behind the scenes: making the whsmith window display…
Posted in behind the scenes, paris: made by hand August 6th, 2009 by piablog

Thank you for your fab comments about the window display! It means alot when I get such great feedback from you about my work.

As promised, here is a look at the behind the scenes of making the window display. It took me about 4 weeks from beginning to end, and for the last week and a half French Boy and I have been dodging this giant cardboard eiffel tower which was taking up alot of room here in le petit bateau. The boat is still in disarray – with cardboard piles here and there, paint jars, and brushes lying around, tape, glue and craft paper on the piano, table, daybed and floor…


So, here is how it started:

A couple of months or so ago, my publisher contacted me to let me know that WHSmith bookstore in Paris was interested in hosting an event of sorts for my book. I decided upon a window display as I love making things as you know, and I love to express myself through something creative. So, off to work I went, sketching, making notes, brainstorming ideas. I thought about Paris icons and decided the Eiffel Tower would be great inspiration for my window. Here is the sketch I made which became my chosen display…


I had been to the WHSmith store a number of times over the years (it was an institution when I was living there -the place to get my English fix as they have a fab collection of magazines, DVD’s, classics, and interior and photographic books) so I knew the windows rather well. I put together a moodboard of inspiration with the window in mind…


Then came the hard part – I had to come up with a way of making a giant tower! I decided to gather a bunch of leftover cardboard boxes from my local market over the weeks that came – I had an idea to cut up the boxes and make them into ‘sheets’, and then cut a shape of the tower out from those sheets. I found these fabulous little vintage paper cutouts on flickr…

PJB_maketower4 check out agence eureka’s incredible flickr set of vintage prints and paper models, there are hours of inspiration here!

PJB_moodboardtower my makeshift moodboard still graces one of the walls here in the boat.

I printed out the paper cut out model and then set about making a ratio of the little paper model dimensions to my large cardboard sheets. I wanted the tower to be big, and take up as much of the window display as possible, so I made it 2 meters tall as the window is just under 3 meters high. French Boy helped me with the dimensions and with the measurements he gave me I began drawing a loose chalkboard outline until I was happy with my design. The houseboat is only 3 meters wide, so you can imagine, there was lots of hopping and stepping over cardboard…


I then began to cut out the shape…




Then came the second hardest part – how to make the cardboard cut outs stand up! I had to ditch two of the four sides of the tower as the WHSmith window is only narrow, so I needed to make a standing tower that was kind of two-dimensional, rather than 3. I had cut out tabs on the side of the two cardboard cut outs, and just pegged them together to see if it could stand up. Oh yeah, and because the tower was so tall, I had to make the bottom separate to the top, so essentially there were four pieces to the tower. finally I got the tower standing, but it was tricky. I decided that ‘on the day’ I’d need some long thin pieces of wood which I knew I could find at BHV (another institution for me! For craft and DIY materials), in Paris.

I initially wanted the ‘skin’ of the tower to be made with a sewn crisscross pattern. But when I made some it just didn’t stand out enough, so I decided to make simple lines with white paint. I wanted to retain a rough handmade feel as I didn’t want the tower to be too ‘clean’ or ‘neat’ – I wanted to make the tape, pins, and glue as part of the piece so you could see it was handmade as I thought that would make the pics I pin on stand out more.

Then I printed out little pics and pages from the book onto lovely thick matt white card. I was able to fit 8 pages onto each A4 page. They turned out really cute…



Then came the third hard part – getting the tower to Paris! Thankfully French Boy is the most supportive, helpful, generous man I’ve ever encountered, and he was happy to accompany me on the train to Paris, with giant cardboard pieces, camera, and lenses in tow. I was awfully worried that the pieces would get crunched while on the tram, train, and metro. But we took our time, and lots of deep breaths, and we made it to our destination without a hitch!

