Venetian Canal House on a Trailer AKA Den of Decadence

My Pennsic House

Project: Build a House on a trailer for use at Pennsic.
Time: April 2001 thru August 2001

A year or two ago i began to notice the camping structures people were building to live in at Pennsic. Being the type of person that can't say no to a challenge i began to dream and design my own. It wasn't till after Pennsic 30 that the project began to swing into full gear. I had decided that since my persona is a Venetian merchant, it would only be fitting for me to live in a Venetian Canal house. As luck would have it, Venetian Canal homes have not changed in 500 years and even new ones built in the last 30 years have to follow the period architecture. I contacted COopers Lake Campground and began my designs to fall within their limits. Structures couldn't be over 12 feet tall and must be on wheels, i guess skiis are tearing the ground up too much. So I needed a trailer.

Luck would provide me with a trailer at an auction. From what i could tell it had no wiring, a broken hitch and jack, and some rust locked lug nuts. It was stripped down to its frame, an old camper frame by the looks of it, and widened to 8 feet. Its total size was now 8 feet by 15 feet. Pressure treated 1 inch plywood was laid and attached as the base floor and a 2x3 frame was built, with a double layer of 2x3 as a cap on the top of the frame. Windows were placed on the center of the back wall and slightly towards center on the sides, roughly 4 feet from the base of the floors. The door was placed at the front of the trailer to allow for the building to be parked in any direction without inconviences, plus i wanted to add to the canal house look by having a landing platform. Extra bonus was to dress up the jack to look like a Gondola pole.

With the walls up and bolted to the trailer i began to attach the 3/8 inch plywood exterior walls. In hindsight i should have squared up the structure before attaching the walls, the plywood did a well enough job mind you, it was just a pain to do. With the exterior walls now attached i took some flexible paneling and cut pieces 36 inches long and placed them in the 24 inch wide windows to create an arch. Using them as a guide i was able to cut the exterior plywood with my sawzall and give each window its rounded top. I did try to do the same with the door but failed. I ended up cutting the door square with the frame. I had a friend weld on a new high weight hitch and i attached a new jack.

Call it poor planning or dumb luck, but i had not cut my studs down when building my walls. So now i had 8'6" walls vertically covered with 8' sheets of plywood. What ended up happening was strips of plywood were placed along the bottom of all the walls, the strips were roughly 18" wide, creating a skirting that overhangs the trailers sides and does a really good job of covering the tires. They also give the impression the trailer is only a foot or so off the ground. This dumb luck plays out later on. Now i moved to the interior. I built a 2x4 frame around the wheel wells making the inside piece run all the way to the back wall of the trailer. The area the tire sat in was covered with plywood while the remaining area, roughly 4 feet, was covered with stained pine planks and hinged on the top piece and lined with some cedar particle board. The result is two 4x2x2 chests on either wall in the back of the trailer. These end up serving several purposes. They are both storage chests and also double as seats for visitors, and are also used to set the bed on. The areas over the tires also serve as seats, though i converted the left side for the propane fridge to reside upon, building a frame and air vents for it.

The interior of the house was paneled with a variety of sheets of paneling i got at a sale. Some of varying thickness and texture. The panelling was cut square around the windows to allow for inside shutters and painted an off white. The floor and sides of the fridge and wheel well compartments were covered with some self sticking vinyl tiles i found at a local surplus store. I had picked up an old folding couch at a sale and cut it down and placed it on a frame on the front right hand part of the house (between the right wheel well and door). This was a place to take a nap and for vistors to lounge. With the interior framework finished i moved back to the exterior. Using 1x3 and some run of the mill cheap trim i outlined each of the windows (cutting each arch by hand) with a small square decorative piece at the middle top of each window. Where the arch met the straight pieces i boxed it in with the trim. The joint between the arch and verticle pieces are now hidden and look more decorative. The exterior was now painted, though in my on again off again dumb luck i should have painted it before the window trim. The original color was based on a photo of a venetian house off the grand canal that has a creamy yellow color. Well my first attempt looked like a giant wooden canary. The second attempt was a more subdues yellow with some fauz transparent glaze and sand thrown in to give it faded spots and texture. The door and window frames were painted the same color as the interior.

