Friday, October 16, 2015

A 1950's DINER MASH UP

I can remember the first time I saw the Our Generation diner sitting on the shelf in Target many many months ago.  I had known it was out there, having read about it's existence on the web, but I was skeptical that I would ever see one in person. However, there I was in Target- and there it was sitting on the shelf - in it's huge box with all it's accessories visible looking quite impressive. I was surprised to find it, but I did not bite.  I knew there was the possibility that American Girl was busy constructing their own version of a 1950's diner and I was confident that it must somehow be better.

Fast forward a year... with Maryellen's release, finally the reveal I've been awaiting....American Girl's version of a 1950's diner.  And while it does have some pretty nifty design elements, one cannot ignore it's one major misstep: the glaring lack of accessories.  And listen up American Girl- it is the accessories that give a set it's play value. American Girl keeps missing the mark on this one principle: offer collectors and target aged girls compelling accessories and they will keep coming back.  

And while I don't intend to do a formal review of either set, as there are reviews galore with pics, etc elsewhere on the web, I did want to put them in the ring together to compare and contrast both the finer and less than stellar points of each, not only from my perspective, but also from the target age's perspective. 

ROUND ONE:  ACCESSORIES
         WINNER- OG 

I'm doing this first, just to get it out of the way, as it's a no brainer.  The only accessory offered in the AG set that is worthy of coveting is the tiny bell.  It's metal, it dings...it's truly a wee little version of the real thing. It's fabulous, but it's not strong enough to deliver any kind of blow to the collective whole of accessories that come with the OG diner. 

The quality of the Our Generation accessories has improved measurably in the last few years. There are still hits and misses and room for improvement, but they are slowly becoming a contender. American Girl needs to take note. My 11 year old, unprompted, commented on the lack of accessories with the AG version.  I had both sets sitting side by side- and which diner did she choose to play with?  The OG one.  

ROUND TWO: CONSTRUCTION
        WINNER- AG

I immediately loved the versatility of the AG set.  The folding side walls and the free floating booth and table are strokes of genius.  The stools at the bar are stationary and the area at their feet is angled forward in just the right way to fit a doll so that she can sit comfortably with ease.  The OG bar stools, in contrast, are a constant source of frustration, as the dolls topple over easily on them at the slightest touch.  After awhile my daughter just sort of gave up trying to get them to sit on the stools.

The AG diner is constructed from a combination of wood (or a wood like pressed board) and high grade plastic, so naturally it feels sturdy and has some weight to it. When moved about it does not seem flimsy or chintzy. Making the diner easily movable and fold up for storage is a fabulous feature and a boon to those with limited space. 

ROUND THREE: DESIGN ELEMENTS
        WINNER-  OG

This was a tough one to judge, as I feel both sets have winning details, but in the end I had to give this round to OG.   My 11 yr old and I made a short list of what we found appealing about both sets- and we found that the OG list was twice as long....the retro phone, the light up counter, the table top juke box with it's musical element, the rotating display case, the chalkboard and the window with working shutters. My 11 year old loved to press the button on the juke box and listen to the music playing. She enjoyed the chalkboard element too. On the menu she jokingly wrote the day's special: "cartoon-looking burgers".  Guess she was less impressed with either set's foods.

There are two major drawbacks to the OG set, however, and they are both what ultimately compelled me to take it apart and give it a makeover:  the color and the scale.

American Girl's version at 22 1/4" in height is scaled better to the dolls.  By no means is it in perfect scale, as a real diner in 1:3 scale would be quite large.  When Maryellen stands next to the AG version she's not as tall or taller than it. But by contrast, when the dolls stand in the OG diner, the back wall with the chalkboard overall just seems too short.




The colors the OG designers chose weren't horrible- the hot pink was actually appealing. But they paired it with orange for the seats...orange...with hot pink?  I do have to give them kudos and a big thank you for not slapping pink on everything.  And even more kudos to them for using silver extensively and for giving the countertop a faux marble-like finish.

So, in the end the overall winner of the battle, I must admit, goes to Our Generation.  The designers should pat themselves on the back for offering a well thought out and decently constructed play set for 18" dolls at the one hundred dollar price point.

                                    

                             PIPPALOO'S DINER


As soon as I saw AG's diner I knew exactly what I wanted to do to for my transformation. First order of business was to completely dismantle the OG diner and paint the various pieces and parts. I'd seen other transformations on the web where the same was done and the process seemed easy enough.

