Monday, June 29, 2015

The French Farmhouse: This Place Is for the Birds!

Sometimes when I was at work on the farmhouse, I would hear a cooing pigeon in the distance and grow impatient to get on with the construction of the dovecote (pigeonnier) that is attached to one end of the French farmhouse. But in miniature construction, just as construction in real life, most things must be done in accordance with a proper and fitting time frame. So it was eighteen months after I began to build the farmhouse that the proper time arrived for the construction of the dovecote.

I had done much research on dovecotes in the Provence region of France. I settled on a one-slope roof, with a south slope to provide shelter against the prevailing north wind. Even the smallest farms, of which mine is one, housed a few pigeons that provided food as well as rich fertilizer for crops. The lower level of my dovecote is a storeroom for wine because of the consistently cool temperature in the stone structure. The pigeons occupy the upper level.

 I had previously cut all the necessary wall pieces for the dovecote, so it was time to add the details. I cut an opening in the front wall for the pigeonhole entrance.

 In the side wall of the dovecote, I cut a round window and a door.

 I took a shortcut in making the window frame by cutting the semi-circular tops off two commercial windows and gluing the two pieces together, filling in with wood filler where necessary. The small round window (jour) is traditionally used to provide light and ventilation for stairwells, lofts, or cellars, but probably not for dovecotes. But since the dovecote is enclosed on all sides, unlike the other rooms in the farmhouse that are open in front, I needed to provide some means of viewing the interior.

 I cut the pieces for the dovecote side door and lintel from balsa wood, then assembled and stained the door as well as the lintel and the window frame.

The window frame has been installed in the round opening.

 I painted a rough finish on the interior of the side wall and installed a piece of plexiglass in the window frame - and hoped that I would remember to clean the plexiglass before I sealed up the room permanently! I wanted the window to be clean enough to see through to the interior, but not so clean as to be unrealistic. (I'm pretty sure that pigeons don't do windows.) This interior wall, by the way, will never be seen, because neither the window nor the door provides a view of it.

 I added some smudged pigeon droppings to the front wall for a bit of creative realism. (No, I am not saying how realistic the droppings may be!)

 The dovecote floor got a coat of stucco. I marked off the space carefully so that the walls would rest clear of the floor.

 I painted the dovecote floor, applied a glue wash, and covered the glue with straw and pigeon droppings.

 A second application of glue on the floor, more debris, and a "patting down" finished it up.

 I made eight terra cotta nesting boxes from Sculpey clay. Terra cotta pots and nesting baskets were traditional choices for the provincial dovecotes. My pots were very roughly made. (That realism thing again.) I also made the pigeonhole entrance piece for the front wall of the dovecote. The nesting pots in the photo background have been sanded and aged a bit.

 I added some pigeon droppings to the nesting pots as well. 

 This photo shows some of the bits of shredded bark, dried grass, etc. that I gathered and crumbled for nesting material inside the pots.

 I completed eight nesting pots and placed nesting material inside three of them. By local law, my farmer (what is his name?) is allowed one pigeon for every acre of tilled ground, and he owns ten acres,  but of course does not grow crops on all of his land. So I estimated the number of his pigeons and provided nesting pots for eight. But the remaining five pigeons will have to provide their own nesting material. I've done enough for them.

 I applied various colors of paint to the pigeon entrance piece to simulate stone. This photo shows the finished piece.

 I fit and glued the pigeonhole entrance into its opening in the front wall of the dovecote. There were some gaps that I patched with joint compound for a smoother finish.

Balsa wood strips were used to make roosts for the pigeons.

 My Dremel aged the wood, and I stained it.

 I mounted the roosts on the interior wall opposite the window and door. The nesting pots have been glued to the wall, and I added a bit more "realism." (Nasty stuff, that realism!)

I made a valiant effort to form three pigeons from Sculpey for the nesting pots. This is my only "before painting" photo - and it turned out so blurry. Bummer!

 The three painted pigeons have been glued into the nesting pots. Their eyes are open, so maybe they're laying eggs before sleep.

 A wider view of the nesting pots and pigeons. The corners and the base of the floor have been repaired with joint compound after the installation of the walls.

 A view of both the front entrance wall and the "roosting/nesting" wall. The repairs to the corners were  completed and were ready for the paint to be touched up.

 I made a "stone" landing ledge for the dovecote exterior entrance wall from Sculpey.

