We started with 1 small village piece and over time, we'd add one piece after another. As we'd replace one, we'd give it away to someone else. Sometimes people who were just starting villages of their own.
We went from a simple snow blanket. Then we had a straight sheet of EPS styrofoam, the kind purchased at a hardware store. I built with plaster for a few years and loved the organic look it delivered but plaster cracks and it would only last a few years before it needed to be thrown away.
Finally, I came across people who were sculpting EPS styrofoam and my mind just clicked. Here was something I could store in the attic and not need to worry about the summer heat. It wouldn't crack and as long as I was careful, it will last for years.
I design the overall terrain and Michelle does the mountain ranges.
Our village is a mixture of pieces from Dept. 56 and Lemax. We like for it to look like an old country village, but with no cars. Nothing against them, but space is at a premium in the area we have to work with.