Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tiles and Tribulations

Finally! The long-awaited laying of the Roman tile roof for Villa del Vigneto is at hand. In fact, the tile work will be at hand for weeks to come! It's a slow, tedious job that alternates between being really boring and being really tense. And in spite of my efforts to make enough tiles beforehand to finish the roof, I'm still far behind the number of tiles needed. That may not be all bad, though - shaping and baking tiles as I go does afford a break from laying all those rows and rows and rows of tiles. I also broke up the monotony of the tiles in January by working on the villa's bathroom. I think that if I alternate working on the roof with working on the furnishings of various rooms, the entire villa, inside and out, may be finished at about the same time. That thought presents my usual dilemma: I can hardly wait to see the finished villa, but I can hardly bear to have it finished!  


 I have boxes of tiles and lots of glue ready to go. You'll notice that I've made tiles from both white and terracotta colored clay. I used Sculpey for the tiles, and I started with the terracotta color but found that it seems softer than the white and is harder to roll out and cut. I switched to the white. The finished roof will be painted to resemble aged terracotta.  

Robert, who is much taller than I am and doesn't have to stand on a stool for this sort of thing, drew guide lines on the roof to help prevent the tiles from wandering crookedly. The lines are faint, but they serve their purpose.

 I started laying the tiles on the back portion of the roof. This photo shows a row of lipped tiles at the roof's back edge, several rows of flat tiles, and curved tiles that fit over the flat tiles. (In real life, all the flat tiles are lipped to properly channel the water, but I skipped that part because the flat tiles won't be visible - and I hope they won't have to channel any water!)

 I'm making progress, moving along slow row by slow row. I have to stand on a small stool to reach the roof at a comfortable work height - very tedious, since my range of motion is limited to the stool. I'm using the piano, just an arm's reach from the villa, as my work table. It's a good height for holding the tiles and the glue that I need to reach without stepping off the stool. I use both hot glue and tacky glue for the curved tiles and tacky glue alone for the flat ones, which hold their position much more readily.


I've only been studying photos of Roman-style tiled roofs for about two years. So why did I not realize until JUST NOW that the outer edge of the roof needs a flat lipped tile instead of a curved tile? I tried to tell myself that maybe it wouldn't matter that I started with a curved row. But it did matter. I "slept" on the problem for a couple of days. It still mattered. So I worked out a solution that didn't require ripping up all the tiles I'd put down. I removed only the row of curved tiles from the edge, as you can see above. I also damaged some other tiles in the process, but they weren't too hard to replace.

I made new lipped "half" tiles to fit the narrow space at the roof's edge. While I was at it, I also made new lipped tiles for the opposite edge of the roof. 

I glued on the lipped half-tiles to replace the curved tiles at the edge of the roof.

I added a new row of curved tiles that I squeezed in over the half tiles and the next row of flat tiles. The alignment isn't great - the edge tiles are too narrow, and the first row of curved tiles is too close to the second row - but at least the tiles are in the proper sequence. It's a patched-up piece of work, but I think the roof will look fine in the end. (The end being after all the painting and aging is done.)

This photo shows the opposite edge of the roof with the lipped tiles laid as they should be.

All the tiles are glued down on the end and back edges of the roof.

This much was accomplished on the roof in January - but the work goes on!


These are some of the furnishings that I considered using in the bathroom of Villa del Vigneto. As you'll see, the bathroom didn't have space for everything accumulated here, but I managed to fit in most things. Some of the pieces needed a bit of refurbishing or a complete makeover, as shown in the photos below.


I had a hard time locating a bidet for the villa's bathroom. I finally found this one by Henry Bart, but it was only the basic form with no hardware. It was also 5/8" shorter than the toilet.

I shaped a chunk of Sculpey to raise the bidet to the right height. (Although it looks too high in this photo.)

I drew the shape of the bottom of the bidet onto the Sculpey form...

 ...then cut out the shape with a knife. (A rough cut!) I baked the Sculpey cut-out.

The new base was glued onto the bidet - now the bidet and the toilet are the same height!

I sanded the new base smooth so that it blends with the original shape of the bidet.

I fashioned some faucets from beads and painted them a metallic gold, then gave the bidet a couple of coats of Magnolia White paint and a coat of satin varnish. I painted a thin strip of tape the same metallic gold for the trim on the base. All done!


