Monday, December 28, 2015

Tuscan Villa-Fattoria: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

It could be that I've put the cart before the horse. I spent many hours in December building a fireplace for the living room of my villa-fattoria.The fireplace is all finished now, and I could build a roaring fire for warmth or a low, slow fire for ambiance. But there's a problem with that plan. There is no living room! There's only an unattached, unfinished wall where the fireplace will eventually stand between two currently unfinished windows. So the cart is way ahead of the horse, but it's time to tell the story of the fireplace anyway.

This is the living room wall where the fireplace will be installed. 

Cutting the styrofoam pieces for the fireplace.

The fireplace components are loosely held together with toothpicks so that I can see how (whether) they all fit together.

I experimented with various types of "embellishments" for the ornamentation on the fireplace.

The styrofoam pieces are glued together using toothpicks and Elmer's glue. This photo shows the back of the fireplace. That little snipper tool is perfect for cutting off the excess bits of the toothpicks.

I have applied the first layer of joint compound to the main fireplace pieces. The pilasters will be attached separately.

I attached the pilasters by pressing them into the joint compound rather than using glue.

Another view of the fireplace.

And yet another view; I've put on a really thick first layer of joint compound!

I cut the back part of the firebox into the styrofoam wall of the living room.

I lightly sanded
 the first layer of joint compound on the fireplace...

...and applied a second layer.

I wanted a grape motif as ornamentation on the fireplace, but after searching in vain for clusters of grapes that would work, I made my own from Sculpey.

Some experimentation was necessary to find the best placement of the decorative pieces. The  black scrolled shapes are from an "embellishment" package that I bought at Hobby Lobby. Should I place the side grape clusters here?

Or are they better here?

The final sanding is finished.

The embellishment pieces have been glued onto the front of the fireplace.

I painted over the ornamentation with a primer coat. I also applied paint to the cotton cording that I wanted to use for simulated carved stone, to make sure that the paint wouldn't obscure the twist pattern of the cording.

An upright view of the fireplace with the primed ornamentation pieces.
I have drawn the fire bricks on the firebox, using the tip of a small tool to make grooves in slightly set joint compound. The bricks don't show well in this photograph.

I glued a line of cording across the top of the mantel and applied a coat of paint to the firebox.

Cutting the styrofoam piece for the overmantel.

I've applied joint compound to the overmantel.

Sanding the overmantel. That's a lot of joint compound dust for such a small piece!

I attached the overmantel to the fireplace mantel with toothpicks and glue.

I glued a line of the cotton cording around the top and the base of the overmantel.

Another view of the fireplace with all the components in place.

I painted  a second, lighter shade of gray onto the entire fireplace. You may think that I'm being very thorough, but I'm actually being very indecisive! I don't know how dark or light I want the fireplace "stone" to be.

 Another shade of gray; just a little lighter.

I applied another experimental color. This is an antique white that I "pounced" on with a stiff brush.

After making my final decision, I pounced on a palest gray finish, then I brushed on a slightly darker wash, keeping the brush bristles as dry as I could. 

 I painted the firebox with various colors: a medium gray, followed by a brick-colored wash, then a gray wash. Finally, to achieve the look of an aged, fire-darkened brick, I added soot and ashes that I rubbed on with my fingertips.

This will be the final resting place for the completed stone fireplace. It's all ready now for that comforting fire of hearth and home. If it only had a home!

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you'll come back to see whatever progress I make in January. I'm not sure what comes next on the construction agenda, but those potential windows need a lot of attention!

And speaking of January, this wintry view from the window of my basement workroom reminds me that January will soon be upon us, bringing another New Year. I wish you much Joy and Contentment and many Blessings, both large and small, for the whole of the year of 2016. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Tuscan Villa-Fattoria: First Steps

Even while I was working on my French Farmhouse, I was already thinking ahead to my next miniature project. There was never any doubt that it would be a Tuscan Villa. The doubt was that I could actually build a villa worthy of its name using sticks and stones and styrofoam as my construction materials.

At some point during all my ruminating and all my research on the subject, I learned about the villa-fattoria, and all (most?) of my doubts disappeared. Unlike the elaborate, palatial villas of the Italian aristocracy, the villa-fattoria was a farm house, purchased with its parcel of land, and renovated by a prosperous banker or merchant for use as a summer retreat. The old farmhouse could be expanded into a small villa that incorporated some elegant Renaissance features. But the small villa-fattoria (literally country house-farm) was considerably less grand than the villas of the landed nobility. 

