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!