Sunday, October 1, 2017

What's Done Is Done and Undone and Redone

My blog posts seem to be turning into public confessions of all the mistakes I've made during the construction of Villa del Vigneto. But at this point, if I don't write about the mistakes, there won't be anything to write about! So I'm going to 'fess up again this month, but after this, I do not intend to make ANY mistakes, so all my future blog posts will be all about perfection and the carefree fun I have as I work on the villa. (Do I hear someone snickering out there in blog land???)


This is the BIG piece of 3/4" styrofoam that will be the "false" back wall of the villa, covering all the electrical wiring. I built up a frame of styrofoam strips around the edges of the existing back wall, so that there's a space between the two walls. (I didn't want the wires and plugs to be smashed.)

I applied joint compound to the styrofoam piece. The little window hardly shows in that solid wall.

All sanded and ready to paint. I wet sanded first, then went over the piece lightly with fine sand paper.

All dry and ready to hang. I carried the wall downstairs to check its fit on the back of the villa. AND DISCOVERED THAT I HAD FINISHED THE WRONG SIDE OF THE STYROFOAM WALL! I'm pretty sure that I never even once stopped to consider which side was which. I can't think of one good excuse for such carelessness. The window is just off center, so that should have been an obvious clue. But nope. Clueless.

So I spent a lot more time doing the same thing all over again. At least there was no doubt this time about which side I should work on. (Of course, I had no doubts the first time either!)


I knew exactly how I wanted the villa's exterior finish to look; I just didn't know how to go about getting it to look that way. So I experimented. I found a texturing gel at the craft store that I thought was a great idea. I applied the gel randomly, along with swipes of joint compound. I started at the west end....

...and continued on the front...

...then moved to the east end...

...and around to the back. Then I waited overnight for the texturing gel and the joint compound to dry.

I was surprised the next day to find that the gel had dried to a glossy finish, leaving great shiny globs on all the walls. I started painting anyway, assuming that the flat paint would cover the gloss. It didn't. I tried sanding off the gloss, but even the coarsest sandpaper wouldn't sand through the dried gel.

So I started over again, applying more joint compound to cover the glossy globs.

I put on just a thin layer of joint compound and wiped it down gently with a wet sponge. (Thanks to Betsy, from Daydreamer, for that technique.)

The wall that juts out at an angle didn't receive a gel treatment, because I was using that wall to experiment with paint colors and smudges. I left it "as is."

After repainting the walls, I experimented again, smudging the walls with charcoal, most of which I later covered with a blend of paint colors.

 I tried out an "aging stucco" finish on the west wall, using sandpaper, Antique Gold, Rose Pink, and Crushed Coral paints, a gray wash, taupe eye shadow, and charcoal from our Oklahoma Joe smoker.
I also needed to make "camouflage corners" for the back wall, which didn't fit quite flush with the end walls of the villa. I cut strips of mat board and made a sharp fold down the center so that each strip would wrap around the corner from back to front. I glued the strips to the back wall, but attached them only lightly with sticky wax to the end walls so that the back wall and the strips can be removed as one unit if necessary. I applied joint compound to the corner strips, wet sanded the strips with a sponge to smooth and blend the joint compound, then I painted over the strips so that they blend with the walls. Both back corners will eventually be covered with vines. (Further camouflage.)

  I had a vision of the color I wanted for the window frames - but mixing the hoped-for color was a challenge.

It took several attempts and a variety of "concoctions"....

...but I finally mixed up the right blend of colors. This close-up photo shows one of the living room windows and a portion of the "aged" west wall.


Even before I decided to construct the central tower, I had planned to have a grape vine emblem above each of the front openings. (The lower opening is the main villa entrance, and the upper opening looks into the stair landing on the second level.) After I built the tower, the front of the villa looked so plain that I was even more determined to create the emblems. So I gathered up some likely pieces from my stash and started designing. (I did not use the smallest oval frame in the above photograph.)

