14 July 2012
Now the guest rooms are complete, we move downstairs where the staff ensure everything runs like clockwork in the miniature masterpiece that is the Featherstone Hall Hotel by Julie Jackson...
To get downstairs to the staff quarters we need to take a look at the staff access ways. Hallways can very often be ignored as just somewhere to put a hall table or grandfather clock and little else. However, with a little thought they can become miniature rooms with stories of their own to tell.
The hallway at the very top of the house between the lowest priced rooms in the hotel – the Thistlemere Room and Margot’s Room – is half public, half private. It should really have had another door to access the passage behind Margot’s Room, which would open to the luggage store at the end. There should also be another door, completely hidden from view, which would lead to staff and visiting servant’s quarters. However, this was one of those things that got forgotten about and will be added at a later date!
It’s worth noting that this is one of the few rooms which has had no tinkering with its size. However, as we've seen previously with the landing between the Lemon Room and Toile Room on the floor below, hallways need not restrict your creative use of the space available. As befits the stature of the rooms it serves, the walls are decorated simply in plain white, with white doors and skirting, and the floor is completed with plain, pine boards. The stairwell is edged with black plastic garden fencing to look like cast iron railings.
The hall is furnished with a collection of bits and bobs (apparently left over from the previous house occupants) and is themed with hunting memorabilia. A stag oil painting hangs at the top of the stairs, a huge, stuffed moose head sits over the stairwell and a demi-lune table with a bronze stag in a dome completes the accessories. The furnishing is completed with an old hall chair and grandfather clock. To bring some life into the scene a porter is coming up the stairs with luggage and the waiter, Arthur is poised outside Margot’s Room with a tray of refreshments.
The luggage room
Although the luggage store at the end of the hallway behind Margot’s Room is the only room without a human in it, there's still life going on. A simple pendant light shines down on a collection of cats, kittens, mice and rats who are battling over possession of the room! In the foreground two kittens have caught a mouse, while in the background a cat peeps over the top of a case to see a large rat staring back at him. Another cat is hanging off the top shelf trying to get a vantage point from which to pounce on the rodents below.
Julie decided on non-human occupants in this room for two reasons – one to shock her mother, as she hates her adding rats and mice to my dressed pieces and to have a whole room full of them is beyond the pale! And secondly to show that you don’t need to have people in a room to bring it to life.
Again, the room is simply decorated in white, with a plain wooden floor and open door (this suggests there's more to the house than the viewer can see and in theory provides access to the occupants!). There are stacks of empty luggage and shelves to hold hat boxes to complete the scene.
The basement hallway
The last hallway in the house is in the basement and is the main access point for staff to reach the guest areas. The basement comes as a separate section from the main house, so you need to create the optical illusion of the two pieces being one (unless you actually do join the two pieces together at the construction stage and cut a hole through – the basement was kept separate due to the likelihood that the house would be taken to shows, making it easier to handle that way). A staircase has been suggested in the reception, directly above the basement hallway, by boxing under the stairs and adding a door. The hallway directly below then contains the supposed bottom half of the reception staircase.
The whole of the basement has terracotta tiled floors and after marking out the room partitions, all four rooms were tiled in one go. As Julie had no previous experience in applying tiles, she jumped in with both feet, applying a thick coat of PVA glue to the floor and positioned the tiles in rows. Contrary to the order these articles have appeared in, Julie actually started the basement first and worked up floor by floor and so at this point had not yet tiled the reception floor which starts the series!
Julie did have the foresight to cut some tiles in half with a hacksaw (even though it’s not the right tool, it works!) and so started each row alternating between a solid tile and a half one to make sure that the tiles didn’t align. Once the tiles were applied, a spatula was used to grout them with PVA, making sure the tile surface was also covered. This gave a nice glazed quarry tile effect, but it looked too new for a Georgian house in the Edwardian period, so a dark wood stain was brushed over the surface, which put dirt in the floor cracks. When scrubbed, the tiles aged beautifully.
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After the floor had dried, the walls were painted white (experienced house builders would have done this before doing the floor!) and the doors were added to both the kitchen and butler’s pantry. These were half glazed units to which some printed acetate was applied to look like stained glass, which had ‘Butler’s Pantry’ and ‘Kitchen & Laundry’ on them. An exterior door was also added to the back wall, and the walls were half papered with an embossed paper.
This was Julie’s first experience of applying wallpaper to the walls and she hated it! Julie followed the wallpaper paste instructions to the letter and was horrified at the huge air bubbles which came up after application. Managing to smooth out the worst of them, the ones which were left were hidden by placing a table in front of them.
Going back to creating a false stair effect, at this point a small section of stairs was painted a stone colour. A small strip of MDF (taken from the pre-cut room height, strips for false walls) was also painted and papered to go in front of the star section, complete with coving, dado, skirting and newel post for the invisible stair handrail. It was easier to do it as a section and then install than struggle to work at the far end of the basement!
Before gluing the strip in position, a light fitting was fixed to the back wall of the house without its shade, so that it would cast a brighter light and suggest that there was an opening at the top of the stairs. The lighting was completed with two, twin lamp, pendant light fittings to light the length of the hall.
Furnishing the hallway
After finishing the skirting, dado, cornices and architraves the furniture was added. As this is meant to portray a working part of the house the furnishings were kept sparse – a dresser with a selection of rarely used serving dishes, with baskets below for storage, a selection of pretty plates on the wall, a pair of chairs outside the butler’s pantry and a hall table – not only to cover the bumps in the wallpaper but also to hold any letters, papers and messages (or in this case tea about to be carried upstairs).
A large framed print of King Edward Vll hangs on the stair wall, and there are extra lamps on the dresser and table which can be lit at night for unexpected visitors. As is usual in a hallway two mirrors were included – one at the bottom of the stairs so that you could see if anyone was coming down and one over the table with some useful hooks for hats.
Before adding the final items, Julie fixed in position the least seen person in the house… A maid is descending the false stairs with an empty tray of drinks and all you can usually see of her is her hands and the tray (and that’s only if you look for her!).
In the centre of the hall a porter struggles to distribute the mountain of luggage stacked by the door. It was easy enough to glue a suitcase in each hand – the hard part was bending his arm to hold the hat box! Julie used bought suitcases and created matching hat boxes by painting small wooden boxes in black and brown gloss paint, with chocolate or black narrow ribbon straps and some jewellery findings for brass locks and catches, all finished with some tiny address labels.
The finishing touch is a cat leaning over the seat of a waiting chair to spy on an unsuspecting mouse below!