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!


  1. Que gran proyecto,me encantan las villas toscanas con ese diseño tan particular,su encantará acompañarte en su construcción!!
    Ya tienes mucho trabajo adelantado!!!

    1. Thanks, Pilar, for coming along with me on this long, long, long construction journey! I'll appreciate your company. I'm excited to be working on the villa, although I know that there are many trials and tribulations ahead. But also much satisfaction and much pleasure!

  2. Hi Marjorie! I am fascinated by this building method! I have contemplated using the foam for walls... but feared it wasn't rigid enough. I will be eagerly watching as your building progresses! I am sure the savings on weight alone must make it easier to manage the finished house. I can see you have a large scale project under way.... isn't it amazing how much room those "inches" use up! Lol! My RL house is not big enough for all my projects!

    1. This will be the third house that I've constructed using styrofoam, and the houses are surprisingly sturdy. And of course, there's my mantra to consider: "Styrofoam Is So Forgiving!" This will definitely be a large-scale project; it seems huge already - and there's a second storey still to come! Thanks for your interest; I'm happy to have you along.

  3. Your post had me grinning and in awe at the same time :-D I could just imagine you sanding walls and slugging down Lambrusco hehe. Wow this is one huge project and I am looking forward to travelling along with you though I will stay here in the warm lol.
    Hugs Maria

    1. Hi Maria - My first reply to you disappeared into the void - maybe it'll return sometime, but meanwhile, I do want you to know how much I appreciate your coming along on this very long project. It'll be much less lonely with the good company of my blog friends! Thanks for your encouragement and kind comments.

  4. Me he quedado impresionada con tu proyecto de La Villa Toscana,tienes mucho trabajo por delante que seguiré con mucho interés; el comienzo con la ayuda de tu nieto no podía ser mejor.Feliz fin de semana.

    1. Yes - I DO have much work ahead, and I'm looking forward to it all! It's so nice to know that you'll continue on with me during this project. I appreciate your interest; thanks for stopping by.

  5. The project is really taking shape. Its going to be big! At least the foam will be light-weight so that you can more easily move it. Looking forward to seeing your progress.
    ( we do the tennis ball thing in our garage too! )

    1. This is a big project, and so far it isn't progressing very fast. I hope to increase my construction pace after Christmas; not because there's any rush, but just because I'm looking forward to the fun! Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Hello Marjorie,
    I was making sure I did not miss any of your post when I found this one. I love your technique and while I don't envy you all that sanding, I think the finished project will be very realistic and really convey the feel of a villa. It might not be one of the over the top palatial villas, but there is nothing more charming then a farmhouse villa in the Italian country side... and that is saying a lot coming from a city boy. I think your technique to attach the Styrofoam to the base with the nails is great and it must make for a very solid house. I just love following you and can't wait to see more.
    Big hug


I'd love to hear your comments!