How to Build a Dollhouse: Make Your Own Family Heirloom

Build your own scale farm-style dollhouse from inexpensive, readily available materials with these original plans from MOTHER.

| November/December 1989

Unless you're lucky enough to have inherited a handmade dollhouse from an earlier time—perhaps one of those grand, exquisitely detailed masterpieces that a grandmother or great-aunt might have doted over for hours—you'll most likely find real quality only by building your own, buying a precut kit from one of the reputable dollhouse manufacturers, or taking out a mortgage at an exclusive toy store.

Whichever route you take, you'll probably end up with a dollhouse made of plywood—usually a thin lauan for the die-cut kit models, and thicker stock for the homemade versions. Both are plenty sturdy and have the bulk to prove it—the larger kits can weigh a very solid 50 pounds or more.

Construction aside, there's one clear measure of quality in any dollhouse, and that's accuracy in scale: the proportional translation of full-size features to miniature ones. The most popular scale is 1" to 1'; hence, a house measuring 30' X 42' becomes a model 2 1/2' × 3 1/2' in size. Likewise, wall thicknesses, door heights, and window openings all should be reduced proportionately so as not to look awkward in miniature.

In an attempt to achieve a comfortable middle ground between durability, weight, and faithful scale, Clarence Goosen, a former MOTHER staffer, developed this farm-style dollhouse, using a sheathing-over-framing technique common to full-size structures. The framework is made of white pine, cut into strips of no more than 1" in width. The sheathing is corrugated cardboard covered on the outside with poster-board siding. Inside, pieces of fabric, wallpaper, or wood set off the different rooms.

The result is an inexpensive (albeit a time-consuming) project with the accurate detail of the better kits. Those who simply follow the instructions will be well on their way to completing a duplicate of the house you see here; the more adventurous can use the techniques to modify this plan or even to design a whole new structure to suit their tastes. Because many of the raw materials are free, there's little reason not to experiment with the house's shape or its features.

Tools and Building Materials

Before you begin, take stock of your tools. With the exception of one item, you won't need anything complicated. An artist's trim knife (or a utility knife), a steel straightedge, a square, a hammer, sandpaper, and a pair of 8" scissors will do everything but cut the wood. For that, you'll need either a standard table saw or, better, a compact bench-top model with a small-diameter blade. If you have access to neither, have someone cut the strips for you—it's important that they be trimmed accurately.

Deborah Berthiaume
5/3/2012 12:10:29 AM

I love the imagination that went into creating this dollhouse, and the use of less expensive materials. Any one who chooses this plan will be well rewarded for their efforts. It should become an heirloom for generations to come.

3/22/2007 5:36:18 AM

The illustrations for building this dollhouse are in the Image Gallery at the top right of this article. Or you can purchase a large-format version of the plans. They are plan # 784, and can be purchased at or by calling 800-234-3368

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