When we have a dedicated train room, in which we construct our model railroad empire, everything about the room is determined by the form the model railroad takes on. When the layout is added to an existing shared space in the home should it draw influence from its environment?

The above photo isn’t of my apartment but is of an apartment a lot like mine and in the same building. If I were adding furniture to this room I’d be inclined to select pieces that matched the scale of the greater space and those existing elements. Further, I’d try and pick things that aesthetically worked against the colour and texture of the exposed brick or white plaster walls or the clear-finished birch cabinets. In this way, designing the model railroad that fits here is a lot like adding any other furniture item.

Do the lines, colour, or texture from those brick walls provide a form that any lines the layout adds should compliment?

Is the pattern from the brick so visually “noisy” that a layout set against them should not add another chorus of voices? That is, a busy miniature urban scene might be too much but a more pastoral landscape might fit better? What draws our attention?

I find the finishes apparent throughout the apartment very appealing. They feel natural. In this way should lines found in the layout’s envelope, both in the lines of the track and the footprint, feel equally flowing and natural?

In terms of framing the layout, I’d think that the fascia should have as much visual integrity as the walls it is placed against. Maybe a white-washed pine and maybe not forest green or black-painted Masonite?

This started as an email but appears to maybe work better as a blog post. Just some random thoughts while I wade through unpacking our stuff now that the move is behind us and we wade into the next chapter.

Finally, some unrelated trivia: I finally caved and bought a cell phone. It’s my first ever and this post is the first I wrote using it. It’s been interesting to compare the hardware in terms of trying to express my idea using the phone as compared to my preferred keyboard.




  1. I love the character of the room. The horizontal brick courses and the windows are terrific. I don’t like the media center. It is plasticky, but it could go.

    Four ways to put at least a switching layout in the space:

    1. The window sills look deep. Put a layout section on each window sill. Link them with a one track bridge in front of the wall. The left window section becomes staging for the right; the right section becomes staging for the left. When all the moves are done, replace all the cars.
    2. Use the height of the pier between the windows. Create an ultralight layout with surface wiring and a painting on the bottom. Hang it on the wall with the painting facing the room. When you want to operate, take it down off the wall, and put it on a table — or simply hinge the bottom and lower it onto a leg.
    3. I have a 5′ inglenook in my winter condo. It stands on end in a closet and sits on an ironing board to operate. It takes 5 minutes to set up or take down, 20 minutes to switch — a 5-20-5 layout.
    4. Dump the media center. Put in a series of upper kitchen cabinets, 30″x12″x 30″, resting on the floor and finished like the existing kitchen cabinets. On top of these, put in a series of 15″ or 18″ cabinets in the same widths. This gives you a layout base 45″ or 48″ high. Hang the television on the wall above this. It gives you lots of storage, hidden places to ruin wiring, but wouldn’t be cheap.

    1. Sorry to have taken so long to respond Marshall. Continuing to unpack so I can start sharing photos of the actual space instead of one that just looks a whole lot like ours.

      Recycling your numbers:

      1. The sills are massive. About a foot deep perhaps 24-36″ wide. Unfortunately the cat has expressed an active and rather stubborn interest in all seven of these sills. She advises it’s not best to install a competing option. That said, I really like your bridging idea. You could stage a cameo in each sill with removable connecting sections.

      2. This is a neat idea. Would it be too ironic if the art piece were thematically in line with the layout? For example: if the layout were traction than on the exposed back side you could have a print of a streetcar or similar traction memorabilia.

      3. We’re fortunate that the apartment is actually stepped into two floor heights. The bedroom end has 12′ ceilings while the main living room runs around 10′ with a step up from the former into the latter. Above the bedroom closets are storage lofts and it would be easy to place the layout into one between uses. Even if intended for permanent display in the open, these lofts would still be handy when the layout is still a mess.

      4. I’d love to ditch the TV but that’s not completely my decision and I can live with that balance (Ha!). I am planning an office area for drafting work and could certainly steal a bit of that area for layout atop bookcases in this space as you suggest.

      Thanks for the considerations.


  2. Hi Chris,
    This cries out to me Toronto Transit Commission Street Cars!
    Have you seen the latest post on Sam’s “Modeling Maine Railroads” (currently a mis-leading blog title)?
    Love your space.

  3. Hi Chris,
    As Rick has mentioned my blog, I should say that I’ve planned, and am now building, a layout based around your concept in “1,2,3,4”, with small breaks in the fascia for viewing trains.
    A link to my post on the subject:
    Your posts are always an inspiration to someone who has limited space to model in.
    The room that you show looks rather industrial, in a way, to me, what with the uncovered brick walls. What if a layout built in that space embraced that industrial look with brick factory buildings, etc.?
    Only a thought – the space looks very nice, in my opinion.

    1. Thanks Sam. We love the space.

      I wonder if model brick against real brick might prove too strong a contrast? I have thought as you suggested that something industrial would work well. If not the factories, than the towns so something like rows of brick rowhouses or factory workers cottages. Steel town sort of stuff.

      I was so excited to read your post and I really like your interpretation of the idea. To say that I am keen to follow along on your progress is a massive understatement. I have some questions and thoughts but I’ll post them on your blog.



      1. I think a brick-heavy layout would work great, but only if it were not on the brick wall. Rather if it repeated the pattern on the far side of the room.

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