Straightening out warpage on a Marcus house

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Hello helpful fellow miniaturists, I need your advice. Has anyone ever straightened out a warped wall (or floor or roof or whatever) on a dollhouse? Or any piece of wood for that matter.

I have a house that has hinged walls on either side. One side is severely bowed outward. I can remove it from its hinges so I can work on it freely. Has anyone ever tried steaming a piece of wood, or wetting in some fashion, and then weighting it down? I don't care if the interior decoration comes off, I can replace wallpapers and re-glue trims. I may have to just cut a brand new piece and start anew. I hate to do that because it is beautifully finished on the exterior.

Additionally, user Felthen just posted a message that she once had an unpainted house but couldn't bring herself to paint it. That brought this one back to mind, hence this post. I didn't want to hijack her thread and start talking about mine, but I do have another question.

What are your thoughts on unpainted houses? I'll post a pic of mine, in which you can clearly see the bowed side on the right. It's a Jim Marcus house from 1980. Got it for a song, woot! It's a replica of the Vollmer House at 1737 Webster Street in San Francisco. I'll post pics of the real house too. I am astounded at how well Jim Marcus captured the architectural details. The original house is a typical San Franciscan Painted Lady. I just can't bring myself to take a paint brush to a Jim Marcus house, but it bugs me every dang time I look at it. Any thoughts?

 

Marcus House.jpg

Vollmer House 1737 Webster St San Francisco.jpg

Vollmer House San Francisco.jpg

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Derp, I just had another look at that house. I'd forgotten the interiors of the side walls are just varnished birch, so I don't even have to worry about destroying wallpapers or mouldings. The windows on the sides of the house are pretty basic so those are easily replaced if destroyed by trying to fix the warpage.

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I’ve flattened walls and floors by wetting and then pressing on a flat surface under some heavy weights, usually books. I always put wax or parchment paper between the weight and the wall/floor and check it every few hours or leaving it overnight.

It's a gorgeous house (swooning and sighing!).

If you don’t want to paint it, what about staining it (like a cabinet). I’ve seen some that are just gorgeous that way. Personally, I love how it looks now, but that just me. If it bugs you, do what will make you happy.

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25 minutes ago, Dalesq said:

I’ve flattened walls and floors by wetting and then pressing on a flat surface under some heavy weights, usually books. I always put wax or parchment paper between the weight and the wall/floor and check it every few hours or leaving it overnight.

It's a gorgeous house (swooning and sighing!).

If you don’t want to paint it, what about staining it (like a cabinet). I’ve seen some that are just gorgeous that way. Personally, I love how it looks now, but that just me. If it bugs you, do what will make you happy.

It's clear-coat varnished over every inch so I don't think I could stain it. I probably made it sound like it was raw wood. Marcus used several types of wood for at least some color variation. You might be able to see it in that photo. A few of the architectural elements look to me like they might be walnut.

Here are some pics of a Jim Marcus house that I once bid on. It's painted all white and TBH I absolutely love it that way. I bid on this house. I cringe to admit that I reeaally stretched and bid, if I remember correctly, upwards of $3,000. I didn't win it but fortune smiled upon me and shortly thereafter I got my Jim Marcus house for exactly 1/10th of that price, so hurrah for getting outbid!!

Although I didn't get this house, it is pure eye candy, IMO. Feast your eyes on this beauty. Does anyone know whatever became of Jim Marcus?

 

Marcus01.jpg

Marcus02.jpg

Marcus03.jpg

Marcus04.jpg

Marcus05.jpg

Marcus06.jpg

Marcus07.jpg

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Of course I would leave it unpainted, but we all know that. I have tried the above method for fixing warp also, sometimes weighting it for longer periods and adding volumes to the stack as the curve flattens over a period of days. I got mixed results. if you can't fix the warp maybe could you redo (replicate) the door with a different piece of wood and reusing the trim?