Can I just say how awesome it is that the whole set simply comes apart with screws- and was not assembled with some type of super-impossible-to-remove epoxy or glue. Parts can be reassembled easily without needing to reassemble the entire set as a whole.

All the pieces can be taken apart- I even removed the phone from the wall. It required the use of a wire saw, patience and some elbow grease, but I won out over it eventually. That was the only part that was not simply screwed in. Below is what the wall will look like without the phone. I knew right away that I could cover the holes later on with some type of signage.



My next order of business was to create a floor for the diner.  The only original parts of the OG diner that I didn't use were a mound of left over screws and this, the flooring or base:


It was quickly seized by my 11 yr old and repurposed as flooring for a Littlest Pet Shop dance floor.

For the diner I knew I wanted a flooring big enough and sturdy enough to accommodate all the pieces of both the AG and the OG diners.   I wanted it large enough to create adequate space between the counters and booths with room for multiple dolls to walk about, but not too big that I couldn't store it or move it. And I wanted something sturdy enough that I could walk on it, or press weight on it and not worry about it's integrity. I settled on 1/4" finished plywood with a dimension of 5' x 3.5'.  My intent was to have the pieces and parts of both diners separate and "float" about over the floor.  This would have two benefits: it's easier to tote and store separate pieces and it provides multiple options for creating different configurations with all the components. If I want to change up my diner scene, I can easily just move the different pieces and parts around.

I also knew from the beginning that I wanted to paint the flooring in a black and white checked pattern, on the diagonal.  It will also serve as suitable flooring for other scenes down the line: an ice cream parlor, bakery, candy shop, etc.  I intend to put the flip side to use as well, grooving and staining it to look like wood flooring. But that's a project for another day.  




This process- and I will call it a process- required several days of careful taping off, painting and waiting for layers to dry.  Once completed, I coated the floor with 4 layers of a polyurethane for protection. For a project like this I always choose a water based polyurethane over an oil based one, as it will not yellow the paint over time.




I mulled over for some time with regard to the colors that I wanted to incorporate into the diner.  I knew the pink had to remain.  Both the AG booth's vinyl piping and it's table, along with the "neon" seaside diner sign and other elements were all pink....and I had no intention to paint them.  And honestly I don't mind pink in moderation.  The aqua was key- so that had to stay. Pink and aqua are stereotypical Florida colors, so for a seaside diner it wasn't a terrible choice on AG's part.  I would have preferred to have the classic red mixed in, but I like to keep things clean and as simple as possible in this scale. So the pink and aqua would remain and the red was out.


I painted the outside shell of the dismantled OG booth and the window frame with it's shutters all white.  The seats were painted aqua. I then reassembled and added a base to the bottom. More on that below.






One of the things I love about my transformation is that all of the pieces and parts can be easily moved about over the flooring.  Doing so meant that some of the parts of the OG diner would not only need some cosmetic changes, but some design fine-tuning.

Because I opted not to reuse the OG diner floor, I needed to add a bottom piece to the OG booth to make it usable and durable.  So I measured the bottom dimensions of the booth and cut a small piece of wood about 1/4" thick to size, painted and then glued it to the unit to act as a base.  I added the felt on the bottom for ease of movement along the floor.

You might note (if you own this set) that yes- in my transformation I had to loose the musical element of OG's table top juke box. When you press the heart on the top of it, it plays a variety of generic sounding 50's style tunes. There was just no way to re-connected the wire from the unit to the speaker and battery.  In the original configuration the wire comes up from inside the counter, under the flooring and into the back wall of the booth connecting to the juke box.  Sadly, I could not incorporate it into my free floating design.



The next change I knew I wanted to make was to address the problem of the scale of the OG chalkboard wall. As I mentioned before, the dolls stand fairly even with the height of the wall.  I wanted to increase the height not only to make it look a little more appealing, but also to match the AG diner's height. And I needed it to have a base, much like the booth, so that it could be easily moved around and stored as well. Without being attached to the the OG diner flooring, the chalkboard wall looks like this at the bottom:






The screws attached into those series of squares along the bottom edge. So it required some type of base in order to raise the height.  Note that the wall will stand on it's own and does not require a base. 






I'm not a wood worker and neither is my husband, but we both like to pretend we are sometimes. ;) We used a router, a vice and a chisel to create an L shaped channel for the back and side walls to slip into.  My first thought was to use a 2x4 for the base, but I quickly realized that would not give me the height I needed.  A 2x6 seemed too large when I judged the height against a doll.  Eventually we did use the 2x6, but had to cut it down a bit to a 2x5.