This chair came from my stash. I like the "countrified" shape, but I didn't want it too rustic - just old.

I gave the chair a coat of Oyster White paint, then sanded off some of the new paint for a bit of wear and tear. I made a cushion and tied it on with gold cord. 


Even though I didn't include this piece in the above photo of potential furnishings, I really wanted to use this miniature copy of Santini's "Nude Woman Bathing" statue in the bathroom. It was a bit shorter than I liked, so I made a plinth from a square of wood and a square of Sculpey glued together. I layered on some joint compound and painted the plinth as close to the statue's color as I could manage.

 Glued to the plinth, the statue is now just the right height!


The villa's bathroom viewed from the arched opening on the west end.
The bathroom fixtures are from SP Miniatures "Estate and Vintage" listings.

A closer view. The linen cabinet by S. Gustavian was a Christmas gift from Robert soon after I began construction on Villa del Vigneto.

And a view to the right. The wall unit was an unfinished piece to which I added a few touches of paint. I can't find my source for the pretty brass towel stand, unfortunately.


Elizabeth, from Studio E,  sent a box of treasures. These are just a few of the many lovely and useful gifts that were included. 

These are also items that were included in the gift box. There are other wonderful things from Elizabeth that I will show you as I'm ready to use them in various rooms in the villa.

Some of Elizabeth's pretty gifts help to fill this etagere by Roberta Solari that I've placed in the villa's bathroom. Other gifts are on top of the bathroom linen cabinet and on the soap racks in the bathtub. Can you see them?


And so January, 2018, comes to a close - and I'm ready to celebrate that fact! January is my least favorite of all the months, and I impatiently count each one of its long, long thirty-one days. I'm more than eager to welcome February - the month of Love, the month of valentines and lacy hearts and dimpled cupids and CHOCOLATES. 

Welcome, February!

And LOVE to all of you out there in Blogland.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Climbing, Creeping, Clinging Things

December was a busy month, but I did get all the work done that I'd planned to do on Villa del Vigneto. (I hadn't planned to do much!) When I started work on the villa two years ago, part of my vision was to have a grape arbor covering the loggia. That was one of the things that I did get done in December, and I felt as though I had reached a major milestone! I also adopted three cats and a dog to live in the villa, and I had fun giving them all names. (To Robert's embarrassment.) Robert, although very supportive of my miniature work, doesn't immerse himself in that world to the same extent that I do. He is not quite comfortable, for instance, if I begin to rattle off the names, occupations, and  family history of the various occupants of my miniature houses whenever anyone expresses the least bit of interest. He definitely prefers a subtle generic reference - "cat" or "dog" - to my choices of names for Luca, Tosca, Rosabella, and Momi. I've promised Robert a glass of wine beneath the grape arbor if he'll learn the names of the villa's animal residents and address them accordingly.


These construction components don't look like much, but then it doesn't take much to build a very old and rustic framework for grape vines to climb.

I wanted the arbor located just outside the kitchen door and above the loggia. The basic framework has been glued together, then wired for extra support.

The arbor framework shown from the southeast corner.

I added supports across the top of the framework as well.
(If you look closely, you can see Momi, the resident mouser, just inside the kitchen door. He is very protective of the villa and allows no trespassing by pesky mice.)


I found these twisted grape-vine looking pieces in my stash; I think I used the same thing for the wisteria vine that's growing at the French Farmhouse. I wove them among the supports that run across the top of the arbor frame.

Now all I need are some leaves growing on the vines. A few months ago, I summoned all my courage and bought a kit to make some grape leaves. (I've never made plants from a kit, but I persuaded myself to try it once, just to see what would happen.) The kit had been packed away for a long time, and when I brought it out as I started work on the arbor, I was hit forcefully by a true fact: the kit would make fewer than one hundred grape leaves! Judging from the size of the arbor, I was going to need about a million more.
So I searched Hobby Lobby's fake plant section and found a stem of an unknown leaf that sort of resembles a grape leaf. But - there were hundreds and hundreds of leaves on the stem.

I separated the main stem of leaves into small sections and started painting. The paint provided a better color, but mostly it helped cover the shiny green plastic look of the leaves.

I painted and painted and painted and painted. I painted both sides of every leaf, using a dark green paint for the base coat. Obviously, spray paint would have been ideal - except that it was 18 degrees outside, and I had no place to use spray paint inside. 

