiful, minuscule butterfly on one of the flowers. So delicate and small! The butterfly was made by Julia Cissell of God’s Flying Flowers.
March 2013 : It has been 10 years since I started on the Canal House. Even though I have always said it would be a 10 year project, I am not quite finished with the house yet. I have done several other miniature projects in those 10 years, which meant work on the house halted. But, the completion of the Canal House is imminent. (Funny. It is now 2019 and the house still isn’t finished!)
The latest change has been the addition of a very narrow facade next to the original facade of Singel 224. At the back of the Canal House is all the wiring for the lighting and a wooden box which houses the ensuite bathroom for the bedroom. Because of this box extension the house can’t stand flush against the wall anymore, which means that from the sides you can easily see the ugly back with all of the wiring. The solution for this was making the extra facade. In Amsterdam there are about seven or eight of these kinds of small facades, just wide enough for only one window. The most beautiful example I think is the ‘Kleine Trippenhuis’ with a front facade of only 2,44 meters wide. The Kleine Trippenhuis was the inspiration for my miniature small facade.
The small facade is attached to Singel 224 with magnets so that I can easily remove it when I need to work on the wiring at the back of the house.
Of course you should not be able to see in through the windows (as the whole point is to hide the wiring behind it), so I made simple white cotton curtains for all of the windows.
Beautiful decorative columns by Sue Cook flanking the front door.
I have tried to match the small facade to the style of the original facade. I happened to still have the remainder of the bricks for the pavement and street which I cut 10 years ago from sandpaper, which made it a lot easier to add a bit of street matching up with the original street. In those ten years dust, light and touching have faded the bricks somewhat so there is a visible difference between the old and the new part, but I don’t mind that.
By painting the small facade white, it does not distract attention away from the main house. I actually think the main house is enhanced by it!
The beautiful decorative columns next to the front door are by Sue Cook. Even though these columns are much more decorative than the columns I made myself years ago for the front door of Singel 224, I wanted to use them anyway. They fit in well with the style of the Dutch classicism, a building style which was used until the end of the 17th century. My narrow facade was built in 1690, so that’s still within the time frame. 😉
April 2013: After adding an extra facade to the front of the house, of course I had to add one to the back as well. For the rear facade I kept the same window configuration as I used on the front. The style of the gable and the back door is more plain than on the front.
I made small gardens behind both back facades. Or maybe I should say patios, as these gardens are not very big! Real gardens behind canal houses in Amsterdam are quite deep. Unfortunately I don’t have the room to recreate something like that, not even in 12th scale!
On the patio behind the small facade I made a drain for the downspout and the outside faucet. On the garden wall hangs a ‘ cast iron’ door grill which I made years ago. The rustic garden bench is another piece I made years ago, using twigs from the corkscrew hazel. Although the garden is small, there is plenty of room for pots and plants. I’ll have no excuse to be bored over the next few years!
The garden behind the big house is of course a bit wider than the patio in the photos above, so it has room for some wonderful patio furniture. The metal garden furniture which folds up just like the full scale ones, was made by Sergio Piacentino (Piamini from France). Above the back door I made a lovely little canopy using some plastic fencing, clear acrylic sheet and very thin lead.
I could not resist making a small room behind the back door of the small facade. Using a simple wooden box I made a room with stone floors (egg carton actually), white walls and a false door which suggests there are more rooms in the narrow house. The desk with all the contents and the little chair were given to me by Erna a few years ago. She wanted to focus on another hobby and gave me all of her miniatures materials and some books. Such a wonderful gift to receive! These two pieces of furniture fit the little room perfectly.
I bought the sunflowers at a little market in Bangkok in 2003, when I just discovered the world of miniatures. The porcelain dogs are by Valerie Casson, the painting of the kitten is a partial copy of the painting ‘Chacun son tour: patience’ by Jules Leroy (from a Christie’s auction catalogue).
Against the garden wall I made a deep planter in which I planted a trained apple tree. I used florist wire, spackle and acrylic paint to make the apple tree. The photo left shows it at the stage where I have just started adding the paper leaves to the tree.
The paper leaves received several layers of paint, a grey colour on the bottom of the leaves and yellow and green colours for the top of the leaves. I made the apples out of Fimo clay. Not one of my favourite things to do!
The fantastic work shoes by the back door were made by Patrizia Santi from Italy (Patrisan). The working secateurs on the table are by Edmund Drescher from Germany. The tea pot in the shape of a watering can with a rabbit sitting in it was made by Janice Crawley from Canada.
The cat on the garden wall was named ‘Tonnetje’ (Little Barrel) by me, after the place I found him, at the fair in Kensington, London. The cat was made by Annie Willis from the UK. A few vegetables are growing underneath the apple tree. There is red lettuce, green cabbage and cauliflower (made by Angie Scarr).
The seedlings were made by me from Fimo, just as I did with the apples. I don’t think I will be using clay again in the next few years, that was quite enough for me!
The rabbit has discovered the cabbages! (Rabbit made by Dolores van den Akker from the Netherlands). If you look closely you will discover another little animal which discovered the vegetables… a rat! And it’s eating the radishes! So that’s what Tonnetje is looking at from its perch on the wall… (rat made by Georgia Marfels from Germany).
The front and back facades are practically ready. I’m decorating the rooms in the house slowly but surely, one by one. If you’d like to read the history of the house and its owners, click on the photo of the book below right. If you’d like to continue the tour of the house, please click on the photo of the front door below left to enter the house.