A channel was routed just large enough for the two walls to fit into snugly.  The L consists of two pieces that were glued, then sanded and then painted.  This was a labor of love honestly, getting the right fit. And I'm going to admit that up until this part every thing has been fairly easy for anybody to recreate. This aspect is not difficult, just not entirely simple.




   






I added felt to the bottom of this piece as well so that I could easily slide it around and not mar my flooring.  From the pic you can see that I used red felt.  Black or white probably would have been best, but the red is all I had on hand in the required length.  So I went with the red.




I also added some additional height to the top of the wall by gluing on a piece of chair rail trim.  I measured, cut, then sanded and painted. The piece added about 1.5" of height to the back wall.    Just using a piece of trim like this- maybe even something a little bigger, would be a great solution for increasing the height of the diner in it's original form.  Without taking the diner apart at all or doing any of these other changes that I have done, a little height can easily be added with a trim piece.  I bought this one at a local home store.        





Note also that I chose to paint the chalkboard trim with the same aqua as the booths.  The color is a very close match to the AG counter stools. Previously it was purple. 

And just because I don't like to keep things looking unfinished, I added a small piece of craft wood trim on the edge where the rotating display case previously hooked into the side wall. I wish I had snapped a before pic of it to demonstrate better what I am referring to, but in my haste I glued it on before I remembered to take a pic. 




There were a series of several holes down the edge that looked unsightly. When I added the channeled base to the chalkboard wall it raised the height and so the counter could no longer hook into the wall as it once originally did for stability.  The counter will now sort of just sit in front of the wall, which really is no big deal.  Below you can see the hooks on the display case that previously attached to the wall







From the minute I saw the diner I knew I wanted to remove that tiny retro phone and paint it.  From the pic below you can see the before color: a pastel pink. 






I carefully taped off all the parts that were not pink and gave the thing about 3 coats of black paint. 



The OG counter received only a minor facelift via paint. The front was painted white and I taped off the pink border tiles along the floor and painted them black. However, in retrospect I sort of wish I had painted them all white or all black.  I think it would have looked better against the busy black and white tile floor. 







Soon it was time to start thinking about accessorizing the diner, since all the painting and construction was completed.  Apart from the foods, which I would provide, it's the finishing touches that can sometimes make the difference.  I started googling, searching for images of actual 1950's diners. Aside from menu boards and clocks, I started seeing occasional advertisements posted on walls.  Some were too small to discern in the photos, but others were clearer- many were for cigarette companies, soda manufacturers and novelties. I borrowed this image from Ebay of a 1950's diner which shows a few printed advertisements.




So I took my cue from that image and printed up some vintage advertising drink signs that one might see, especially in Florida.  These were all borrowed from the internet.  




This orange juice poster was just the perfect size for the spot on the wall with the two holes.





Next it was time to start thinking about some walls.  Two to be exact.  Previously when constructing walls for my scenes, I've made them out of plywood.  Inspired by another collector, I decided to try employing foam board. And although it mars easily, it makes up for it in spades by how easy it is to assemble and cut.  I attached the walls together with velcro and cut a small square out for the window.  I used two white 40" x 32" sheets of 3/8" foam board for my walls.  They simply sit or float over the painted wood floor.




To dress up the sides of the walls I borrowed a design element from the AG diner: the metallic strip that runs along the top and about chair rail height of the walls.


I found this decorative tape already precut to an almost perfect width. It has a tiny bit of a textural design. I applied it along the lower half and upper part of the walls, closely matching the height of the ones on the AG diner.  












The tape really helped to pull the design together and add visual interest on the very stark white walls. 





For the backside, or the kitchen view of the diner, I made no changes at all. I simply added an Our Generation fridge, which I previously glued a wood block to at the bottom to raise it's height. It's also been spray painted a silver metallic color.  Previously it was red.  

This entire scene has been sitting smack in the middle of my studio space (formerly my dining room)- for the past week. And I have to admit that it's sort of been in the way, as there really is no other room in my house large enough to accommodate it fully at the moment. I did not want to set it up in the basement since I knew I was going to be taking pics- and in addition to my studio lights, I need a natural light source to help me out.  Making it this large was great fun, but it's not exactly practical. However, the best part is it's versatility.  I can easily take it apart and set it back up again.  








One of the design features I really appreciate about the AG diner is the addition of a shelf at the top of both the grill station and the pink area where the seaside diner sign is located. It's perfect for storing plates and dishes, foods and what-nots- and they are all easily accessible.  The fold out shelf at the grill station allows for storage as well.