Back again to paint. I remember something in a discussion of a similar finely detailed house where someone (Emily's post?) decided to paint the house all white and let the shadows accent the trim.  The detail was such that it took an expert paint job to improve rather than detract from the architectural beauty of the dollhouse. I remember it because I was so impressed by the detail of the house they were talking about. The all wood look is kind of like all white, sort of, maybe.

You posted while I was thinking...so old so slow.. and then I have to type.

That is the house. So pretty all white and so breathtakingly pretty. 

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I had a bear of a time straightening a birch plywood side wall. I soaked it in the tub and placed heavy weights (borrowed from my son’s weight machine). It still had a slight bow but I was at least able to nail it onto the side of the house which over time straightened it some more. In your case, however, you won’t be nailing it to anything so the bow might always be noticeable. 

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I think I would make an exception for that exquisite house and leave it alone/ unpainted.  Matching a replaced wall could be a bear, but I have usually had good luck with dampening and weights.

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Well, I guess I've had this decision made for me! My husband asked why I was fiddling around with this house. Here's how this went down, LOL.

"You getting back to working on that one?" he asked.

"Maybe. I just asked on a forum what people thought of painting it?"

(bear in mind my husband is ex-Air Force, a man of few words, and could not care less about dollhouses)

"P-P-P-PAINT?!" he spluttered. "WHAT?! B-b-but ... you can't! That's the only house I liiiii..... er, uh, I mean, it's my favorite of all your houses."

"Nice try on saving your *** from that hole, sweetheart. But really?"

"YES! PLEASE DON'T PAINT THAT!"

So there it is, the house is spared from my ministrations. Although one more question, how about just replacing that bowed side with plexi?

Oh, and here's some info on the real Vollmer house and why it's important. All over the country, the push through the 1950s and 1960s was for modernization. The Vollmer house was slated for the wrecking ball but in 1973 was one of the first six houses that San Francisco purchased and moved to save their history. Here's a link, and below is a picture of it being moved.

https://noehill.com/sf/landmarks/nat1973000444.asp

The story reminds me of the Molly Brown house in Denver. That was approved to be torn down in 1970. Public outcry led to the establishment of Historic Denver, which purchased and restored the home. That came three years too late to save my great-grandparent's home, which wasn't far from Molly Brown's. It was torn down to make way for a hideous, architectural nightmare government building. I'll post a picture of their home at the bottom.

Speaking of Molly Brown, in James Cameron's movie "Titanic", I wanted to stand up and scream, "THAT'S NOT WHAT SHE DID!!" In the movie, she begs that they return to save people drowning in the icy water. A crewmember tells her to sit down and shut up, and she meekly complies. Nope, sorry, every person on that lifeboat confirmed that she took command, made them row, gave up her fur coat and outer dress to keep others warm, and got everyone singing to keep their spirits up. She was a remarkable woman. Anywho, tangent over, here are those pics.

 

Moving-Victorians-1735-Webster-1973.jpg

Great Grandparents House.jpg

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4 hours ago, Felthen said:

Back again to paint. I remember something in a discussion of a similar finely detailed house where someone (Emily's post?) decided to paint the house all white and let the shadows accent the trim.  The detail was such that it took an expert paint job to improve rather than detract from the architectural beauty of the dollhouse. I remember it because I was so impressed by the detail of the house they were talking about. The all wood look is kind of like all white, sort of, maybe.
 

Yes, that's actually something Jim told me. Several years ago I bought a Little Belle and was lucky enough to chat with him about it and the other houses he built. You can read about this on my blog. I had intended to do another blog post about his houses and collected a bunch of pictures, but life got in the way and I never got to it.

I've never seen the Vollmer house before, it's really nice! Is it signed? What's on the little plaque at the bottom of the bay window?

While I love the look of the white houses, personally I wouldn't even paint yours white, I think it looks awesome the way it is. For a while Jim was doing series of houses -- 10 of the same house, after which he would retire the design -- and for these series he would build one hardwood version and the rest would be painted white. The hardwood would use different types of wood (light and dark) to accent the trim. Here's the hardwood version of the Page Street dollhouse, which is displayed in the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City.

