Model Railroading in Small Spaces – The Joys of the Unhappiest Place on Earth

The Walt Disney Company refers to Disneyland in California as the “Happiest Place on Earth”.  I’ve never been to the park in Anaheim to confirm that, but I’ve been to Walt Disney World (aka The Magic Kingdom) in Orlando Florida a couple of times, and its a pretty damn happy place, so I’m willing to take their slogan on faith.

407442773_80c90af129_oFireworks at Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World.

Ikea, on the other hand, doesn’t have such a pithy slogan that they’ve stuck with over the years, just lots of different ad campaigns, so I’ve taken it upon myself over the years to reference trips there as going to “The Unhappiest Place on Earth”, where you go in looking for one item, and come out with five others but not what you were looking for.  An exaggeration, perhaps, but not always so far from the truth.  Despite my seeming dislike for Swedish Flat Packed furniture that this might suggest, I actually like all the Ikea furniture we own, and, if you are a model railroader working in small spaces, Ikea can be and probably is your best friend.

There are a couple of series of Ikea Bookcases/frames that can work really well for modellers.  I have been using the Besta system frames (which used to be sold as Inreda with shelves, now they seem to only be sold without shelves).  The Billy Bookcase system also offers opportunities for modellers.

Ikea Besta Frame and Billy Bookcases

While the bookcases themselves can be a bit pricy, extra shelves are $5 or $10 depending on the size, which make a really cheap base for building on, and the bookcase frames make it easy to display things and swap around displays.

Dioramas built on Ikea Bookcase Shelves.  Top is a London Underground diorama on a Besta 22″x6-1/4″ shelf, bottom right is a diorama of the Toronto Railway Museum “Railway Village” on an extended 22″x14-1/8″ shelf (more below), and the bottom right shows a model of Stalls 15&16 at the John Street Roundhouse on another 22″x6-1/4″ shelf.

For the most part, in HO Scale at least, they serve best as a base for display/diorama, but they could certainly be used as the core of a portable/changeable layout, in fact, just typing this I’ve come up with an interesting concept to use a 30″x10″ Billy Shelf as a changeable core of a module where different scenery could be dropped in with off-scene staging on either end.  I’m going to have to put some thought into that in the coming weeks.  Clearly something I’ll revisit as i’ve just given myself all kinds of ideas (that’s a dangerous thing).  I’ve seen people do all kinds of things with Ikea products to actually build layouts on, from N-Scale inside a glass topped coffee table, to using frames as a base for a layout.  The latter isn’t all that different from what i have contemplated doing in the past, re-organizing the Besta Bookcases to form a base to support modules built above.  I’ve done that on a very small scale using a wall shelf that Ikea doesn’t seem to sell anmore which my partially sceniced test track now lives upon.

IMGP2192RawConvIkea wall shelf with a portable test track/switching puzzle layout on top.

One of the nice things with the Ikea system, is that as you can see from the photos above, the models can blend nicely into the furniture.  The model of 6213 and the Stalls is in our living room on a bookcase used mostly for DVD’s below.  It allows the railway to move into the house and not be hidden away, which in a 750 sq.ft two bedroom apartment, is essential!!  The larger diorama of the railway village needed some more real estate than the Ikea shelf allowed for, so I expanded it using a 24″x24″ project panel cut down to 22″ wide so it would still go into a bookcase, but extending out to give 17″ of depth for the model.  As this model is also for travelling to train shows to promote both the Toronto Railway Museum and my own 3D printed models, I’ve built a display frame to make it presentable when it’s out and about.

Building the “Railway Village” shelf, taking an Ikea Besta shelf, adding an extension, then laying out tracks and building locations.

The other big reason that Ikea should be a modeller in small spaces best friend is the variety of sizes and styles of cabinets they make that are great for storing parts, paints, strip and sheet materials, and anything else.  For years I had been using a big plastic toolbox with pull out drawers from Canadian tire to store and organize materials, and I use the word organize loosely.  Earlier this year, I finally got sick of it.  Searching online, I found a post by Terry Gaskin who models the Chicago CTA in O Scale, talking about his discovery of the Alex drawers.  This is an awesome set of drawers, but waay too big for the space I had, but it got me looking, and I found the Helmer, a compact metal set of drawers, that just fits beneath the height of my Ikea Micke computer desk.  This little set of drawers is perfect for my space and the amount of material and supplies I was looking to better organize.

Ikea Helmer drawer fitting in just under my computer desk to create organized storage for materials, tools, supplies and decals.

While Ikea may not be perfect, there are benefits, like the reward of cheap hot dogs or soft serve ice cream at the food counter after a seemingly never ending walk through the showroom, or trying to find your products in the marketplace!  But in all seriousness, with some careful thought, using Ikea furniture offers great opportunities for modellers in small spaces to create places where you can display your hard work and prized models, while fitting in with your home and even creating storage space for the rest of your life.

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