While in Paris I made some white bunting on Sunday with white paper flags which I’d cut out from recycled paper back home, and white ribbon. I planned to hang this in the window around the tower so that it would draw your eye to the window.

But then came the fourth hardest part – getting the tower to the bookstore on the metro, in peek hour on Tuesday morning. Needless to say I did not sleep the night before. When we arrived to the metro platform, the incoming metro was PACKED – there was not a spare bit of air to squeeze us or our package into. We patiently waited for the next one and thankfully it was less busy. We finally made it the the store and started assembling my crazy cardboard creation with lots of tape. I pinned on the mini pics and letters to spell out the title. I taped the letters on with fab Japanese tape which my friend had given me after coming back from a recent trip to Japan (thank you Heidi!).

French Boy put posters in the window that I had created weeks earlier (oh that was the easy bit) and that WHSmith had kindly printed out for me (here is one already, and I will post the rest of these for you in coming days). He then put the bunting up and we placed the finished tower in the window, I put the books all around the bottom and around the back of the display for customers. I also included some of the other fab books from The Little Bookroom in the display…



et voila! C’est fini…


Phew! I was glad to have it up and complete. Everyone at WHSmith seemed to really like it. And I was pleased to see a few passers-by check it out. French Boy said he overheard a customer say “Oh c’est tres jolie!!”. I hope he didn’t just make that up, ’cause I believe everything he says.


Then French Boy took some funny photos of me in front of the display and that was that! I saw my finished window display for about 2 minutes in total. I do worry that it might turn into The Leaning Tower of Paris as I’m no Gustave Eiffel that is for sure, so if you happen to be in Paris and walk past the display during this month, could you have a peek and let me know it’s okay?

A big thank you to WHSmith for letting me play in their window, what a treat!! And a big thank you to my publisher The Little Bookroom for coordinating the whole thing. WHSmith have heaps of the book in stock so please let everyone you know in Paris know!

parismadebyhand_WHSMITH_1 (this is one of the posters I made for the display)

I have one more behind the scenes treat for you – after I made the window display, I had an interview with Nirit Sumeruk, journalist and author of the fab Paris Popcorn. We went to a little cafe around the corner and she asked me all sorts of great questions, took lots of pics, and wrote a great article about it! I think you will really like it, here is her piece and please be sure to say hi to her when you go and visit. Thank you Nirit!

Okay that’s all for now. I have heaps more to share about my weekend in Paris which I will divulge in the days to come.


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  1. ibb says

    You did a great job! Really, love the cupboard Eiffell Towers…will fit great in my room.
    And I love the last photos of you in front of the window.

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  2. judith b says

    Coucou Pia,
    Just got back in town and will be sure to make a bee-line over to Smith’s before the week’s out to check out the tower and any eventual leaning issues, but above all, to purchase a copy of your little jewel of a book. I had hoped to make your Amsterdam signing. Now I’m wondering if I should hold out for a Smith’s signing…any chance of that happening?

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  3. Danielle says

    SO WONDERFUL! SO WHIMSICAL! as a HUGE fan of your work and as a GIGANTIC francophile i LOVE LOVE LOVE this! xo

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  4. Miranda says

    Well done. It looks great. I was already wondering how you got the tower to Paris… See you tomorrow!

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  5. Andi says

    CONGRATS again!!!!! It all worked so perfectly and you’ve now added even more beauty to such a beautiful city. 🙂

    This behind-the-scenes was really awesome too. You are so creative!

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  6. Nirit says

    Hey Pia!
    love love love your account and so happy to have been a part of it!

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  7. Elizabeth says

    You must have given your fellow commuters something to talk about over the dinner table. It sounds like a stressful trip which will become an amusing memory later on. Your window turned out beautifully!