My door was pulled out of it storage and placed into the frame to check its size. Too wide and too short. After a few colorful metaphors i cut the door down to fit and filled in the gap at the top. Once again dumb luck, there was enough space between the frame and the door top for me to mount a piece of oak that i had carved 'Den of Decadence' into. Along the insides of the windows i nailed 1/4 inch pieces of pine to cover the frame and bring it smooth with the exterior trim. Using leftover pieces of pine from the interior chests i made shutters that are rectangular and fit into the inside of the windows. I did them inside the window for ease of use and not to spoil the exterior look, plus i didn't want to have to cut them to work around the arches.

Now to the fun part, the roof. For each end of the roof i made, what i refer to as, an endcap. They are the full width of the ends (8 feet) and have a 20 inch rise. these were framed out with 2x4s and have a large notch at the top for the ridge beam to sit. The side facing out was covered with plywood and the edges covered with square cut 1x3 pine for depth. the plywood was painted the same as the exterior and the pine was painted the same as the trim. In the center of each i attached a small round piece of wood with my arms painted on. Not really period, but i thought it looked good. Along the top of the exterior walls i attached more of the square 1x3s to add to the depth and to cover the edge. Using the end pieces as a guide i then created my trusses for the rest of the roof. They are basically 2 2x4s with an angle cut at each end so they will not overhang the walls and have a gap for the roof beam with a cross piece that the roof beam sits on. When it was hauled out to Cooper's lake, the roof was not yet attached. The roof installation was fairly easy. The end pieces were mounted and screwed tight, the ridge beam was placed, the trusses were placed at premarked locations and swung up onto marks on the ridge beam, then screwed tight. Furing strips were then placed across the trusses at premarked locations (13 or 18 inches, i can't remember).

The roof material itself was a boat load of fun. I wanted to give the building that spanish tile look without all that pesky weight. Turns out their is a company that makes a coated zinc roof tile that looks like spanish tile, it only costs a butt load of cash. Would have cost roughly 800 bucks for that little roof. I improvised. Your local home depot carries this stuff called Condora, its an asphalt based corrugated material for barn roofs and such. Fairly cheap and light weight. I bought several sheets and took it home. They didn't have the tile version in stock so i cut it all up into tiles (the furing strips match the tile size). It was rather easy to install. Place the tile on and attach it with a few screws along the bottom. The roof is only 4 pieces across and 4 high. Insert more dumb luck. I didn't allow for overhang over the walls, so rain could get in and i didn't take the roof material into account when i made my roof calculations. The peak of the roofing material was 2 inches higher than my ridge. This was when the house went out before pennsic, so a quicky job was done and when i came back out for pennsic i added a 6 inch piece along the bottom of the roof pieces, giving it that overhang and covering the gaps where truss met wall. For the peak i scabbed a 2x3 to give the ridge piece its definition. The ends were screwed down and a bead of caulk was run where the roof met the end pieces to prevent rotting. Also i hd to fill in a hole in the roof where i missed with a screw.

Heres where the luck pays off, the roofing material is corrugated so there is no flat surface at the walls or the peak. So now the roof heats up forcing a convection effect keeping the house cool. I was able to be in the house at any time during the day without being uncomfortably hot.

The bed is made of 2x4 frame with slats of furing strips. It was designed around my futon mattress with is full size. Taking an idea from the gypsies down the road, i rigged the bed to pullies on the frame. When i get up i hoist the bed up to the rafters, and at night just lower it down. The bed sits on the chests on or near the framework.

Oh and yes, over all the windows i have venetian blinds.

Future work:
The pieces of plywood that run along the bottom of the exterior walls will be painted to look like marble. Venetian canal homes have marble along the base since marble is a waterproof stone. Hanging off of this plywood will be a skirt that is painted to look like water. The Gondola pole will have a gondola to go with it, i got rather tired of people asking for haircuts. The entire exterior plywood will be covered with spackle or something to cover and fill in the wood grain and give it more of a stone appearance. The bed will be rigged to a ceiling mounted winch or bracket to get rid of the current rope lifting system. The ropes interfere with some of the shutters. A detachable awning will be built to go on the inner side of the house for a kitchen setup.

Source pic: Canal house(The yellow one)
Construction pics: c1 c2 c3 c4 c5 c6 c7 c8 c9
Note: c1,c3,and c5 show the door with the arch. it was changed to a square frame (c7)

Exterior Pics:
a b h n i j k p

Interior Pics:
c d e f g l m o q

If you have a question or comment, drop me a line

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