Building a dollhouse

finished dollhouse
Finished dollhouse

Building the perfect doll house

Growing up as a boy with only one sister I can’t say that I have ever spent much time thinking about doll houses. However, having a young granddaughter can change all that that in a hurry. One look at her and I was ready for my crash course in the world of dolls.

When I first thought about making a doll house I thought it would be something akin to building an overly fancy birdhouse. Well, sort of. I had no idea for example that I first had to decide what scale of doll I was building a house for. Turns out there is a bewildering amount of choices there. I opted for the small GI Joe sized dolls because I did not want to build this thing to be the size of a small lawnmower shed. And I wanted a bunch of rooms in it to make it more interesting.

dollhouse foundation
Building the framework.

Once I had those decisions made I had to build a skeleton on which to build the house. I wanted 3 floors but I also wanted to make it possible to paint and remodel the house later. So I built the framework at the left which allowed me to put the second floor in a groove. This would allow them to slide out making the walls and the rooms much easier to repaint.

I also built the stairway and fireplace at this stage since it was much easier to make that a permanent structure instead of a removable feature. The backplate is MDF and generally not my favorite building material, but for this purpose I liked its smoothness and flatness so I put up with the extra weight. Most of the rest of this project was built with a combination of 1/4″ mahogany ply and 1/8″ birch doorskins. This was much easier and stronger than trying to use solid wood cut thin.

second floor
Send floor unit.

I built the third floor and glued that in place completing the main structure of the house. The second floor was then built as a unit and slid into the groove I had built into the sides to receive it. This was not glued in so that this floor could be removed later to facilitate repainting or repairs. Some parts do have to be painted before assembly though since it would be insanely difficult later. So you will notice the white paint in the upstairs hallway. You might also notice the lip on the front of the second floor. I used oak for this for it’s strength since this is really the only thing supporting the long edge of the second floor.

stairway
Stairway complete

From the picture at the left you can see the second floor fully slid into place and how it aligns with the staircase/fireplace combo on the main floor. The interior trim is mostly 1/8″ birch doorskin material. The core of the house was basically done at this point and I was ready to start thinking about the roof.

roof
Constructing the roof

As you can see I just used 1/4″ ply for the roof. I reinforce the peaks and valleys with heavy paper since the joinery was not the strongest and I did not want any clunky looking blocking in those joints especially in the valley of the roof. Once that was done I was ready to put on the roofing. I used 50 grit emery cloth for roofing material it seems to have about the right look and feel for simulating a shingled roof. I thought about about putting a cedar shake roof on this house. But all those tiny shakes made my head hurt and I wanted to finish this house before she was too old to enjoy it. I think it turned out pretty good.

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Next up I had to cut a ton of clapboards for the siding and glue them all on. I don’t generally like hot glue but for this application is was far and away the best choice for attaching the siding. This was very fiddly work but was also quite relaxing once I got going on it. I used an oil finish on the siding because I thought it was a nice contrast to the paint on the inside. And it was much more forgiving than paint on all those tiny surfaces. I am not really a model maker so doing all this stuff in miniature was really a challenge for me.

Finished Dollhouse
Finished Dollhouse

Once I was done with the siding I mounted the whole thing on a base and even gave the house a sidewalk and a bit of a yard.

I was pretty happy with it and so was my granddaughter. All that was left now was to buy some furniture and dolls for it that were of the right scale. I chose the smaller scale dolls because doing something like this for Barbie scale dolls would have been enormous and I think would have very quickly become tiresome.

All in all one of my most satisfying projects, the look in my granddaughters eyes made it all worthwhile.

Enjoy!

A few more images from the project

living room
Living room detail w/ trim

Dining room
A look into the dining room

Almost done
Almost done

Second Floor
Second Floor

Opening
The big moment

In use
In use