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Building a Victorian Facade on a Budget
By George Colavecchio

>When I sat down in November to start the early design work on our haunt for 1999, I was determined to avoid the mistakes made during our first commercial haunt in 1998.  I also wanted to come up with something that would not only contain the usual props and scares, but was so imposing on its own that it would rattle the patrons right from the beginning.

Two things were needed to make this a reality: a very tight storyline and a vividly realistic set.

The storyline came fairly easily. It was Victorian-themed and very macabre in content. It was the physical haunt itself that posed a problem. How do you convince people that they are in the place you want them to be? Usually a facade is what they encounter before they enter a haunt. In our design, the primary facade, an abandoned Victorian Manor, is actually the rear wall of the second room. Patrons must first enter the haunt through a museum, followed by a stroll through a cemetery where they see the manor itself up ahead. It had to be convincing, and therefore, life-sized. This translated into a 'prop' that is twenty-two feet wide and ten feet high!

Normally, my partners and I stick to areas of expertise that are comfortable for each of us. Brad Cain is a detail man and also has a gift for turning trash into haunting treasure. Jeremy Schroader is a talented sculptor and does truly astounding prop work. My part is overall design and implementation coupled with unique ways to save costs and still produce the desired end product. Together, we make a great team, and with the prop we were about to build, we really needed the teamwork.

I started by sketching the facade and breaking the design into 4' by 8' sections so that it would be transportable later on. Next, thought had to be given to materials, the weight of the finished pieces and, of course, Fire and Building Code concerns. Once I had committed it to paper the three of us discussed it, made joint changes, and produced the facade in the following manner, and all for less than $200 in materials!
MATERIAL LIST
  • 24 - 2"x3"x8' pine @ $1.89 ea.
  • 6 - 4'x8'x2" Styrofoam @ $8.99 ea.
  • 1 - Luan door slab @ $22.00
  • 1 roll 4 mil clear plastic @$4.00
  • 1 package screening spline @$4.00
  • 6 - Lg. cans Water Putty @ $4.99 ea.
  • 15 - cans assorted colors of spray paint @ $.99 ea.
  • 4 - Liquid Nail @ $1.49 ea.
  • Liquid Lead and assorted glass stain @$20.00
  • (Screws, wood stain, hinges and door knocker on hand)
TOTAL COST: $178.05


The "Manor" façade was made up of seven panels. There are two 4' x 8' panels, each with a 2' x 3' window. Two more 4' x 8' panels that when put together will make up the door frame (we added two stained glass windows and a stained glass transom.) Finally there are three 2' x 8' panels that form an angled tower with a barred window in the center panel.

When building the frames, supports had to be added to "frame out" the windows and door. Smaller windows, or transom openings needed no extra framing. We used 2' x 3' lumber for the frames, they are a bit less expensive than 2' x 4's.

Once the frames were complete, it was time to cover them. We wanted stonework below the windows and clapboard siding above them. For the two large window panels, we first covered the lower half with 2" Styrofoam using Liquid Nails and 2 1/2" screws. We then "sculpted" individual "stones" by breaking 2" Styrofoam into the desired shape and rounding the edges (use your hands, it's messy but effective).

The stones were then glued to the panel and held in place with a 2 1/2" screw - pushed in like a thumbtack. We repeated the "masonry work" on each panel working around doors and windows. To achieve the clapboard effect, we used insulation board, it is the stuff with foil on one side, plastic on the other, and foam in the middle. We cut it with a razor knife into 4" strips and applied it just like real clapboard siding. Again, working around windows and doors in the design.

Once the panels were assembled, we cut out holes for light fixtures, etc..... for future use.

Because of the flammability of the foam material, we had to take steps to minimize any possible problems. In order to do this we applied a liberal coat of water putty to all exposed surfaces. This had a multiple effect: it smoothed out the surface causing it to be less foam-like, more paintable (untreated foam generally melts under spray paint), much harder, and it also sealed the foam. If you put flame to the walls, there is no smoke, no flame, and any melting is behind the water putty skin. This certainly is not adequate for permanent haunts, but works great for seasonal projects. Be sure to check with your Fire Marshall - ours was impressed.

To get the look we wanted, we did our painting by spraying in layers. First, we applied a base coat of gray followed by black, brown, and green, in a dusting-like fashion for the stonework and brown accents on the siding. Lastly, we speckled the stonework by enlarging the hole on a can of black spray paint so that it sprayed like "Fleckstone." With the panels basically finished at this point, we moved on to the door and windows.

The door is a Luan door panel with trim molding and a grotesque doorknocker stained and aged to fit the motif.

The windows presented the greatest financial problem. Originally, I wanted Plexiglas; however, the cost was just too much for our budget. So how do you make leaded windows, or stained glass windows cheaply? The solution is somewhat unique and a good example of what can be done with imagination and a small budget.

My design called for large leaded windows in two of the panels. By placing screws on the back of the window frame to form the base for a pattern and stretching gray screening spline - yes, screening spline - in a diamond pattern, and then stapling 4 mil. clear plastic behind it, we created what I now refer to as my "two-dollar windows." I then lightly spray painted the plastic from behind with orange paint and added a haze of gray. The end result is "leaded glass" windows that look real even in normal light.

For the stained glass, I made frames of 1" x 2" pine and stretched and stapled the same clear 4 mil. plastic on them. I then used liquid lead to recreate the solder used in real stained glass.  Next, I used glass stain to color the "pieces of glass."  The finished effect is very realistic.  It's not as sturdy as Plexiglas, but works just fine.

Final touches included working porch lights, Spanish moss between the stonework, and rotting curtains in the windows.

Once we move to the haunt site, we will add the roof panels that will be made of the same type of foam-board used for the "siding." They will be coated and painted to resemble shingles. This step must wait because all possible site locations for 1999 have different ceiling heights. Therefore, this requires slight variations in the roof panel dimensions.

Standing back and looking at our new "prop", we realized that this one was even better than we had imagined it would be. Our biggest problem may be just finding folks with enough courage to go through that door in October!



George Colavecchio is the Founder and Designer of "A Haunting Experience" and can be reached at: ahauntingx@aol.com or check out his web site at:  http://www.ahauntingexperience.com/

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