 Layers of paint have been applied to the landing ledge. I used mostly combinations of gray and white to simulate stone.

 This was a "trial run" to check for fit of the walls before permanent installation. I was not a bit surprised to find that the structure definitely listed to leeward; but it didn't list as far as it looks in this photo! This is why wonderful, forgiving styrofoam is my choice of building material.

All trimmed up - the landing ledge and ceiling beams were temporarily installed. And it all fit! 

 I made the door frame and door sill pieces from balsa wood. I also added more stain to the door and stained the door frame.

 The door and door frame have been installed on the side wall of the dovecote.

The door, frame, and doorsill were put in place on the side wall. (This whole thing seems to be hanging crooked. I blame, as usual, my lack of photographic, rather than construction, skill.) Note the strap hinges that I finally found online after much searching! (Look closely.) I made a wooden latch for the door later; it will be shown in the "finished" photos of the dovecote. 

So I bring this blogpost to its conclusion, although I'm sorry to have to leave the dovecote in its  incomplete state. Now it's time for me to wait patiently for that "proper and fitting" time frame that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I'll inch closer to that goal next week when I lay 1100 terra cotta floor tiles. All in one blogpost! 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Mostly More Walls

It's my sincere hope that this blogpost will not bore anyone to the brink of tears. And if it does bring you to the brink of tears, my other sincere hope is that you'll keep reading it anyway; these walls had to be stuccoed, sanded, and raised at whatever cost. Of course, I was not at all bored during the process, but I admit that I did ask myself more than once during the many days of sanding, "which lasts longer, forever or eternity?"

The photos above show the end wall where the girl's room is located. I cut out the window opening, with a space at the top for the wood support beam. For small cuts like this one, I've found that a serrated steak knife cuts through the styrofoam easily and allows me good control. (And it takes a lot of control to cut as crookedly as I do.)

 These two photos show the door that opens between the main room (salle commune) and the bedroom (chambre.) Still working on the proper French words.

The support beams for the window and door were made from balsa wood that I cut, aged, and stained.

 I stuccoed all the walls with joint compound after the cutting was finished. 

All the upper-level walls have been stuccoed.

  Let the sanding begin! Sanding - sanding - sanding - and more sanding. This was the point at which I questioned whether eternity lasts forever, or whether forever lasts an eternity! I decided that they're equal; they both last for a long, long time!

After the sanding was at long last finished, I applied a color wash to the walls, using first a wash of Desert Sand and white paint combined, followed by a second wash of white with just a tinge of Desert Sand.

The outer and interior walls for the girl's room have been erected and secured (with the usual toothpicks and glue) and the support beams for the window and door were put in place, using joint compound lathered liberally within the notched spaces. The strips of duct tape that run across the rooms was put in place to cover the seams where I joined two pieces of styrofoam to make the ceiling for the lower level, which is the floor of the upper level. You may notice the electrical wiring that runs from back to front of the rooms, which I later covered in duct tape as well, in preparation for installing the flooring material in the two rooms.

The gaps at the wall corners and along the base of the walls have been filled in with joint compound.

And then it was necessary to retouch the color wash on the repaired areas.

 I began to cut and hand-hew the wood beams for the upper-level ceiling.

 I finished aging the ceiling beams and applied the first coat of stain - a very dark walnut stain. The second coat of stain was a lighter maple color.

 The pieces for the top front of the upper-level room openings have been cut and notched. The wood beams will fit into the notches.

 I temporarily installed the upper front notched pieces in the two room openings and tried all the ceiling beams for fit. And I was very relieved to have a good fit! 

 Next I had to cut the styrofoam pieces for the low "walls" at the bottom front of the room openings.  The low walls imply the presence of "real" solid walls. The long serrated bread knife is my favorite cutting tool for larger pieces of styrofoam. (No, it doesn't cut straighter; it just cuts bigger.)

 I secured the low walls in place on either side of the front doorway and at the opening of the girl's room.


 The upper notched pieces were secured permanently as well.

 I began to stucco the lower and upper "partial" wall pieces.

Which, of course, only led to the necessity for more sanding! Oh, No!

If you managed to read this post through to the end (to the END!) you have my most sincere appreciation and admiration, and I hope you'll return next week for a post that describes the construction of one of my favorite features of the French Farmhouse - the pigeonnier. And I'm happy to tell you that it has only four walls that are mostly finished!