I think that the construction of my Tuscan Villa-Fattoria can be accomplished with the usual sticks and stones and styrofoam (and egg cartons and Sculpey and assorted odds and ends.) In any case, I'm going to give it a try. Please wish me luck and patience as I begin this new creative endeavor.

I started with the usual suspects: a stack of books and many sheets of scratch paper and graph paper. I finally settled on Graph Paper Plan #5 as THE ONE.

The weather was unseasonably mild in Nebraska, so I set up a temporary work area in our garage for the messy initial steps. The villa plans have been transferred from graph paper to a 3/4" thick plywood base board. The board measures 28" deep by 56" long. The villa will be 8" longer than both the adobe and the French farmhouse, which measure 48" long. 
Note the big black bicycle in front of my work table. It's Robert's Italian bicycle - so right for the Tuscan Villa project!

The next step was to drill holes along the drawn lines on the base board. Then I turned the board over to hammer in large nails so that the points of the nails come out on the right side of the board. The styrofoam wall pieces will be mounted on the nails, with glue added generously for extra stability. I used large nails to mark the thicker exterior wall lines and thinner nails for all the interior wall lines.

Now I had to measure and draw lines for the third time so that I could cut the wall patterns from the styrofoam sheet. I used a sheet of 1 1/2" thick styrofoam for the exterior walls and a 3/4" thick sheet for the interior walls.

A nice stack of exterior walls.

Time to measure and cut the interior walls.

My 8-year old grandson, Leo, thinks it's a whole lot of fun to vacuum up the fly-away bits of styrofoam. We're a good team; I think that's my least favorite part of the process.


There were many arched doorways to cut out, as well as rectangular doorways and windows. And another clean-up job for Leo is waiting.

Same stack, different angle.

My next-door neighbor, Dick, brought over this wonderful, gigantic T-Square that belonged to his father. It was indispensable in drawing lines on this wide sheet of styrofoam and on the plywood base board. I have permission to use it for the duration of construction. Thank you, Dick!

Sometimes my back needs a break from bending over the low folding table; this is a real work bench, but it doesn't work well for large sheets of material. At least I can stand upright now and then to cut smaller pieces. Whew! Much better!

All the styrofoam pieces are cut; now I need to spread the joint compound on both sides of each piece, allowing for drying time for each side. A long process. And the weather is getting cooler. I've had to leave my car outside the garage all this time. It's chilly, but dry so far. (The car doesn't mind being chilly or wet; I mind being chilly or wet. I have to leave the garage door open because I need the extra light.)

Piece by piece; wall by wall; arch by arch. Hurry, hurry! Winter is on its way.

This is a fine array of work! All the pieces have been stuccoed and laid out to dry. That yellow ball in the upper center of the photo is a device that Robert put in place so that I can drive my SUV into the garage (and park beside his big pickup truck) without edging too close to his (MANY) bicycles. It mostly works fine. I haven't hit a bicycle yet.

Waiting just an extra day for the final drying time; it seems to take longer in the cooler weather. I've had to switch to heavier clothing. I keep optimistically saying "cool" and "chilly" but it's actually downright COLD out here. I've also switched to Italian wine that replaces all my French favorites. I've found an Italian Lambrusco that wards off the cold very nicely.

Now - Let the sanding begin!

Another long process - each large piece takes about two hours to sand, front and back. It's hard work. I usually sand only one piece per work period. What a lot of walls there are!


But the "finished" stack is finally larger than the "unfinished" stack.

This is the last large wall to sand! I've accumulated many, many mounds of joint compound dust such as this one. The dust goes in the dust bin, because I don't want it to clog my vacuum cleaner. (I often wonder whether it's clogging my lungs!) My Italian wine may also be a bit dusty.

Only a few more pieces to sand. I wear heavy socks, a heavy fleece jacket with a turtle neck, and I stand on a small thick mat. I am cold. Being a miniaturist is SO MUCH FUN!

The Last of the Wall Pieces!
Sanding complete! (Except for the low boundary wall pieces that I realized will be probably almost the last pieces to use in the construction of the villa-fattoria. So I'm going to wait for warm weather to finish the sanding on those pieces.) Winter is settling in outside. I am going inside!

Back inside in my cozy, warm workroom. The base board is ready for the walls to be mounted.

And the walls are ready and waiting.

The walls have been loosely assembled, so that I can see where adjustments need to be made. This also helps me visualize what needs to be done next. And next and 
next and...........

Thanks for stopping by. Come back next time and view the next thing. I'll share my Lambrusco with you!