 

marcus-page-st-kansas-city.jpg

 

I'm not sure if yours is one of these, but even if it's not, I think it looks great in its current state and would be difficult to paint well. Even painting my Little Belle all one color was challenging and the paint muddied some of the detail.

As for your warped side wall, could you leave it off? It depends on how it's hinged, I guess.

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1 hour ago, fov said:

Yes, that's actually something Jim told me. Several years ago I bought a Little Belle and was lucky enough to chat with him about it and the other houses he built. You can read about this on my blog. I had intended to do another blog post about his houses and collected a bunch of pictures, but life got in the way and I never got to it.

I've never seen the Vollmer house before, it's really nice! Is it signed? What's on the little plaque at the bottom of the bay window?

While I love the look of the white houses, personally I wouldn't even paint yours white, I think it looks awesome the way it is. For a while Jim was doing series of houses -- 10 of the same house, after which he would retire the design -- and for these series he would build one hardwood version and the rest would be painted white. The hardwood would use different types of wood (light and dark) to accent the trim. Here's the hardwood version of the Page Street dollhouse, which is displayed in the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City.

 

marcus-page-st-kansas-city.jpg

 

I'm not sure if yours is one of these, but even if it's not, I think it looks great in its current state and would be difficult to paint well. Even painting my Little Belle all one color was challenging and the paint muddied some of the detail.

As for your warped side wall, could you leave it off? It depends on how it's hinged, I guess.

Thank you for that blog. That is more information than I ever knew about Jim Marcus. You're right, information about him on the Web is slim. I only knew who he was from one of my mother's old Miniature Collector magazines from the late 70s. I still have those but God only knows where. They featured his all wood, unpainted version of the Russian Embassy. Kudos to you for pointing out why it's called that btw, and that it was never a consulate. He used like six exotic woods on that one, I think, and so it had a lot of variations in the coloring to highlight the details.

Mine is pretty plain in comparison. It is signed on the bottom but I don't have a photograph of that. Emptying it out to turn it over, well, eek. The plaque says "Vollmer House, San Francisco, James Marcus, October 1980." It doesn't say anything about being part of a series/limited edition, i.e.; there's no "No. 3 of 10" or anything like that.

Because of that, I've wondered if it was a one-off built special for a client? The woman I got it from had no information about it at all. She bought it from a neighbor who had in turn bought it from someone else. I think she might have mentioned the original owners were in Santa Clara but I could be thinking of a different situation. She was a kindergarten teacher who bought it to use as a playhouse for her classroom. OMG, I almost passed out upon hearing that.

She decided it was too delicate for that. Interestingly, I later got a call from a daycare center. They knew the kindergarten teacher I'd purchased this house from. They asked if I'd take a house off their hands (free, just haul it off!). Now that one really is something special and to be honest it puts the Marcus house to shame. It's a six-foot long, four-foot high elaborate Victorian with, by my calculation, over 7000 hand laid bricks, and architectural details to make one's eyes pop out. The interior was destroyed, and the exterior was covered in crayon and fingerpaint. I managed to clean it up pretty well, but it's currently off in a storage shed and is pretty far down on my list of projects.

Anyway, yes, I could easily leave the wall off. It would leave some hinge holes but you know from your Little Belle that that's not a huge issue. I asked in my wordy post above what people thought of just putting plexiglass on that side. That would be a heck of a lot easier than recreating that whole wall if I can't straighten it out. What do you think?

 

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Here are two more pics I didn't think to post originally. One is a slightly closer up look at the front. You'll notice one of the porch columns is missing. I have it, unbroken, I just never glued it back on because I wasn't sure if I was going to paint this or not. As mentioned, my husband decided that for me.

Oh, and the front door was missing when I got it. It's a screwy size, so I'm going to have to re-work something to take its place. Funny that on your blog, FOV, you show the Seaside (one word, yeah!) with Bespaq's Majestic Mansions doors and windows. They have a front door I'm thinking of using. Putting up a pic of that too. It's too tall by half an inch. The only things I can find that would fit perfectly are interior doors, and they just wouldn't look right.

