Monday, July 27, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Raising the Roof

I finally felt as though the French farmhouse was really becoming a house rather than an ill-assorted heap of sticks and stones and styrofoam. But it was still open to all the elements. (The elements in this case being mostly the shifting, sifting dust motes that I could feel drifting through the air in the basement family room where I had my work space.) I am not admitting that I neglected keeping house in favor of playing house; I'm just saying that not all the dust in the immediate vicinity of the farmhouse came from joint compound being sanded for hours and hours and hours on end. It was definitely time to "put a lid on it!"

 The ceiling beams had been installed on the upper level for some time. (Remember the shadows of the beams when I laid the tile and wood floors?) I didn't include the beam installation in my posts because the technique was the same as for the lower level.

 Another view of the ceiling beams in the main room and the bedroom.


 I had to use two pieces of styrofoam for the main house ceiling; I couldn't find the right thickness of styrofoam in a single piece that was wide enough. I measured for the correct width and cut the pieces to fit.

 The styrofoam for the ceiling has been cut and taped together for a correct fit.

I spread joint compound on the interior side of the ceiling pieces for the main house and the dovecote.
 Uh Oh! Trouble! When the joint compound dried on the larger piece, there were cracks and some warping. I cut a piece of foam core board a few inches narrower in width than the ceiling piece and glued it to the "attic" side of the ceiling piece. I weighted down the foam core/ceiling piece with heavy pressed wood. When the glue dried, I re-stuccoed the interior ceiling piece with two layers of joint compound and left it to dry overnight. Would my "remedy" work? Would the extra support of the foam core prevent warping? Would the new layers of joint compound crack?

Meanwhile, I installed the dovecote ceiling/roof piece, using toothpicks and glue.

 I cut and installed three pieces of styrofoam for the parapet on the dovecote roof. I had a very hard time getting the parapet's sloping angles right. (Does that surprise anyone?)

 Another view of the dovecote roof parapet.

To my great relief, after an overnight and more of drying, the ceiling piece for the main house showed NO cracks and NO warping! The foam core remedy worked! After sanding and sanding and sanding the joint compound, I installed the large ceiling piece with the usual toothpicks and glue. I also cut two "support" blocks from styrofoam - one for each end of the roof.

 I measured and cut two styrofoam roof pieces and secured them at the ridge line and at the flat ceiling base with toothpicks and glue. A slight mitre cut was necessary on the "down" edges of the roof pieces. I had to make the cuts with a knife - a harrowing experience!

A closer view of the two roof pieces in place.

I did not mitre the roof peaks but will fill in the gap with joint compound before I lay the ridgeline canal tiles.

I cut two end pieces for the house. One piece has been installed; you can see one of the two styrofoam blocks that will lend support to the roof when all the canal tiles have been laid.

Both end pieces were on; I admit that this was one of my sloppiest bits of work. But I always say how forgiving styrofoam is, and sure enough, it forgave me!

 And suddenly - it was a house! (Suddenly, as in 2 years, 3 months, and 7 days from the very beginning.)

I started applying joint compound to the ridge line of the roof….

….and to the upper part of the east end wall.

Then I spread more joint compound around the upper edges of the dovecote and on the parapet.
And I knew that every swipe of my putty knife meant many swipes with my sandpaper. Such is the joy of plastering everything in sight with joint compound. 

Every house needs a chimney, and every simple farmhouse needs a simple chimney. Or so I told myself, because I really wanted to keep the chimney as simple as possible. I started by cutting the styrofoam pieces.

It took me a long time to work out the correct angle for the chimney piece, since it's built onto the back slope of the roof. (You'll notice that I am not making any comments regarding math skills.)
I added a trim piece around the top - a simple trim piece!

I applied the first layer of joint compound to the chimney. While I was holding it up to look under the trim edge for spots that I might have missed, I almost dropped the chimney and had to keep fumbling it like a football to recover it. I ended up with cold, wet joint compound all over my neck and face. That was too funny; I belly-laughed all by myself!

I did some final (finally!) sanding on the chimney and the dovecote parapet. I usually needed to stand on a step-stool to comfortably reach the top parts of the house. With no convenient hand holds, there were some scary moments when I thought I might come crashing down on the house. Even the styrofoam would not have forgiven that.

In preparation for laying the canal tiles, I applied a "Burnt Sienna" wash to the main house and dovecote roofs so that there wouldn't be any white color showing under the tiles.

