Thursday, December 4, 2014


I have a confession to make- as a kid I never built models. There was something about the glue and the paint that always scared me away from it. So when I decided that I would start creating three dimensional buildings I should have been at a disadvantage. However, watching my father build toys and models when I was a kid showed me how put things together. I also understood the importance of carefully planning before starting something.

One of the model houses my father built from scratch about 30 years ago

For as far back as I can remember I wanted to try to build a  model house from scratch. I had a couple of options and every once in a while I thought "It would be cool to do this..." or  " When I do that..." Walking through an art supply store I would stop and look at illustration board and foam core board- the former was what my father used to build toys and models, and the later what what I used when I had an interior design class at Loyola University. Finally I bought the materials and decided that I would build a series of buildings. The first being the house I grew up in. If all went well then I would do more. If not, I would abandon the whole thing.

My old house was a perfect choice to start with for a number of reasons. It was a fairly simple construction- a bungalo with a basement, which meant that it would not be a massive structure. Also, I knew it well: where every room window, door and closet was and how that corresponded to the overall look on the outside. Lastly, although the house is still standing and somewhat recognizable from the time I lived there, significant changes to the look of both the front and the back have been made, which meant that I would be relying not only on photographs that were 20 years old, but my own memory had to fill in the blanks of what no longer exists and what was not in the photos. That made it a fun challenge.
Three of the four existing photos of what the house looked like
from the  outside when I lived there

The house as it currently stands, The front and back porches  had both been replaced
and the siding changed in the back

The last reason was a little more personal. My mother had bought the house less then a month before I started high school. Teenage years are significant in any persons life, and mine were no different. In the ten years that I lived there, I went to high school, got my first job, went to college, and decided what I was going to do as a career. There were a lot  of first, and significant, life experiences that made me who I am today. In addition to that, and more significantly, I lost both of my parents while living there. I tend to be nalstalgic about people and places and creating a minature that house I had a personal stake to get it right and accurate.

I found almost right away that fate was on my side. When I was looking for pictures of it online I found that the house had recently been sold and that the floorplans were available. That made the initial stages of this project easy because I didn't have to guess how big this room was to that one and how they related to the third. It was all right there.

The house plans I found online. Though the living room
was smaller when I lived there, the size of the house and placement
of the windows allowed me to set the correct proportions.

The first step was to draw the outside walls and create a paper model. This was really important becaue I was able to see some of the potential problems that would pop up and solve them before actually starting. I also could see what was missing in photos and memory and work to solve it.

My initial paper model along with the floor plans

Probably the most important step after creating the first paper model was to go over to the actual house and see where I was right and where I got it wrong. As stated above both the front and the back were significantly different from the time I lived there, however, there were things that didn't change and those were the things I was interested in. I took pictures over the high back fence and around the sides where I could. Those pictures really filled in the blanks. After that I created the second, more accurate, paper house.

Photos like this were invaluable because
I was able to see how the windows were laid out
on the side of the house.

Once I was satisfied that I had it right I started the construction of the actual model. In addition to the illustration and foam core board, I bought balsa wood, siding, and paint. Then I transfered my drawings into the illustration board and started cutting. Illustratation board is an incredibly tough surface. It's hard to cut and very sturdy. I was lucky to find siding that matched that of the house. Through photos it was clear that the siding on the front was smaller then the siding on the back. so I had to use 2 different kinds.

The two paper models and the start of the real thing.

The first thing built was the front and back porches. They were the most difficult parts of the house and I decided to get them out of the way first. I found that I ended up monkeying around with them after I got the rest of the house built, because their dimensions changed due to the material I was using. Foam core is thicker then illustration board and the siding ended up making everything even bigger. These things were unaccounted for in the paper model.

The completed front and back porches

Once the porches were built everything went easier. Siding was added to the wall pieces and painted, the windows and doors were created, and everything was glued together. The back of the house in reality was an add on- an enclosed back porch that was turned into a sunroom/bedroom. Because it was separate, I treated it separate, adding it onto the rest of the house after the main portion was completed. The top of the add on juts out from the bottom, which added challenges during construction ( also unaccounted for in the paper model), Once everything was built the roof was added.

Adding siding to the pieces

Lastly, I added a front lawn and some bushes. These do not exist on the property as it now stands, so I again consulted the old photos.

The actual house circa. 1994 and the model

Overall this was a really fun project to work on. Besides being able to create something from scratch, I got to relive some of my memories of my teenage years while doing it. The next project will be a tad more ambitious but just as much fun. I'm going to construct the apartment building I lived in from the time I was in college to the time I got married. It is about twice the size of the house- three stories up. I can't wait!

My next project