Help me build a dollhouse

My wife and I have decided to get our daughter (she’s 3) a nice dollhouse for Christmas – one they she can enjoy for many years. I also enjoy model-building, so it seemed like a fun project for me also.

The first decision was whether to scratchbuild something or use a kit. Given the time contraints (six weeks or so) I figure a kit is the best bet.

I’m looking at something like this.

Has anyone built something like this? Any advice? Keep in mind that I do have experience in building small wooden kits (HO rail-road scale) so I’m comfortable with cutting, sanding, priming, etc small pieces.

If I were building this for an older girl, I’d want to have it wired for lighting too; but I think that’s a level of complexity that my daughter won’t adequately appreciate at her age.

squee that’s almost exactly like the one my dad got for me when I was little. Except with a fancier exterior. He painted it to match my bedroom, which was really cool (just the outside - the inside was up to me). I seriously played with it every day for years and years and years.

I didn’t get mine until I was a bit older, tho. Maybe 10? Before that I had a very nice Fisher Price one, with lights. I didn’t miss the lights when I got the wooden one - I just took the lamps and cut the cords off.

I don’t have any advice for building (other than painting to match her room). I have advice for playing, tho :slight_smile:

Every so often, maybe 3-4 times a year, dad would take me to a local hobby shop to buy some stuff to put in my dollhouse. IIRC I spent my own money (since I was older) but I LOVED LOVED LOVED doing this. It was fun to go with dad, and the hobby shop has so much better stuff than what I could get a KMart or build myself. I made a lot of furniture out of sponges, cardboard and scraps of fabric.

Make sure there is a nice place for the dollhouse to live in your daughter’s room. I had an end table with a drawer for my stuff, and a little chair. It was perfect. I don’t think I would have enjoyed playing with it on the floor at my age. A 3-year-old might be ok with that tho.

I’m excited for your daughter. I can’t wait to give my old dollhouse to my niece when she is older :slight_smile:

As far as wiring goes, she won’t be 3 forever. If it’s easier to wire in the building stage, I’d do that, with maybe a battery pack to power small lights. I think the dollhouse is cool. I wasn’t a doll kind of girl, but I think even I would’ve liked the dollhouse. With a matching doghouse and scale sized dog.


My advice: wait until she’s older. My dad, my sister, and I put together a similar one over a few months when I was 9 or so. I never played with it once it was set up (left it to my sis), but the fun we had finding wallpaper scraps for the walls, picking paint colors, helping cut out the pieces, etc led me to get into model railroads and so on a little later. It was a great project for the three of us, and even my sister remembers building it more fondly than playing with it, though she did so all the time.

Plus, at 3 it’ll be mostly a look but don’t touch toy, and that’s not much fun.

That’s lovely!

My dad built me a similar dollhouse, also from a kit, when I was about 10, and I still treasure it (my mother wishes I would treasure it a little more to move it out of her house and into mine, but hey, she lives in a really big house).

We didn’t have good luck with the wiring. It was wired before it was built, which is the recommended way, and it worked for … a year? and then quit. It’s very delicate stuff, even with extremely careful handling. A few years ago, I thought a fun project would be to rewire it. OMG, it’s maddening in a house that is already constructed. I’m pretty crafty too, and I eventually gave up after much swearing and tears. My honest recommendation is that the lighting isn’t worth it.

You know, I thought I had a picture of it on the computer, but maybe not.

I would point out that 3 is very young for play with that kind of house. I had cousins around that age who were given a similar house, and it did not stay in “heirloom” condition very long, not even close. And these weren’t rough girls, they were simply too young to refine their touching and playing to the extent that you need to with a house like that. Adults routinely reach into my dollhouse and pick things up and break them.

One thought is to build the house, wallpaper it (also recommended while the walls are flat) but furnish it with plastic, fun furniture and dolls from the toy store. I would also keep off the more delicate details like the outside lights and pieces that break off easily. Then, if she still likes dollhouses when she is more in the 9, 10, 11 range, you could work together to upgrade it and she could participate more actively in selecting the pieces. I also loved making things like rugs and curtains out of fabric scraps, and groceries and toys out of clay.

I love my dollhouses!

