Last Christmas, I asked my mother to send me my dollhouse. It had been boxed away for 30 odd years but she kindly packaged it up with all of its accessories and dolls and sent it halfway around the world. I was so excited to share it with my kids who were almost 5, 3 and 3 last year.
It was a simple plastic dollhouse but my stepfather had wired it up with electricity and I loved it. My children loved it as well. In fact they loved it to death. I think it lasted less than 24 hours before things were broken, smashed, destroyed. In hindsight, I realize it was my mistake. Despite enjoying it, they were far too young and destructive to be able to play with less Godzilla-like tendencies.
But in addition to my obvious ignorance, I also instantly noticed a problem. Almost all dollhouses are designed to be played with from one side. That’s great when you’re an only child or maybe have just one sibling, but when you have three littles struggling to gain access it was a recipe for destruction and tears (and maybe a bruise or two).
So, I started poking around online to see if I could find one that was more open. I found a few here and there but they weren’t quite right. I still saw far too many opportunities for shoving and pushing, crying and fussing. But I was collecting images and designs and it got my brain spinning.
Then when I found some dollhouses crafty folks had made out of cardboard, that was the final piece of the plan. And when a new neighbor purchased a 72” TV and put the box by the dumpster, I grabbed a friend and we dragged that sucker home. It was perfect!
So, the construction began in mid-October. Having no real idea how to start, I cut a piece of cardboard the size of a small kid table that wasn't being used and then used painters tape to attempt a layout. I even used some dollhouse furniture pieces to help decide room sizes and wall locations.
I decided on the height of the walls based on the tallest piece of dollhouse furniture I had – a bookcase. And I wanted to make it big enough that three or more kids could play with it at the same time without bumping elbows or eliciting shoving matches. And the most important thing was to have it open on all four sides.
My first attempt, when I was trying to figure out how I would get the walls to stand upright and be sturdy, I used duct tape. That clearly wasn’t going to work, or last longer than one sitting. So, I dove back into Google and Pinterest and that’s when I learned of reinforced gummed tape, the stuff that has the string in it that’s impossible to cut through on packages. I used the Duck Brand. It worked like a charm!.
For the floors I used two layers of cardboard and sealed the edges with the gummed tape for extra stability. I used the gummed tape to attach the walls to the floor and the ceiling. I also used it to smooth out all the edges of the doorways and any exposed wall edges.
I painted all the edges white and then used scrapbook paper and Mod Podge to decorate the walls and floors. The design morphed as I went along, figuring out where the walls and doorways would be on each floor.
Other than the initial design, the biggest stumbling block was the stairs. Initially I envisioned internal stairs, but the complexity of that was a little daunting and I was concerned that a hole in the floor would reduce the stability. So, then I thought ditch the stairs entirely. But then as I was asking around, a friend commented that she had always dreamed of having stairs for the dollhouse she grew up with. And for whatever reason, that stuck in my head. If my kids are going to go to therapy it’s not going to be because I didn’t give them stairs on their cardboard dollhouse!
But how to make them? I designed the first set using some tri-wall cardboard pieces, meaning they were three times as thick as normal cardboard. I wrapped them in the gummed tape to smooth out the edges, then I painted them, then I glue-gunned them all together. And they looked horrible; clunky and dreadful.
I figured I’d give it one more go and did a little more research and found another design on this site: https://parentingfromtheheartblog.com/diy-cardboard-dollhouse/. They even offered a PDF cut out design for a spiral staircase, which was a big help!
I went back to the regular cardboard and Mod Podged two pieces of scrapbook paper onto it and let them dry (this way, I wouldn’t have to paint the stairs afterwards). The next day, I cut out large triangular pieces using the PDF design (but bigger). Then to make the spacers between the stairs, I cut out rectangular pieces the same length as the steps. I started then to glue them together, spacer and step, and slowly built them up.
Initially I wasn’t planning on using any dowel supports, but as the house came together I felt it could only help. I painted all the dowels, cut them down (or had someone help with that) and then glued one to the side of the house as the centerpiece of the staircase. I then just glued the stairs around and around. And it worked! And it looked good! And, who knows, it just might withstand my children.
I did have a few re-dos, with some extra bubbly wallpaper or flooring, and I painted the “roof” a few times (still not entirely happy with it). I should have made sure all the floors were entirely flat without buckles. And the doorways I would have made bigger and taller. But other than all that… it’s fine.
The whole thing, including wallpaper and paint touch-up and adding the dowel rods at the corners for support and creating the stairs, took about seven weeks. It would’ve been shorter had I had more time during the day to work on it, but there was also a lot of time spent waiting for various layers to dry.
The final touch was finding these great little LED battery-powered lights for each room that use AAA batteries and can easily be removed to replace the batteries.
The best part was Christmas morning and seeing all three kids play AROUND it with no shoving and no tears. Don’t get me wrong, there were tears on Christmas morning, but at least they had nothing to do with my dollhouse.
Oh, and if you can figure out how to create your own dollhouse without the "help" of felines, more power to you!