Monday, June 15, 2015

The French Farmhouse: One Wall, a Fireplace, and the Kitchen Sink

The stairs were finally in place to allow me to climb to the upper level of the farmhouse, so the time had come to start working on the upper back wall, where the kitchen would be located. I decided to cut all the upper-level walls at the same time, since the cutting is a very messy job. But I chose the worst possible time; it was July, it was blistering hot, and although I had a fan in the garage, I couldn't use it while I was cutting styrofoam. The little bits of light-weight foam were blown everywhere by the fan. Snow in July! 

While I worked among all the stacks of wall pieces, Robert brought me a pre-dinner glass of chilled white wine. Refreshing!

I drew the placement of the fireplace, sink, and niches for shelves directly onto the styrofoam wall. There are both an inner and outer back wall in order to have depth for the firebox and for the storage shelves.

The fireplace hearth, mantle, and surround pieces have been put into place, and I cut out the tall niche for the shelves.

I started work on the chimney piece and also propped up the outer wall behind the fireplace and shelf niche just to make sure it would fit well.

I cut a shelf niche above the sink space, then decided to make an arched top to both the shelf niches. Remember what I said in an earlier post about the forgiving nature of styrofoam? 

I began working on the granite sink and trying it in its space for fit. The sink was a lot of work for such a small piece!

I finished cutting out the chimney piece and secured it in place with toothpicks and glue.

I began coating the "granite" sink with joint compound, using my favorite, indispensable mini-tool. My thoughtful neighbor showed up in my garage one day with a complete set of perfect tiny tools, after he had watched me struggle for weeks with several less than efficient, improvised tools. He told me that he had "just picked up the tools somewhere and had no use for them." They are wonderful things. Thank you, Dick.

The sink has been completely covered with joint compound.

After the second sanding on the sink was finished, I applied the first coat of the "granite" finish - a mixture of "Country Gray" and white.

I sanded the sink for the third time and applied a second coat of the gray and white paint mixture. It was finished!

I cut styrofoam shelf brackets that will be stuccoed along with the niche so that the brackets look as though they are part of the wall. This was the traditional style in a farmhouse of this type. I was not too pleased. Some things don't convert well from real size to miniature scale.

I applied the first layer of joint compound to the kitchen wall, fireplace unit, and shelf niches.

While the joint compound dried on the wall, I measured, cut, and stained the shelves for the two niches. I started with a dark stain, then added a light wash.

The joint compound hearthstones have been marked and formed for the fireplace.

I sanded the hearthstones and painted on a "stone" finish.

I needed a sturdy, working fireplace crane, and Robert said that he would help me construct one, since I'm not up to his soldering iron standards. We found various bits and pieces at the hardware store that seemed to be likely components.

Robert completed the hard part of soldering the pieces together.

And I did the easy part - painted the crane with flat-black paint.

I installed the crane on the side of the firebox using Gorilla Glue to insure permanency. Thank you, Robert.

I made a BIG mistake. I don't know what I was thinking! Apparently, I "drew" the firebox stones on the outer back wall sideways. I cannot believe I did that.  It must be because of working in a standing position - maybe I was turned sideways so that the stones looked right side up to me. I applied a coat of stone-gray paint on the fireplace stones, but of course the sideways stones didn't look any less sideways. I must have been very tired, because the repair job seemed enormous to me. I couldn't face it that day, so I just left the sideways stones sideways overnight. I kept thinking, "the whole back of the fireplace, all those stones, have to be replaced!"

The next day, I had put things back in perspective. I sometimes - or often - forget that I'm working in miniature. I obviously was thinking of the stone do-over as a major real-size project. I started over with another layer of joint compound. I'm talking about a bitsy 6" x 4" swath of joint compound here, folks! It took me ten minutes! That included waiting for the joint compound to set up enough so that I could mark the stones. I did have a sinking feeling that I might have made the hearthstones sideways as well - and sure enough, when I double-checked, I saw sideways hearthstones. However, I did not re-do those stones. They were destined to be blackened and covered with soot, ashes, a grate, wood, and a fire. I left them sideways.

While I had the joint compound opened and handy, I also spread on a layer that would be the backs of the shelf niches. Not a good photo angle, but you can see the joint compound layers to the left and right of the firebox stones.