I would stay away from the Greenleaf kits. They are cheaper, but they are lesser quality, and the construction is a bitch. They work on a “Put tab A into Slot B” system, and you have to punch out all of the little parts from multiple sheets of plywood, which makes them not the sturdiest kits in the world. Plus, because of the plywood system, all of the nice trim is built-up out of tiny stacked pieces of plywood, which is a nightmare to sand, paint and keep track of. And it always looks a little crappy, because the ends of all the pieces are plywood ends, meaning they’re impossible to make smooth and the rough edges always show.

I’d look at a Real Good toys kit, like the Allison Jr. It’s made of MDF, so the edges are smooth and the trim pieces have been milled. A lot of the kits have clapboard siding milled directly into the shell, so they’re a breeze to finish with paint.

So far as the construction goes, I’d say - follow the directions to the letter, and finish the inside before you put it together. You’ll be able to mark where the floors go, so you can install wallpaper or paint when the boards are flat and unassembled. And, don’t spend the money on official dollhouse wallpaper. You can spend 25 cents, and get a beautiful scrapbook paper sheet that can be applied with ModPodge. Just make sure the scale is correct.

Yeah, I hate to quash such a nice thought, but I agree - I think postponing this until she’s older would be better, because she’ll take better care of it, and she’ll be able to help you put it together. That was my very first thought, actually: “Don’t just build it yourself, let her help!” Then I looked again and saw she was three. But especially if it’s something you enjoy doing anyway, I think she’d have a lot of fun helping as soon as she’s old enough.

I agree that three is a bit young but it sounds like you’re psyched up to do this, so I’d say go for it. If you see while you’re building it that some things (like doors and windows) might not hold up, leave them off for now.

We built a house from a kit after the kids were grown. It’s great fun. Our problem was that the only surface large enough to work on was the dining room table, so for about two months we had to find another place to eat. :slight_smile:

An alternative would be building something from scratch, using sturdier materials. It wouldn’t look as realistic, but little kids don’t care about realism.

I love my dollhouse!!!1111!!! And it is sitting about four feet from me ( completely unfurnished right now because of a)kids b) random cat invasions.)

It gave me just joy and comfort when I was a wee lass.

Whenever I see a dollhouse at the Salvation Army ( where I work and shop and live) a part of me wants to rescue it immediately and take it home. I don’t have this compulsion with stray animals or the need to ‘fix or save’ men with bad habits. Just dollhouses. (And stuffed animals.)
If I gave into this compulsion, I would easily have twenty or more crammed into our house.

Three is a very abusive age for toys. Do you want to see something you’ve worked very hard at putting together accidently lose a wall/window/roof due to it being turned over and used as a Moon Base to fight back the Martians!!!1111!

And, if you are planning other kids, they will hamfist their way into the dollhouse the minute they can totter, causing havoc like Godzilla skipping down the main strip in Tokyo.

Magic Cabin is a wonderful resource for the under 10 group, really catering to the under 6, preschoolish crowd. Check out the treefort, which we copied and made on the cheap for our daughter for less than $15. Yeah, it wasn’t as spiffing, but it was used ALOT, probably more sturdy, and eventually covered in stickers, her name written in sharpie and became a base for an unholy alliance of her brother’s pokemon and her My Little Ponies. When she decided she was done with it, it was tossed in the bonfire in our yard. You aren’t going to do that with a $200+ dollhouse.

More linky goodness to keep you entertained for hours:

The Silver Penny.

Island Treasure Toys

Tree Hollow Toys

Chinaberry Books (Some toys, but mostly books and audio. It is a mandatory link for me in anything kid related.)

And if I can make a gentle suggestion, whatever family type you pick for your daughter to have ( plastic or wooden) make sure they can go into the bathtub without you having a twitching episode. Everything will end up in the tub or kiddie pool.
HAVE FUN!!! I am so totally jealous!

OH do it! When my girls were young I got it into my head to do the same thing. I started with a shell and put on most of the siding and roof shingles. Bought clay to make tiles for the kitchen floor and wallpaper books to glue on the walls. My dad is a wood worker and he made all this beautiful furniture, beds, sofa, dining table and chairs, even kitchen appliances. Before I could finish, we moved to the UK, supposedly for a year and put everything in storage. Here we are 6 years later and the girls never got to play with their beautiful furniture…it’s still in storage.

Three may be a bit young for something this nice tho. I know when my dad brought them the furniture, the first thing they did was snap the pedestal base off the dining table… not on purpose, it was just too delicate for them. Another vote for sturdier materials.

Wow, thanks for all the feedback/advice.