We're edging closer to completion! At least, completion of the farmhouse is near; much remains to be done in the farmhouse "courtyard," which, for lack of space elsewhere, must be a "working" courtyard. Next week's post will mark the end of all those white, white walls and shutterless windows. I hope you'll return to see the next stage in this production of sticks and stones and styrofoam. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Stones and Stones and Cornerstones

The French farmhouse was finally beginning to take shape and look like an actual house. Since the lower level was made of stone, I wanted to have some of them exposed on the stuccoed exterior. I decided to use real stones, which may not have been the best decision. When my grandchildren heard that I needed stones, they brought me many offerings. Stones and stones and stones. Then they stood and watched to make sure that their offerings were used and appreciated. I had to do a lot of surreptitious sorting out; I made some sneaky substitutions; I performed sleight of hand tricks. In the end, I used way more stones than I had planned to use. But I had some really happy grandchildren.

I applied joint compound to the lower level west wall. (The back of the house will always face imaginary north, so the wine store end will always face west and the boy's room end will always face east.) Then stones were embedded randomly, under watchful eyes. I later stuccoed the upper dovecote portion of the wall as well.

I stuccoed the entire east wall and embedded many more stones in the lower level. The grandchildren weren't around to hold me accountable for that end, but it was too late; I had to make sure the two ends looked more or less the same. 

And there were still baskets and bags of stone offerings left over. I quickly hid them away.

I applied stucco to the end walls over the stones that I embedded.


Bright sunshine pouring through my workroom window created shadows of the window shades in this photo. This shows the dovecote wall before I sanded it….

….and after sanding. Although the stuccoing had been completed on all the exterior walls, I sanded this one first just to see how it would look. The other walls waited their turn. (Groan.) That brings me to the end of one kind of stone work (for the time being.) And so on to the next kind.

Time to make the quoins, the masonry blocks at the corner of a wall. I softened, rolled out, and cut Sculpey clay to make quoins for all the upper wall corners. I formed an "L" shape to simulate the actual cornerstone. (Should I tell you that the lower level has no quoins because I never even thought to make them?) No, I thought not. It's my secret. 

I baked the clay at 275 degrees for ten minutes.

The quoins have cooled - ready to be painted.

I painted the baked quoins with a water-thinned Steel Gray paint and added Khaki Tan and a cream color.

The final touches were streaks of thinned Khaki Tan and more of the cream color.

I used a marker to experiment with the placement and spacing of the quoins.

After I had installed some of the quoins on the dovecote corner wall, I wasn't happy with the fit; they protruded out too far from the stuccoed surface. I removed them by chipping them out - a messy job - then I cut a 1/8" deep strip of the styrofoam from both sides of the corner wall so that the quoins would fit flush with the walls. I repeated the slicing process on all the upper-level corners of the house.

I spread joint compound in the cut out space and embedded the quoins again. That was a much better fit, but then it was necessary to touch up the areas around the quoins to minimize any uneven spaces. I filled in cracks and hollows around the quoins with several applications of joint compound, waiting a long time for each layer to dry before I could spread on more. In the photo above, you can see one of the sliced off strips leaning against the dovecote wall.

 Placing the quoins was a much longer process than I had expected, because of all the slicing out and refilling and retouching.

When I was at last finished with that messy, tedious job, Robert thought that I should have a mini-celebration, so he brought me a glass of French wine and fresh strawberries. (I didn't even think of taking a photo until it was too late. I finished off the wine and strawberries much faster than I finished the quoins.) 

The next task was to build a low parapet around the porch. (Or maybe I should call it a balcony, since it's on the upper level.)

The parapet consists of three pieces of styrofoam held together with toothpicks and glue. I cut a curve in the longer end piece of the parapet; that gave it a more pleasing fit against the opening where it joins the house wall.

I stuccoed the inner side of the parapet, using my favorite tiny spreading tool and a small cup for the stucco. You may have noticed that I use dozens of those small plastic cups. They are useful for so many things, and I have an ongoing supply of them because they originally contained applesauce or fruit chunks that my grandchildren consume voraciously when they're here.

Then I stuccoed the exterior side and across the top of the parapet.

 I thought I should sand the parapet before I installed it. I didn't want to exert all that sanding pressure after it was attached to the balcony and risk weakening the corner joins. So I made another mess.
But of course that mess was nothing compared to what was in store when I started sanding all the remaining exterior walls.

The parapet has been glued in place on the balcony. It was weighted down to dry with a motley collection of whatever objects were close at hand. Apparently, such a sophisticated approach was successful; the parapet did not fall off the balcony after it dried.