    August 6th, 2009 | #

  8. Melissa says

    I loved seeing how it all came together! And that photo of your toesies on the cardboard is adorable : )

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  9. Madeline says

    I recently stumbled on to your blog and let me tell you, I LOVE IT! You are so talented, and very inspiring. I was wondering if you could do a blog about cheap ideas to make pretty home-made designs for bedrooms?? I’m a college student, so the cheaper the better. Just wanted to suggest a possible blog idea, if you don’t want to that’s fine! I’ll still be checking out and LOVING your blog! Thanks for the inspiration.

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  10. SuitablyCool says

    What a wonderful adventure you had! The display is so lovely. It was a treat to read the backstory. Thanks!

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  11. Melissa says

    You are such a creative soul! I love how each little piece came together so perfectly!

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  12. The Deco Detective says

    I’m impressed you made it stand up! I would have ended up with not only the leaning tower but with ruins. It looks fantastic! Congratulations!

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  13. Grace says

    Wow, What a beautiful way to recycle cardboard. You could make children’s play toys in this way as well. Gorgeous!

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  14. Bali Beach Bunny says

    not many people can live up to the paris stage of creativity
    you more than can
    thank you for sharing its scenes with us

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  15. Aran says

    that is beautiful pia. congratulations on that window display and all the success with the book. i love my copy and hopefully you will be able to sign it one day.

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  16. pia says

    Aran – when we finally meet, I will definitely sign your copy!

    bali beach bunny – you are a charmer! merci.

    grace – awesome idea, I am already imagining all the things that oculd be created from recycled cardboard!

    The Deco Detective – thank you! it has to stay up for a whole month, so lets hope it doesn’t end up in ruins by the end of it’s show.

    Melissa and SuitablyCool – merci!

    Madeline – welcome! and great post idea. I have so much on right now so I won’t be able to write something like that for the moment, but maybe in the future! Did you see my Paris apartment bedroom story? I used simple fairy lights to make a heart shape above the bed, you might like that, it’s here:

    Melissa – merci 🙂

    Elizabeth – totally, we got so many strange looks as we walked around with those giant paper creations in our hands. We are already laughing about it, what an adventure! Something to tell the grandkids one day (I have to have kids first of course 🙂 )

    Nirit – loved meeting you, I hope we can get together again soon, thank you!

    Andi – you’re wonderful – I am so enjoying all your beautiful comments, thank you for your ceaseless encouragement, it goes a long way.

    Miranda, Danielle – thanks girls!

    Judith B – bonjour! There isn’t a booksigning as yet planned at WHSmith, but maybe if there is a strong enough reaction to the window display and books in stock now, perhaps I might come back for one? It would be wonderful!

    merci ibb.


    August 7th, 2009 | #

  17. Madeline says

    Hey Pia! Yep, I already bookmarked that for inspiration, as well as the diy yellow printed dresser. Can’t wait to try these! Thanks! 🙂

    August 7th, 2009 | #

  18. Leonie says

    J’ADORE! Well done Pia, i’m LOVING all the work you’re doing, very inspiring!
    Hope to one day meet you! THANK YOU for what you create, your book finally arrived this week!
    Leonie (french-loving australian!)

    August 8th, 2009 | #

  19. Ana says

    This is so cool! Thank you for showing us the backstage.

    August 13th, 2009 | #

  20. vida says

    My beautiful Dutch girlfriend gave me that very book as a gift because I am travelling to Paris next month! Tara is a friend of mine and I got to your website from hers!! Isn’t life wonderful that we can all find each other and enjoy each others worlds!! Vida (Australia)

    August 15th, 2009 | #

  21. vida says

    OMG Pia I just realised you wrote the book!!! I quickly scanned through to see how you had made the tower and then raced off to write to my girlfriend who had given me the book to tell her that “someone” had made this display to go with this book and now I have returned to take a closer look at your blog and realisation set in that you are the author!!! My goodness this chain of events gets wilder as the minutes roll on!!! WOW!!! I am just in shock at these events unfolding!!! I LOVE your book and my friend for giving it to me!!! Vida x

    August 15th, 2009 | #

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