I think I've had the grape cluster piece on the left for maybe twenty years. It was attached to a greeting card that I received, and there was a tiny candle inserted into the space where you can see the green pin head that I added. The grape cluster on the right is a brooch that I found in an antique store in Albuquerque, New Mexico, last year. The other pieces are picture frames. I cut cork shapes to form backs for the pieces.

I spread joint compound (of course) over the back pieces.

I also added a light layer of joint compound to the frames...

...and to the grape clusters.

I glued the grapes to the frames and glued the frames to the cork backing.
You can see that I added an additional backing piece to the larger frame.

Both emblems are assembled and ready to turn into stone. I've tried to think what these things may be called, other than "emblems;" but I've checked all the synonyms, and nothing sounds right. (Heraldry, Crest, Symbol, Logo, Insignia, Coat of Arms, Plaque.) So I'm sticking with "emblem" for now, unless someone knows what it is that I'm trying to think of.

I painted a dark gray finish on first,

then dry-brushed on a lighter gray, a cream, and two shades of tan.

I think I added a bit of white to this mixture, but I forgot to take a photo.

I was so excited about attaching the emblems to the villa wall that I glued them right on. I had held them up to the wall time and again and was happy with the way they looked. I should, of course, have attached them temporarily with sticky wax. No sooner had the glue dried than I decided that the emblems jutted out too far and definitely looked just "stuck on."

I lived with them for a couple of days anyway, then just couldn't bear it longer, so I pried the emblems off with a sturdy knife - bringing paint, joint compound, and styrofoam off with them.

I pried the cork backing off the oval frame and removed one of the cork backs from the larger frame.

I had to do some repair work, of course. I leveled out the styrofoam where the emblems had pulled away, then filled the spaces with joint compound, which I also smoothed around the edges of the "raw" space. Instead of using glue, I pressed the emblems into the wet joint compound, which holds like glue when dry.

After the joint compound dried, I sanded it very lightly and repainted the repaired areas.

You probably can't tell from the photo that there's any difference between the "before" and "after" views of the emblems. But I solemnly swear that the new version is better! The repairs also gave me a chance to put a little "wear and tear" in the stucco around the emblems, which lends a more authentic look.

That's the extent of my September mistakes (oops - I mean accomplishments!) But one thing did go well. The end of September is the time for Nebraska's annual Junk Jaunt - 300 miles of Junk, Antiques, Bargains, and Treasures of all kinds. I hoped that I'd find at least one miniature of some kind. But there were no minis to be found in the places I looked. However, a couple of months ago, I brought some tiny bits of cactus back from the Nebraska Sandhills and planted them in miniature pots in the courtyard of my miniature adobe house. The cactus needs an occasional taste of water, but I never found anything small enough to do the job. An eyedropper was inconvenient, and a tiny cream pitcher made a muddy mess. But on the Junk Jaunt, I found a very small glass bottle with a perfect pour top - probably used to dispense oil or vinegar. It cost me a dollar, but that was money well spent, because it's the perfect vessel for watering the cactus plants. 

My Junk Jaunt Treasure!

And speaking of treasure, I hope that you'll all have a truly Golden October.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

To Top It All Off

August slammed me with an inauspicious start. Just when I was ready to begin work on the exterior of Villa del Vigneto, I lost my workroom. Or, more accurately, my workroom lost me and the villa. It was my own fault. Just over a year ago, in July of 2016, I was putting up the living room walls on the villa's lower level when I discovered that I had made a mistake in my design measurements. After much stressful maneuvering, I managed to "fix" the problem, and I thought that all was well. 

But a year later, on one of the first few days of August, I was planning the back exterior wall of the villa - the wall that will cover all the electrical wiring. The "false" wall needs to extend out about an inch and a half beyond the "real" wall, in order to clear all the wires. (There are a LOT of wires!) And a sudden, dreadful realization burst upon me. (That sounds very melodramatic, but it was a very melodramatic moment.) That extra inch and a half was NOT planned for when the villa's plywood base was carried in through the door of my new workroom. I had full confidence in the fact that the base, with completed villa on it, could be carried out again with the same ease. 

