My father built my first dollhouse from a pattern that my mother found in Redbook Magazine. It had six rooms and a patio and many hours of my father’s love. I found it under the Christmas tree when I was five or six years old. A year later my father took the beloved house back out to the garage and added two more floors, electric lights, and a manually operated elevator. I found this gloriously reformed house under the Christmas tree that year.
My affection for life in miniature predates that first house. Indeed, my parents were merely indulging a pre-existing condition. I still have a few of the many little trinkets that I collected when I was very young.
When I was sixteen and my father had been gone for seven years, my birthday present was a dollhouse kit. Being an odd teenager, I delighted in spending evenings carefully assembling the hundreds of pieces of unfinished wood. The house was soon assembled, but, alas, fine finishing was beyond my skill and attention span. I grew up, my niece and nephews had fun playing with and damaging the house, and then I moved 3000 miles away from it.
But all passions find their way back to us, and eventually I shipped the house across country and ensconced it back in my life. I made some progress, and also made some additions and enhancements. But space and time were limited in my adult life. After another couple moves, the dear old house finally succumbed to demolition. I took it apart, keeping many of the components and all of the furniture and decor. Much of it is stored in the rooms of my childhood dollhouse–yes, I have kept that one all these years, too.
Which makes the third house in my life all the more unusual. Three Stable Mews is a replica of John Steed’s apartment from The Avengers–specifically the color Emma Peel episodes. The house truly combines two of my oldest passions–miniatures, and The Avengers.
My work on the project flagged for a number of years. I’d used particle board that was very hard to drill and cut, and I’d tried to make the house collapsible with lots of hinges and ways to separate the floors. It had become discouraging. My attempt to install running water was where I really bogged down.
Until, a few years ago when a video of a kid who cleverly created house models using popsicle sticks and balsa sheets inspired me. I ordered tons of bamboo craft sticks and sheets of basswood. I disassembled 3 Stable Mews, measuring and diagramming everything.
I re-started from the ground up, using the existing base, but building every wall new. All the walls are hollow, with the structural bamboo sticks sheathed in the basswood, and wiring run, for the most part, in the gap between–like real wood construction. I had to do away with the idea of running water, and also the easy collapsibility. Only the third floor comes off now, so that we can look down on Steed’s familiar living room.
Progress goes in fits and starts. Even working at home (which began for me in 2017) does not mean I have tons of time so spend on the project. However, some of it is perfect to do while in large meetings where my role is to listen.
The house has several hinged panels. On the front, the “kitchen wing” is hinged to reveal part of the garage, the dining nook and kitchen, and the upstairs den.
If you know 3 Stable Mews well, you know we never see a garage or the upstairs (other than a brief glimpse upstairs in one of the Tara King episodes). I am having a wonderful time designing these spaces.
I focus on working parts. Cabinets open, drawers pull, the lid can be removed from the teapot. Achieving that sometimes means I purchase rather than build. I did try to build the kitchen cabinets, but my work was a failure so I bit the bullet and bought them unfinished. I did make the dish rack over the sink.
Miniature versions of some lamps in the flat simply can’t be found, so I make them. The whale oil lamp on the yellow brick counter is one such. This is a working light, although not on in the photo. And it needs some adjustment on the shade.
Wiring is a huge part of the project, and I have elaborate diagrams and inventory of bulbs and fixtures. The lights in the part of the flat we see on TV are not extensive, but my model includes two more floors and additional rooms. Wall fixtures and outlets have to be installed and wired as the walls go up. Other lights are held in storage until final decor.
While building is fun, I’ve taken even more pleasure in creating, or sourcing, decorations and furniture that match, as closely as possible, what we see on set. The dresser by the front door was a kit, but I created the brass supports on the ends of each drawer shelf.
The step up into the “kitchen wing” makes design of the bookcase and chair nook by the door tricky, so it’s entirely hand made. All of the miniature books can be opened, although most are blank. The white chalice is one of those trinkets I acquired as a child. The dark bottle on the shelf under the pink, green, and blue books (the Chronicles of Narnia, in fact) is a raku pot I found in a shop in California.
Among the most recognizable decorative items in Steed’s home is the series of pictures of military figures. It took some hunting, but I found ’em.
I picked the images that seemed closest to the ones on Steed’s walls, shank them, and printed them. I made the frames from miniature frame molding.