These two pics below taken from a distance shatter the illusion a bit and give a birds-eye view of the entire scene. 




And the best part of the scene to me is that it's functional. My 11 yr old and her dolls manned the grill station and the kitchen, while mine took orders and served. There is lots of space for dolls to sit and order lunch or just hang out, as well as plenty of room for waitresses to move about, take orders and serve. The dessert and cashier station at center is complete with register and tip dish. No dining and dashing for these dolls!  :)

And if my 14 yr old ever decided on a whim to play too, I could easily remove the wall and she could join in on the booth side with plenty of room to spare.  Not that I am expecting something like that to happen.  :)  

Actually one afternoon I did find her playing in the diner...to my dismay it wasn't with her dolls....it was with her two guinea pigs.  Sigh.







I welcome questions, comments, suggestions. I'm always tweaking designs here and there to make subtle changes.  Sometimes even a small change can make a difference.  

Thanks for looking!   

Saturday, October 3, 2015

OCTOBER MENU LIST UPDTAED W/ PICS

                        


                         HELLO MARYELLEN!




By now I'm sure you have seen or at least heard about (or even own) American Girl's newest historical character, Maryellen Larkin.  Maryellen's story is set in the year 1954 in Daytona Beach Florida.  She's spunky and smart and longs to stand out amongst her siblings and her peers at school. 

The 1950's were a time of prosperity and hope for the US.  The economy was booming, the housing market was booming, babies were booming...seems like it was a great time to be a kid.  

It's a wise move on American Girl's part to choose the 1950's:  the target age demographic likely has grandmothers who can share with them their first hand experiences and warm fuzzy memories of the 1950's. My own mother would have been 11 that year, very close to Maryellen's age. Unfortunately my mother died many years ago, when I was 21, so no warm fuzzy memories here to share. However, I always enjoy a good historical release from American Girl, no matter the era. Every collection has something to offer, with or without a personal connection. 



                      THE BATTLE OF THE DINERS


When I first learned American Girl was developing a character from the 1950's I have to admit I was none too excited... but then out came the Our Generation Diner and their retro accessory line.



I have to admit it was all incredibly appealing.  And it was suspected that an American Girl version of a diner was in the works and would be released with Maryellen.  So I bided my time and waited patiently to see what AG had up their sleeves. Surely AG's version would completely upstage and outshine OG's diner.  Hopefully?  And then the reveal...and sigh. Not so much.

I could see why a mom buying for her daughter or even a collector might choose the OG diner, with it's light up counter, teeny retro phone and it's crazy number of accessories.  Both versions have strong design elements and both versions have major drawbacks. And both diners have plentiful reviews on YouTube and the like,  so instead of reviewing, I set out to do some reinventing.  

I've seen some pretty awesome OG diner transformations on the web.  And so inspired, I set out to do my own version- a mash-up of sorts, incorporating both the AG and the OG diners into one big glorious diner scene.  And I have to say I love the way it turned out.  In my next post, after the 15th, I will chronicle the process and hopefully inspire and encourage others to make their own versions as well. But for now it's onto the foods... 

Historically in my shop October has been reserved for Halloween party foods and treats.  However, with the release of the diner and Maryellen- and with her story fresh on my mind, I decided that it would be fun to split the month and churn out some typical 1950's diner foods- and also do some foods plucked directly from the pages of her books, as well as offering some Halloween goodies.

As always, items in my Etsy shop are listed on the 15th of each month at 12:00 noon est, on a first come first served basis.  Quantities that will be available are in parenthesis, followed by the prices-and I finally have pics up now too!


 MARYELLEN's 1950's FOODS


Popsicles Set of Two  (18)     12.00

It was a last day of school tradition in Maryellen's classroom to eat popsicles while they emptied out their desks.  Twin Pops like these were a popular dessert or afternoon snack in the 1950's, just as they are today.








Coffee Cake with Single Slice  (1)     26.00

Maryellen's family had lots of holiday traditions- and Maryellen remembered them all.  One of her favorites was her grandmother's Christmas morning coffee cake.





Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Peas  (9)   21.00

While riding the train on her way to spend Christmas with her grandparents, Maryellen enjoyed a fancy meal of chicken soup, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas.




Bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup   (8)    14.50






Ice Cream Bars Set of Two   (8)    7.50

For Maryellen's birthday, her father surprised everybody by asking the Good Humor man to park his truck in front of the Larkin's driveway so that he could buy ice cream bars for everyone.