 I randomly highlighted the leaves with various lighter paint colors. (Yes, I am a very patient and persevering person!)

This is the finished pile of painted "grape" leaves, ready to be glued onto the vines.

Using both Tacky Glue and hot glue, I secured all the leaves to the vines.


Back to Hobby Lobby to buy grapes. Everything that I found was either too large or too tiny for a realistic grape; I finally decided that this was my best option, even though they're a little large. No, I did not try to make my own grapes. I needed about a million of those, too.

I chose some likely clusters of berries from the branch...

...and sorted those into miniature clusters, ready to paint.

These are a few of the painted grape clusters, although some of them look a bit like blackberries!
When I expressed concern about the size of the grapes, my granddaughter suggested that they could be globe grapes. That sounded like a good idea, until I researched globe grapes and found that they were developed in a California breeding program in the late 1950s. My current villa setting is probably very early twentieth century, about fifty years too early for realistic globe grapes. But we're all going to pretend that we don't know that, aren't we? One of my favorite new quotations says that "a little artistic freedom to get the right effect is not a bad thing." Thank you, Giac. Globe grapes they are!

Above are some views of the completed grape arbor. I needed to relax after all that work, so I brought out some furnishings for the loggia and opened a bottle of wine. ("From the vine comes the grape, from the grape comes the wine.") I found two glasses in the kitchen cupboard and poured the wine, just in case a friend happens to come along to join me. Friends are always welcome here!


Perhaps you remember my dilemma last month when I accidentally planted moss on the villa's low front wall, forgetting that moss wouldn't grow in such a dry, sunny spot. You can see the mossy wall in some of the above photos. Some friends from blogland, who know much more about gardening than I, came to my rescue and suggested that the sunny wall would be an ideal place for creeping thyme, which will thrive in just such an environment. So I had to do a bit of restructuring on the moss. I started at Hobby Lobby. (Why yes, Hobby Lobby IS my home away from home! Why do you ask?)

I found purple flowers that could be separated into tiny segments for the flowers on the creeping thyme. And they needed no painting!

The flowers are ready to transform moss into creeping thyme.

Although I forgot to take a photo, I increased the thickness and height of the moss by adding bits of Light Green Coarse Foliage, a miniature landscaping material, to all the clusters of moss on the wall. After adding a bright green paint to the foliage, I glued on the tiny purple flowers - and now thyme is creeping all over the wall - the mossy transformation was a success!

Tosca may prefer catmint, but she hasn't complained about the creeping thyme. A sunny wall is a sunny wall to a sun-loving cat!

More creeping thyme all along the wall. You may notice that I've filled a copper grape pot with  grapes from the vines. The pot hangs on a hook by its leather strap.

This is a view of the loggia and grape arbor from the east end of the wall.

And here is Villa del Vigneto in its present entirety.


When I put the false back wall onto the villa to hide all the electrical wires, I had to design it so that it would pull away from the original structure easily. My design works well, but there are some gaps in the back corners of the villa walls, because the walls are rough and not quite plumb. I decided that the easiest way to remedy that was to grow vines up the end walls to cover the gaps. I needed a lot of vines - millions of vines - so I made another trip to YOU KNOW WHERE and found some viny-looking plastic plants that had leaves of pretty much the right size.

History repeats. I separated, sorted, and painted, painted, painted.

The vines are ready to glue onto the walls. I used Tacky Glue for longevity and hot glue along with it for instant hold.

I randomly glued on some thin trunks for the vines; they can just be glimpsed here and there through the vine cover. You can see the gap in the corner wall that I'm trying to hide with the vines. The first branches of vines have been glued on.

The vines are growing and reaching around to the back of the villa.

A view of the west end of the villa with vines.

Another view from the southwest corner.

I've completed gluing more vines on the east end of the villa; these also reach around to the back wall. 

Here is a longer view of the east end of the villa, showing all the climbing, creeping, and clinging things that I've created for Villa del Vigneto.

That brings to a close the work that I completed in December. The Old Year has also come to a close, ringing itself out in Nebraska with high style and low temperatures. Next up, to celebrate the top of a new year, I'll finally begin work on the top of the villa - laying all those hundreds (millions?) of clay roof tiles!

I wish all of you a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year.

2018 - WELCOME!