After measuring again and again, (no mistake this time) I knew that there was no way the wider villa was ever going out again through that door. Robert, for some reason, refused to contemplate cutting the doorway wider or removing the windows. My only recourse was to move the villa out of the room before I added on that extra one and a half inches. So that's what I did. I admit to feeling somewhat ill-used, all because of one - ONE! - mistake made all those months ago. 

I keep thinking how appropriate is my favorite old proverb: "The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small."

 This sad photo shows the space that my work table used to occupy in my small workroom.

 And this even sadder photo shows the work table in its new location in the family room, where it stands smack in the way of everything. I also feel guilty if I don't clean the area after every work session!

The sad tale doesn't end yet. I have stuccoed (with joint compound) all the upper level exterior walls - and now they have to be sanded and sanded and sanded. Where do you think all that white sanding dust goes? I've blocked the wide openings of the villa with newspaper and paper towels in order to keep out the worst of the dust. I should have newspapered the entire family room. 

But there was a reprieve of sorts. I had made a good start on the sanding when I realized that I really should put the roof on before sanding further, because the roof installation involves more joint compound that requires still more sanding.


Trying the roof sections on for size. I also constructed a "tower," which was actually a dovecote in the original farm house. The farmer's access to the dovecote was through an opening in the ceiling of the stair landing, reached by a ladder. That opening, as well as the pigeons' entrance, was walled up during the first renovation, but the tower structure was left in place.

All the main roof pieces are loosely attached, and they all fit.

Another view, showing the support blocks on which the roof pieces rest. You can also see, in the background, our shrouded piano. Yikes! But so far, it's dust free.

All the end pieces of the roof are in place. This is the west end of the villa...

...and here is a view of the east end.

I've attached the tower roof.

All the styrofoam roof and tower pieces have been stuccoed over.

The styrofoam pieces for the two chimney stacks have been put together...

...and stuccoed over...

...and sanded...

...and secured in place. This is the west chimney, over the master bedroom and the living room.

This chimney is on the east end, over the kitchen and the smallest bedroom.

A front view of the villa with the tower and chimney stacks in place.

Sanding has been completed on the west end and the front of the villa.

Then I moved to the east end, where I immediately sanded into the only wire that runs down the wall instead of up through the ceiling. OOPs! What have I told you about my jinx on all things electrical? Yep, broken off right at the wall. This is the wire to the pretty little wall light in the small bedroom - the light that caused all the trouble that I described in my last post.

Robert the electrician wasn't home at the time, and I was sorely tempted to try to mend the wire myself quick before he returned. But we all know how that would have turned out.

The break was too close to the wall to allow a simple splice, so Robert had to remove the broken wire and replace it.

He also had to remove the light, of course, leaving holes in the wall, inside and out.

But the repair was successful, the pretty light works, the holes in the wall were easily mended, and I sanded again - ever so cautiously. I am, as always, thankful that STYROFOAM IS SO FORGIVING! Robert, however, may not have been so forgiving. In fact, he was practically downright grumpy. Strange.

I've started applying a base coat of dark paint to the villa. The paint is not as dark as it looks in the photo. In fact, it appears different in every photo I took. But since this isn't the final color, maybe it doesn't matter.

Almost finished painting the walls.

I also applied a brick red paint to the roof, so that the white styrofoam won't show through when I lay the roof tiles. The wall color here looks a little lighter than it actually is.

This is the darkest paint color of all! But it shows the tower roof somewhat better, so I included it anyway.

At last - the structure is beginning to resemble a villa-fattoria, even though there's a great deal of work remaining to be done, and even more fun remaining to be had! I'm looking forward to the change of pace as I continue working on the exterior of the villa. September is going to be chock full of activities that compete with villa time, but surely some progress will be made.

I wish you a kind and gentle September.