Ever dream of having a theme park in your home? A themed environment can be achieved in an extra room, garage or basement. Smaller versions are possible in the corner of a room or even a large closet, for a Virtual Reality adventure. Lighting, sound effects and media add to the overall effect.
The most cost effective way of producing this type of experience is to do it yourself. This blog will cover the techniques I used to create this themed pirate tavern.
Step One: Design
Once the location was chosen, I began the ideation process and worked out the layout and architecture for the space. I wrote a simple backstory to help with the design.
"A secret pirate tavern on a small Caribbean island is a refuge for the wealthier pirate captain. Made from local materials and salvaged ships, the tavern boasts a relaxing and tranquil atmosphere. Its owner, Madame Margaux, a former pirate captain herself, displays mementos from her plunders and travels, including the skeletal remains of several ex-husbands. A reminder she is not to be trifled with."
Using Sketch-Up, I did a layout and massing model of the bar. The dimensions from the scale model gave me the size of each element, which allowed me to create a materials list of what I would need.
After trying several different layouts, I chose one with the bar element angled at 45 degrees. This would provide a more interesting geometry, and also a stronger focal point when entering the bar.
Step Two: Construction
The tavern would be constructed from dimensional lumber. Each piece was designed to look as though salvaged from ship parts, furniture and local materials.
The diorama window would play a large part in creating the illusion of being in the Caribbean, so that was first.
A curved wall was constructed to hide the edges, using 1/8th inch hardboard. The mural was then painted using acrylic house paint and artist colors.
Elements of the bar were next. Using dimensional lumber and a spoke shave, I glued and shaped timbers. They were then distressed, aged and stained.
Bar panels were made from plywood, 3/4 inch pine and bamboo sheets.
Architectural details were fabricated from wood, then aged and stained. Brackets were cut on a bandsaw, milled on a router table, then glued and stained.
I used textured 4x8 sheets that I then faux painted. Next, I applied three dimensional break-outs, with simulated post and beam construction to divide the panels.
I decided to construct a ship's mast as a way to hide an existing column, and used a table saw to cut 23 angled strips of 2x4 pieces for each half. They were glued together to make a cylinder and then stacked one on top of the other to form the overall length.
Tropical themed set pieces were created for inside the mural diorama. The thatched awning added texture, but also hides the ceiling.
Props are an important element to create realism and help to tell the story. Many of the props for the tavern were created before construction began. I have an number of blogs showing their construction. Click on these links to view: How to Make a Pirate Cannon, How to Make a Pirate Cannon Part Two, How to Make a Ships Wheel and A Pirate Barrel Made from a 2x4.
I produced several custom art pieces for display around the bar, and to enhance the tavern's story.
I also built specialty themed furniture.
Several animatronics were constructed to "activate" the bar.
Used bottles were recycled and re-dressed to better fit the pirate theme.
Lighting was a difficult problem to solve. Period lighting would work in some zones, but other areas needed a brighter focus. Lights were concealed inside crates and barrels, and then made to look as if the source was illuminating from a period prop nearby, such as a lantern or a candle. The mural itself required a consistent glow with no shadows.
Sound effects and music were added using a series of MP3 players and wireless speakers hidden in props. Inside the diorama, sounds of lapping waves and chirping crickets can be heard.
Finally, a discreet entry off the contemporary part of the house makes for a nice and surprising reveal.
Another world awaits behind this door. Guests are transported to the 18th century and the golden age of pirates.
Photos by Jackson Palcic
The tavern took a little over a year to construct and it will probably never be finished, as I like to keep changing and adding things to it. This was a labor of love and based on my lifelong interest in themed storytelling and environments.