The other photo is of the side of the house that isn't warped. Thank God, because that bay would complicate things even worse. At least the warped side is just one big flat piece of wood.

Marcus House 2.jpg

Marcus House 3.jpg

Bespaq Door.jpg

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Only if you can't get that warped wall to flatten out yes, you could replace it with plexi and make it removable with velcro or magnets; which could also cover the hinge holes (unless you wanted to hinge your plexi wall).

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If the warped wall is hinged the same way as the other wall (with the hinges connected to the inside edge and not to the siding), then I think you could easily leave that off. If it's just a matter of filling in holes, you can get colored wood filler to match the color of your house. I also like the plexiglass idea. Besides magnets or velcro, another way to do it would be to add channel molding to the inside edges of the house walls, and then you can slide the plexiglass out from the top. It might be a little unwieldy because of the height of the house, though.

For the door, I like the door you picked out but it might be hard to get half an inch off of it without getting too close to the carved part. What are dimensions do you need? Majestic Mansions makes an interior version of that door that's a little shorter, I think it would look just as good. No window, but not all front doors have windows. https://www.majesticmansions.com/product/full-scale-penniman-interior-door-walnut/

Did you see another Russian Embassy just sold on EBTH for $600? I was bummed when I saw that (too late). My parents live in Boston so maybe I could have convinced them to help out, but either way it would have been expensive to get it to California, and I don't have room for such a big dollhouse anyway. So I guess it's just as well.

 

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8 hours ago, havanaholly said:

Only if you can't get that warped wall to flatten out yes, you could replace it with plexi and make it removable with velcro or magnets; which could also cover the hinge holes (unless you wanted to hinge your plexi wall).

I'd considered hinging the plexi. I have another house with a plexi side that's held on by magnets, and I rather like that taking it off gets it completely out of the way. I had another look at that one. It would be easily done but I realized what bugs me about plexi: it yellows. I kind of like mine because it fits the aged look of the house. No distressing required, that house came with a genuine patina of age, haha. I don't think I want that on this one though.

I think Sable above is correct that, since I'm not nailing that side fully onto a house, the bow will likely always show to some extent. I think I am just going to have Home Depot cut me some 3/8" furniture grade birch to the right size. It's pretty straight-forward with no complicated cuts. I can cut window openings. That side has nine windows and three of them are missing. Probably popped out because of the warping. As you can see, the side pieces only have standard Houseworks windows, and the most basic ones at that, so no biggie.

The siding is interesting. You see it better in the pictures of the white Russian Embassy. It's like horizontal board and batten rather than overlapping clapboard. That'll be simple! I'll see if I can get something sturdier than basswood to recreate that. Again, it should be pretty easy to re-create, just have to make sure the edges align with the front piece.

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Pllexi doesn't yellow if it isn't exposed to solar UV radiation; the hubs used to make plexi boxes with hinged lids.  I simulated board & batten on my Magnolia by using 1/8" stripwood:

KathieB's photos:  Mafggie's front

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4 hours ago, fov said:

For the door, I like the door you picked out but it might be hard to get half an inch off of it without getting too close to the carved part. What are dimensions do you need? Majestic Mansions makes an interior version of that door that's a little shorter, I think it would look just as good. No window, but not all front doors have windows. https://www.majesticmansions.com/product/full-scale-penniman-interior-door-walnut/

Did you see another Russian Embassy just sold on EBTH for $600? I was bummed when I saw that (too late). My parents live in Boston so maybe I could have convinced them to help out, but either way it would have been expensive to get it to California, and I don't have room for such a big dollhouse anyway. So I guess it's just as well.

 

I like that interior door and it's the right size too. The opening is 3 x 7 (-ish). I never found an exterior door that exact size that I liked. I need to get in there and see if the door framing can be removed. I believe the door itself just got broken off and disappeared, but the jamb and casing remain. If I can remove all of that, replacing it as a whole unit would be simpler. Last time I looked, it was really well set. Getting it out might damage the surrounding area. :(

It's a good thing I wasn't on EBTH in February, I'd have bid that Russian Embassy house way up, even with shipping. What a beauty. That price depresses me. Sometimes I think I should just get rid of every single house and roombox I own, then get one house that I love and call it done. It'd have to be a new one. I know I can't choose just one to keep from my current collection. Total Sophie's Choice.