I sanded down the new firebox stones and painted on several coats of "stone" colors: gray, white, Desert Sand, and Khaki Tan, my usual standbys. I also sanded the niche backs to get them ready for the outer back wall.

And the first upper-level wall was up! I glued the outer wall to the inner fireplace wall and secured the double-thickness wall to the lower-level ceiling. Niches for the upper-level ceiling beams have been cut into the top of the wall. (I did not want to overlook that step and have a repeat of the mess I made on the lower level!) I sanded the entire wall and applied a color wash.

So, of course, after the wall was ALL DONE, I decided to re-do the kitchen shelf niches! I had never been happy with the "traditional" style shelf supports. I cut off the "built-in" supports and re-stuccoed and repainted the interior of the niches. Much work, but so worth it; I was much happier. But then I had to make new shelves as well, since the original ones no longer fit.

I installed the kitchen sink by embedding it in joint compound, which I thought would make it more secure than using glue.

I measured, cut, and painted the new shelves and supports for the two kitchen niches. I decided to add a bit of color, so I used "Blue Bayou" with an added gray wash.

And I am finally pleased with the kitchen shelf niches! Even though it meant a departure from tradition. Sometimes creative license must reign!

I made logs for the fireplace using pieces of twigs darkened with paint, soot, and ashes. (And kept asking myself whether real life ashes are the right scale for a miniature fire? I heard a resounding YES from the universe.)

When I was ready to "build" the fire in the fireplace, I brought out the fireplace grate and the spit that I had found online. The first thing I did was to drop the grate - and the spit - on the concrete floor of the garage. One bar from the spit rack and one piece from the grate broke off. I tried mending the pieces with superglue, but NO. Then I used my hot glue gun, and that worked. The glue sort of molded itself like wax around the breaks. It looked fine. It should hold. After all, I kept reminding myself, no one will actually be dropping logs onto that grate and turning, turning, turning that spit. (Will they?) The fire in the fireplace was made by installing a light bulb, then adding orange tissue paper, ashes, and "logs" - the pieces of twigs.

And so it came to pass that the kitchen wall was finished! And that included the kitchen sink!


  1. Hi Marjorie! I must say that the results of this project are WONDERFUL! I love the way that you have been able to transform the styrofoam into stone. Kind of like turning straw into Gold! Your rustic shelving unit is perfect and so is your sink, but my favorite feature is The Fireplace! The finish looks more like Real Stone than Real Stone, does!!! Bravo!!! :D


  2. Thank you, Elizabeth. Those nice comments mean a lot to me, coming from a true stone master like you!

  3. Wow you have done a fantastic job on the kitchen. I love the stone work on the fireplace it looks so real. The shelves look wonderful. Amazing work. Thank you for sharing so much of your how - to.
    Hugs Maria

  4. Thanks, Maria. I appreciate your comments. I'm glad that you like the kitchen shelves - it took me a long time to get them the way I wanted! (I sometimes wonder if anything ever goes right the first time!)

  5. Me encanta el aspecto rústico que va tomando todo!! el trabajo de piedra es fabuloso,se ve muy real,buen trabajo!!!!!

    1. Hello, Pilar - and welcome to my blog! I'm so pleased that you'll be a regular "follower." I hope you'll visit often and continue to see things that you like. Thank you for such nice comments!

  6. Hello Marjorie,
    I just love your project. I only work with mdf and am fascinated by your methods. The foam looks like a terrific material to work with...and it must weigh a lot less. The way you compose your rooms is beautiful ! The niches of shelves came out fantastic. Good call on changing the supports. they look perfectly to scale. The sink is also wonderful (can't believe that is foam!!!) Your stone finish is just exquisite and really bring the room to life. the fireplace is fantastic! I am really enjoying your project and happy you are blogging about it.
    Big hug,

    1. Thank you again, Giac, for your comments. Yes, styrofoam is a great material to work with, although it's so easy that I sometimes feel that I'm a miniaturist fraud! But it's perfect for someone with my level of carpentry skill. (Zilch!) I am so glad that you enjoy my blog and hope you'll keep following along.


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I'd love to hear your comments!