by Jim Hensley-Davidson
My wife is the Mid-East Regional
director of Clan Davidson Society USA. We are always looking for
something to attract visitors to our tent plus be educational. One
of the things we came up with was a model of a typical highland
To build this farmhouse first
required a lot of research. So on our last trip to the highlands in
May 2002 we went with the purpose of collecting information on
building a model farm and a scale replica of our Clan castle
Tulloch. Very fortunately for Clan Davidson our family home was
originally in the Invernahaven area of Scotland. The reason this is
fortunate is there is an excellent reconstruction of a typical farm
community in the Kinguisse area, which dates very close to when Clan
Davidson was still living in this area.
The reconstructed village at the
Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore is based on the village of Baile
Gean which is located close by and is an archeological dig site. We
visited the museum and talked but mostly listened to the outstanding
staff of the village. They dress in the period cloths and present an
outstanding narrative of what living back in the 1600s was like in
this area. There are actually two related but different Highland
Folk museums there. One is in the town of Kingussie where mostly old
farm equipment and furniture is located plus a very interesting
"Lewis Black House" from the Isle of Lewis. Further south in
Newtonmore is the second part of the museum, which includes a number
of small villages with examples of farms from the recent past back
to the village of Baile Gean, which we based our model on. We also
visited the Croft Museum on the Isle of Skye for further research
but this is base on turn of the last century croft which while very
interesting was not terribly helpful. It was interesting to note the
strong similarities of both construction between all the family
homes from across the centuries.
In addition to the verbal information we picked up there is also an
excellent book Highland Folk Ways by I.F. Grant. Dr. Grant founder
of the Highland Folk museum and was considered an expert on the
subject. Her book is very interesting and can be found at most book
dealers at Highland Games.
The purpose of building the house
was to place it in our tent at the regional highland games we attend
representing Clan Davidson. Although based on Invernahaven area of
Scotland where our clan came from we have found that it draws
interest from all tent visitors and of all ages.
To build it I had to consider
several things that would drive not only the size but also
construction materials because the model would be traveling a lot
and had to be small enough to fit on a table. The true determination
of the scale was actually directly related to the size of the
miniature highland coos. I found some perfect porcelain coos in
Scotland while on our trip which was surprisingly harder to do than
I thought. Most miniature highland coos are for kids and therefore
not very realistic looking.. This scale fortunately worked out to 1"
= 1' scale which is a common scale for most dollhouses. Originally I
had hoped to use standard dollhouse furniture but soon found
virtually nothing available except for a few small items.
Now for the construction. I made a
rough floor plan drawing using the coos as my guide for their pens.
I did condense the length of the house a little to make it smaller
and easier to transport. I then bought a wooden picture frame, which
gave me enough border for the base. I cut out a piece of plywood and
glued it into the frame. Plywood is good for this type of
construction since it does not warp. I used standard wood glue for
almost all the construction.
I was determined to copy the
original construction techniques as much as was practical so I
started by building the frame for the house. The base of the frame
is a series of four "A" frames made from logs. I used basswood for
most of my construction including the four frames. After roughing
them up I tied them together using string to represent rope. I then
connected the frames using pieces of basswood strips, which I glued
the frames to. The completed frame was then glued to the base. I
then made connecting pieces for the roof out of small dead tree
branches, which I had collected and stripped off some of the bark.
They were first glued on then later more string was used to bind
I built the door next making it
out of thin strips of basswood. I did use some hinges I bought at a
doll store but I scratch built the working door latch based on the
real one. A frame was constructed and the door was then mounted.
For the sake of weight I then used
sheet styrofoam to fill in the walls. I did leave the fronts open to
allow a view of the construction method and to make it easier to see
into the house when it was completed. The styrofoam I used is found
a most hobby train stores and is used for making train layouts. I
also left the lower portion open to leave room for the foundation.
The foundation was then added by
gluing small rocks we had picked up in Invernahaven at the site of
the famous battle the Clan Davidson took part in 1370 or 1386. I
told you I wanted this as authentic as possible. I used a white
plaster to make a mortar for the rocks.
I had planned to have the fire and
a couple of small lamps light up the farm so I added the electrical
wiring now. Again the good old doll store came through. I also found
a small rechargeable 12-volt battery to power the lights with.
The sides of the base were covered
in masking tape before the next step to protect the wood finish. The
walls were then covered with plaster-impregnated cheesecloth to
produced solid looking walls and give the paint something to stick
to. I also built up the floor to leave a shallow trough in front of
the livestock pens where the "waste" from the house would run off.
The interior was then painted
using water based paints. A fireplace was built also using more of
the "authentic" Scottish rocks. The partitions were often made from
wicker so we made two walls out of thin straw. These were then glued
in along with some small partitions for the livestock. After sitting
back and looking at the house I decided it still did not convey the
exposed construction look I wanted so I made slabs out of clay to
represent the sod layers and laid them around the front and top of
the walls. After this I repainted using more acrylic paints but used
washes rather than solid layers to simulate the sod. The final step
for the walls was to coat them with thin glue and sprinkle model
railroad grass on them.
I added a flickering fire for the
fireplace and made two small lamps using grain-of-wheat lights.
These were connected to the wiring before the roof was installed.
The roof was then made first out
of more sticks from the backyard to represent the logs normally
used. This was covered with a layer of clay representing sod. I then
covered the roof with broom weed. This was also purchased at the
dollhouse store. To finish the model up I sprayed using an airbrush
inside the house with a thin black paint to represent the soot that
always filled these houses because of the peat fires.
The furniture was all scratch
built using basswood. This included the two box beds and stools plus
a couple of other items. The mattresses for the beds were made from
linen and filled with straw just like the real thing. The rest of
the furniture was made from similar materials. I also found a number
of items in a local arts and craft store in the small items section
such as eggs, carrots and other items to decorate the house with.
The pot over the fire was filled with a gruel made from 5-minute
epoxy mixed with some appropriate gray and brown paints.
The coos, which are normally brown
now, had to be repainted since the cattle were not only much smaller
than current highland coos but were usually black. I added some
sheep and chickens for variety and give the children things they
We took the model to several games
and had great success but one thing I quickly decided was it needed
some protection for little fingers. I purchased a special case made
from plexiglas and things have been much easier on the nerves. Now
the children can point and touch all they want.
To learn more about living in the
highlands and to see more photos of the model and the real houses
visit our website at