I know three is a little young, although she is very good with her toys. We may be rushing thigns a little but I’ll blame her mother, who doesn’t want to wait any longer :slight_smile: I’ll try to choose something that doesn’t have a lot of dangling parts that can break off too easily.

Sateryn76, I appreaciate the feedback on Greenleaf. The MDF looks better but honestly they are well outside our Christmas budget.

We’ll look for a kit that is sturdy enough for her, even if it means getting a slightly smaller house than we would really like. Thanks for all the advice!

When I was 5 and my sister was 4 my mother made us a doll’s house for Xmas, from scratch, from an old tea-chest. 4 rooms and an “attic” under the lift-off roof. Wired for light and all, finished with windows. The outside was finside with brick and tile effect papers, the inside with wallpapers, terrycloth “rugs” and papers that mimic floorboards. We thought it was the most amazing thing ever. Mum, BTW was 7 months pregnant with my youngest sister when she made it.

It was one of my favourite childhood toys and it is still at my folks’ house waiting for irishbaby to be old enough to use it.

Thanks for reminding me of all those happy times!

I am definitely pro-dollhouse. My mother builds and decorates them as a hobby and has for several years. I asked her about the thread and she said much of what Sateryn76 plus a little more about the Greenleaf diecut kits.

She built one and said it took longer than other kits because of all the extra prep work she had to do to the wood. She also said the 1/8" wood makes wiring difficult because the teeny tiny brads used with the wiring are longer than that.

When I asked about building one for a 3 year old she said “oh it’s much too flimsy. It would be something she could look at and not touch, which we all know is no fun for a 3 year old.”

She hoped you would wait and save up the extra money to build a sturdier house such as one from Real Good Toys. There are lots of easy patterns for making simple blocky kid friendly furniture for really playing with the house, and then when she’s older you might work together on decorating and building fancier furniture. Mom said the die cut kits won’t last that way.

I understand you and your wife want it for this Christmas, but I’d like to cast a vote in favor of waiting 'til next year because I think at 3 she might not have a lasting memory of the magical moment when she got her very own dollhouse, it will just be something she’s always had.

The idea sounds great - and the examples look really cool!

One other suggestion - you might want to consider a real playhouse - assuming you live in a house and have the land.

When I was a kid, the grandfather of neighbor girls built them a really cool playhouse with real windows, a Dutch door, and little bookcases. The whole playhouse was probably only 5 feet by 5 feet, but the girls would play out there on rainy days, or they could just put their toys and dolls in there - it was great! Plus, I think their mom loved it the most - kept the girls outside playing, even in bad weather, and they loved playing house, etc. I think even a 3 year old would find this house of her own really fun.

If you really want to do this this Christmas, don’t buy this kit. I like Greenleaf houses for older kids, but it’s not going to withstand a three-year-old. Not a chance. How do I know? My three year old brother killed my first one when I was young; I believe he tripped and fell on it. You can’t tell from the pictures because of the siding, but the wood is really thin, like an 1/8th of an inch, and easily destroyed by a kid that young who was just being a typical kid.

Instead, I recommend buying blueprints for a dollhouse, and spending the money on heavier plywood - I made a dollhouse myself in shop when I was 13 with 1/4th inch plywood and it lasted for over a decade and a half before having to be tossed out when my parents’ basement flooded. You can probably find plans and supplies for quite a nice one for the money that you’d spend on a kit she’s too young for.


We ended up getting this. This website says the “list price” is $209, most places had it for sale online for $110 and up plus shipping. Our local Hobby Lobby had it for $79.99, and with a 40% off online coupon from the store website I walked out with it for $53. So I feel like we got a good deal.

It’s a Real Good Toys house with the think MDF walls/floors as recommended above. It also lacks a lot of little trim pieces that would easily break off. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Post pics when you’re done!

What color are you going to paint it?

That’s a great kit, and perfect for a starter house.

Don’t be surprised if you have to cash in your 401k in a few years to get the next model up, with full accessories and furnishings - you guys are going to have a lot of fun building it :slight_smile:

All I can add is, your daughter will love it! I had a tin dollhouse when I was little, and had the best time making rugs, pictures to put on the wall, making bits of furniture and such. I had a half a walnut shell and made a cradle out of it! … We didn’t have a dollhouse kind of daughter, but one long winter we all made one out of cardboard boxes, two stories, complete with stairs with carpeting made out of a towel. It was SUCH fun!

Nice, that looks much studier :slight_smile: I hope she enjoys it.