The main floor has two invented rooms. One is a powder room behind a door in the living room that we saw in perhaps one episode. This tiny space over the building entry has a throne-like toilet, a corner sink, and a mirror. And while you’re on the throne you have a view of the street. The odd looking curved space on he left below the sink is the top of the arched window over the front door. It extends higher than the first floor level, so the bathroom occupant can see out through the top of that window, too.
For a number of years I kept a eye out for a dollhouse size photo enlarger. Finally I searched for images of them and constructed it myself. It’s all cardboard, except the bar that holds the enlarger up above the paper platform–that’s part of a metal bar out of a hanging file folder. The clothes pins to hold the wet prints are carved from toothpicks. The photos are old crime scenes I found online. I made the developing trays by hand and color coded them for developer and fixer. I learned black and white photography in college, so I had a good idea of what supplies a well-appointed dark room needs.
The full darkroom has a red light, a sink, and packages of Kodak paper and chemicals. It’s inside that closet off of the living room.
Taking inspiration from an episode when Steed is coming home from holiday, riding in a taxi with a huge collection of sporting equipment and luggage, I decided he must have a massive closet. So I began collecting and making all that gear. The closet, is, of course, the one off the living room that also houses the darkroom.
Unfortunately, until wiring is done and things are somewhat settled, installing everything into the closet has to wait.
After years of looking for an dollhouse sized oriental cabinet, and finding them available for several hundred dollars, I bit the bullet. I used two furniture kits, a hall table and a cabinet. The table is wider than the cabinet depth, so I constructed a secret space on the back.
The hardware is all painted leather.
I’m not up to recreating the landscape painting on the doors. I found a similar image online and printed it onto a transparent sheet. I painted and varnished the base cabinet, adding more varnish until it shone. Then I laid the transparent sheet onto it.
I have a full sized Marauder’s Map, purchased at Universal Studios. I photographed every panel and shrank them all down to the right scale, then reassembled in a photo editor. Printed, attached the extra flaps, and folded. Sounds simple, right? Not.
We never see a garage at 3 Stable Mews, but it stands to reason Steed has one for the Bentley. This opened up a whole realm of fun miniature possibilities. I ordered real miniature bricks and mortar and created a frame for the floor. The odd shaped slot in the photo is for a support wall that holds up the living room. this view is from the garage door looking in toward the door out to the inner hallway. There are lights on the right wall where a workbench and tool cabinet will go. And all of the house’s wiring will collect here to attach to the main line in.
One of my favorite items in the garage is the tall tool box. The one on the right is available for purchase, but it has non-working drawers, and it when I was shopping for it, it was about $60. I made mine from scratch out of basswood.
The drawer handles are toothpicks painted silver. The side handles are bent paper clips. The drawers are loaded with miniatures tools.
I bought the working garage door way back for the first version of the house. From the start it was fidgety to install, with tracks on the ceiling for the door to roll up into.
To the right of the garage door is a window looking into the garage. It’s in the hinged panel on the “kitchen wing” that opens to reveal that side of the garage, the dining nook and kitchen, and the upstairs den.
I was thrilled to find a tutorial on making working dollhouse size venetian blinds. The slats are photo paper, cut to size with holes drilled in the ends and center. The “cords” are heavy thread. While the blinds do work, they are touchy–best set and left alone.
Working our way around the building, this is the second incarnation of the fire escape that we know must exist, but never saw. That’s the kitchen door, and the kitchen window with its blind inside. And of course the glass semi-circle that houses the spiral staircase.
The stairs are handmade, with notched bamboo strips to hold the steps and also used for the vertical supports. I bought the fancy railings.
The back of the dollhouse is a “cutaway” of the building’s interior. The entire back side of the garage, and of the living room/closet are hinged. The stairs up to Steed’s door swing along with the landing and the landing and walls. On the left, the panel that forms the left wall in the kitchen (if you were looking into the kitchen from the dining nook), is also hinged. This gives you a view into that end of the garage, the kitchen, and upstairs there is a bathroom.
I credit Ian Duerden, a fellow Avengers fan, who’s gorgeous renderings of Avengers sets inspired me to go him one better with three-dimensions. And I have to thank Cal Westray, who’s many, many captured images from the series have provided me with details of decor and construction.