Well, I covered an assortment of projects here, and each project has been left more or less incomplete, because as always happens, one thing must wait for another thing that must wait for something else to be done before any forward motion takes place. But I hope you'll come back next week and watch me Raise the Roof. That should start things moving!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The French Farmhouse: NO WAY OUT!

One night when I couldn't sleep, I was mulling over different aspects of my French farmhouse project. Suddenly, a horrific realization struck me. The barn has no back door! (Why do these illuminating revelations always happen at three o'clock in the morning?) There must be a milk cow for the farm, and she must live in the barn. So for the next hour, I tried to mentally devise a way for her to be let out to pasture and brought  in again for milking. It made no sense to drive her through the front barn door, across the courtyard of the farmhouse and out the house gate. There had to be a wide back doorway that could accommodate the cow as well as a wagonload of hay, etc. This was a major oversight! 

There were only two facts that mattered when I tried to decide how to remedy the problem: I needed a BIG DOOR in the back wall of the barn. And I was NOT going to try to cut into that STONE WALL! I had already experienced the near impossibility of cutting through the rock-hard faux stones. I couldn't be sure that the whole structure wouldn't collapse from the force necessary to remove such a large portion of the wall. So I just cheated.

Actually, at the time I thought that I was cheating, but I have since had a change of heart. Now I know that I was creating the illusion of realness, rather than replicating real life. Thank you, Giac! I'm now free of guilt. (That particular guilt, at least.) 

 This is the back wall of the barn. There is no door. There is only stone, stone, stone.

 Back to the balsa wood boards. I cut three pieces for each side of the wide double door.

 These are the two sections of the back barn door. The overall door measures 7 feet high by 6 feet wide. (Or it would be that size in real life.) 

 I assembled the wood pieces for the two halves of the door and secured the vertical pieces with battens...

 …and oblique supports.

 I cut and aged the balsa wood for the door frame.

 All the door components were in place, ready to stain. I devised a simple latch board for the door.

 I used a walnut stain for the two doors and the door frame.

 I installed the completed door as one unit, and it is held in place with a thick layer of joint compound spread over the back stone wall. The working door latch is in place. The doors open to the outside, so Thank Goodness that cow will be able to get out to graze!

Now that the cow may safely graze, I moved on to creating the window shutters for the boy's room and for the upper-level bedroom. The boards and battens were given the Dremel treatment to age them.

I cut strap hinges for the shutters from a thin, flat metal strip.

I attached the strap hinges to the shutters using round pin heads for the "bolts." The vertical rods on the sides of the shutters are the "espagnolettes" for opening and closing the shutters. Robert constructed those for me from copper wire; he performed a tricky bendy thing with two needle-nose pliers - used simultaneously. He's so much better with "real" tools than I am.

I painted the shutters with a mixture of gray, white, and "Blue Bayou" paints.

To make the windows (fenetres) I used four commercial windows like the one shown above, but I cut the windows down to my required size. I wasted much of the windows, but they were inexpensive, and I can surely put the leftovers to use in some way.

These are the pieces of balsa wood that I used to make the "pivoting bars" for the window latches.

The window frames have been stained and pieces of plexiglass installed for the panes. (You may notice that the exterior wall shown here has been colored. I was experimenting with various colors and textures. This one was a definite no-go.)

The windows have been installed for the boy's room. The windows open to the inside. A farmhouse of this era had few windows, because windows allowed more exposure to the elements and because the glass panes involved great expense. My particular farmhouse thankfully has few windows, because I had a really hard time cutting and fitting each pane separately. I glazed each pane with a thin bead of glue, but when I tried to clean off the excess with Q-Tips and water, nothing happened. Through experimenting on a "practice" piece of plexiglass, I found that applying nail polish remover with a Q-Tip worked best, but not perfectly. So all the window panes are sort of smeary and smudged. But I did all that I could. Honest.

The window for the upper-level bedroom is a classic French window: two-panelled, six or eight panes, and opening inwards. 

The upper-level window has been put in place temporarily so that I could check for the fit of the pivoting bar that was a common method used for latching a window. I attached the bar to the window frame by cutting a round-head straight pin down to a shorter length and using the short pin as a nail. The pin acts as a pull-knob and also allows the latch board to pivot. This photo shows that there is some obvious repair work to be done in that left-hand corner. I can't remember what happened, but I'm sure that I was not at fault. Not me!

Although the window shutters are ready to hang, they can't be installed until the exterior of the house is finished - and that'll be a long while in coming. I'll move a further step in that direction next week. Although this post has mostly involved sticks, next time I'll move on to some stones in various capacities. And I'm pretty sure there's also some styrofoam involved. Come see!