Plain Brownies Set of Five  (7)   10.00

Maryellen's sister Joan announced that everyone could have brownies for dessert after lunch, as long as they saved one for Dad.




Bowl of Chili   (5)     12.00

Chili has always been a diner staple-this bowl looks hot and fresh and loaded with beans.






Spaghetti & Meatballs   (11)   14.00

Spaghetti and meatballs is another diner staple and a popular meal in the 1950's, just as it is today.







Grilled Cheese Sandwich   (6)   7.50

Toasted cheese, cheese toast, cheese on toast- whatever name you call it, this is a definite diner staple that still persists today in restaurants everywhere.





Ham & Cheese Sandwich  (5)   7.50

The classic ham and cheese sandwich has been enjoyed by diner patrons since before the 1950's.





Serving of Crinkle Cut French Fries  (6)    7.00

French fries were a popular a la carte choice even back in the 1950's.
Approx 10-12 loose and separate fries are included.  The napkin and paper basket are not included.




Whole Peach Pie  (2)    16.00

Pies sold whole and in single slices were a popular diner dessert choice.





Key Lime Pie Slices Set of Two  (8)   7.50

Florida's well known sweet and tangy key lime pie- garnished with whipped cream and a slice of lime. Diners in Maryellen's day likely served these alongside more traditional pie flavors.







Pancake Stack of Two with Two Sausages    (7)   9.50

Many diners often served breakfast all day- just like today.  Pancakes were popular alongside bacon or sausages.






Five Pancake Stack  (1)   7.50

Just for fun I added this tower of pancakes stacked five high, drizzled with syrup and dotted with a pat of butter.





Broiled Fish with Lemon Garnish   (8)   8.00

Fried or broiled fish were popular choices in diners in seaside towns like Maryellen's.







I'm so happy to be able to show off two creations made with Maryellen and the 1950's specifically in mind, and to be able to feature the sellers who made them.  


                                    KINDRED THREAD


Ever since American Girl's prototype pics of Maryellen were leaked, that orange and aqua gingham dress has been in many a collector's mind. 

Inspired by that prototype dress, Joni from Kindred Thread created a fun and fabulously sewn swimsuit for Maryellen.  With rick rack trim, button detailing and a crisp gingham cotton- it certainly does its job to evoke the original. The back of the swimsuit is fully elastic and the straps tie around her neck so the outfit slips on and off Maryellen with ease.  

Kindred Thread offers exquisitely constructed historical and one of a kind vintage pretties- dresses and outfits for 18" dolls. Check out the swimsuit here the rest of her collection here.  





 

                                    AGSEAMSTRESS


Another of my most favorite Etsy sellers and fellow seamstresses is AGseamstress .  Her shop specializes in quality historical outfits and dresses for the 18" doll.  She custom made for my Maryellen this red gingham top and coordinating skirt.  She has decades of sewing experience and is able to do custom work in her shop.

The buttons down the front on both pieces are fully functional and the front collar is tacked down so it lays and stays perfectly.  The outfit is first rate in both construction and materials.  I have a personal weakness for gingham, but especially for red.  Who said red heads can't wear red??   






And now for those waiting for the Halloween goodies.....

Halloween & Autumn Party Treats 




Pecan Pie with Two Slices  (1)   26.00



Pumpkin Pie Slices Set of Two  (15)   6.50





Halloween Candy Set  (7)    11.00
set includes:
   10 pumpkin candy corn
   1 white chocolate ghost on a stick
   5 gummy worms




Frosted & Sprinkled Halloween Sugar Cookies Set of Five  (12)  7.50




Chocolate Spider Web Cake with Two Slices  (2)   18.00





Cookies & Cream Oreo Pie with Two Slices  (1)   24.00






Cookies & Cream Oreo Cake with Two Slices  (2)  30.00






Autumn Party Snack Cakes Set of Two   (10)   6.50




Frosted & Sprinkled Brownies Set of Five  (6)   11.00





Festive Fall Cookie Party Tray Set  (5)   20.00
set includes:
  4 dipped acorn cookies
  3 pecan shortbread
  4 peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies
  7 apricot spritz
  2 leaf cut outs






Googly Eyes Cookies Set of Six  (11)   10.50





Halloween Twister Lollipops Set of Two  (assorted colors) (10)   4.00





Halloween Swirl Lollipops Set of Two  (assorted colors)  (11)    4.00






Sprinkled Autumn Leaves Cookies Set of Five  (8)   8.00





As always, if you have questions about my shop, my foods or anything- message me in my Etsy shop or comment here on the blog.  

Thanks,
Teresa