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10 minutes ago, havanaholly said:

Pllexi doesn't yellow if it isn't exposed to solar UV radiation; the hubs used to make plexi boxes with hinged lids.  I simulated board & batten on my Magnolia by using 1/8" stripwood:

That's good to know about plexi! Mine was badly yellowed when I got it. Who knows what conditions it sat in for years before I acquired it. I kind of just assumed all plexi did that eventually. This one wouldn't be exposed to UV. Most of mine are in a basement so no bright sunlight streaming in on them.

I like your board and batten. I did vertical like that on my farmhouse addition. I liked the contrast with the aged clapboard on the main house. Made it look like the house had grown over time, which is exactly what most of them did IRL.

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Speaking of yellowed plexi - or in this case acrylic - I have a very old (probably from the 60s or 70s) saltbox built from those Stanley plans. It's identical to the plans right down to the colors shown, although the interior is just... OMG, what were you people thinking?! Generic pic of it at the bottom but I'm sure you know exactly which house I'm talking about.

Anyway, the acrylic in the windows has yellowed over the years almost to the point of being opaque. I love it. It looks like the oiled cloth the early colonists had to use when glass wasn't available. I couldn't get that look on purpose if I tried!

IMG_0214.JPG

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13 hours ago, KellyA said:

The other photo is of the side of the house that isn't warped. Thank God, because that bay would complicate things even worse. At least the warped side is just one big flat piece of wood.

I just noticed that I said this: "At least the warped side is just one big flat piece of wood."

No, it's not flat, that's the problem!! LOL

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The plot thickens... since I'm in touch with Jim Marcus, I sent him a link to this thread and he wrote back and told me he didn't build this house. He said he signs his in pencil on the back and wouldn't have added a plaque, and he's always "Jim" not "James". Maybe an owner/seller down the chain assumed it was his, since he's so well known for this style of house, and added the plaque?

(Several years ago someone nearby acquired a house in an estate that they told me was one of his, and when I asked how she knew she said "You can tell by looking at it." I went and took pictures, and it turns out that wasn't one of his, either.)

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news! :eek: (It's still a beautiful dollhouse!)

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On 5/27/2019, 3:10:16, fov said:

The plot thickens... since I'm in touch with Jim Marcus, I sent him a link to this thread and he wrote back and told me he didn't build this house. He said he signs his in pencil on the back and wouldn't have added a plaque, and he's always "Jim" not "James". Maybe an owner/seller down the chain assumed it was his, since he's so well known for this style of house, and added the plaque?

(Several years ago someone nearby acquired a house in an estate that they told me was one of his, and when I asked how she knew she said "You can tell by looking at it." I went and took pictures, and it turns out that wasn't one of his, either.)

I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news! :eek: (It's still a beautiful dollhouse!)

Not bad news at all, I am happy to know this! After reading your blog, I had thought to ask if you were still in contact with Jim Marcus so you could ask him if this was really one of his, but I didn't want to impose. I have always had my doubts, despite the plaque. I've seen his all-wood unpainted houses and he used a great variety of woods to highlight all the architectural details. As visible in the photos of mine, this one is pretty monochromatic. And, like you said, I have never ever seen him referred to as "James" Marcus, only Jim.

The person I bought it from didn't market it as a Marcus house. To her it was just a playhouse. I only paid $300 for it. Considering the workmanship, I think that's a pretty good bargain! Thank you for asking Mr. Marcus for me. I think that, as you said, someone at some point just assumed it was a Marcus house and had an engraved plaque made. That plaque is pretty well-worn so it must have been a long time ago. It's a shame that it's been misidentified and that the actual craftsman is no longer known. He/she deserves some praise, IMO. :(

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