Toys in Miniature: Frances Armstrong For a version that will print more easily, click here.
.Design and build your own
1/144 scale dollhouse
using materials that should be easy to find
Because so many are beginnners in this scale, these instructions are very detailed and so rather long. Experts can skim through the pages quickly, using the links (I hope). To Guelph club members: notes for special project will be added soon.
You are welcome to print out these instructions and lend them to friends, but please do not sell them or claim that they are your own work. Like any written work, they are covered by copyright. Please acknowledge me as author.
These suggestions are directed at miniaturists who want to make their own 1/144 scale dollhouse without spending much money. I'm assuming that you have some experience in 1/12 scale work, and that you can, if necessary, visit a hobby or model train store and spend a few dollars on special supplies. There's a checklist of supplies and tools here.
I'm also trying to cater for the many miniaturists who claim to be mathematically challenged and who turn to jelly at numbers like 5/32.
I'm assuming too that you want something more interesting than a basic box with doors, windows, and roof. What kinds of houses attract you? Do you like a particular period, an elegantly simple house, or one with a lot of decoration?
Before you go too far in deciding what you want, here are some warnings:
· Unless you are good at mathematics, stick to 90 degree angles as much as you can. (If you're that bad at mathematics, 90 degrees is an L, the same thing as a right angle, and all the corners of squares and rectangles are right angles.) Six-sided towers, bay windows, and dormer windows can be tricky. A square tower, or even a round one, would be easier.
· Windows take a long time to make.
· Opening interior doors are awkward to put in.
· Interior staircases are tricky too
And some suggestions:
· Begin with a front-opening house. You can work on the front separately and make it as elaborate as you like.
· Let the rest of the house be just a plain box, with no windows, unless you specially want drapes as a feature of the rooms.
· Don't try to hinge the front on. Let it slide in (see later).
· Plan to put the house on a fairly big base that will allow for some verandahs or outbuildings, and for landscaping. Trees and shrubs are easy to make and can enhance a house quickly.
· If you don't want to buy ready-cut wood siding or other products to cover outside walls, consider making a stone house. It's easy and looks good.
· As I worked out this project, I decided that the first "specialized" product I would suggest that a beginner should buy would be very slender strips of wood (1/32" square or less) from a model railroad store. They make "trim" that covers up all kinds of mistakes, and I haven't yet found a good substitute.
When you have a general idea of what kind of house you want, get some squared or graph paper, and draw up a rough plan (see example here). Any size squares will do. Begin with the front door, which in an average house would be just over half an inch high. Room height should be under 1 inch, though as in 1/12 scale houses, it's often a good idea to make the rooms higher than they should be, to let the viewer see more.
A suggestion: If you have any Lego bricks (children's plastic construction sets) around, consider using them instead of inches as measuring aids. They are in fact made in fractions of inches, not in metric, so you can easily choose the right sizes and colours to build in Lego units.. Depending on the colours you have in your set, you can think of your house not as 2 3/4 x 1 5/8 inches, but as three red bricks wide and a red and
four blue bricks high (or whatever). You can use the Lego bricks as spacers
and guides when you're gluing in ceilings and interior walls. They are always
accurately made and perfectly square.
When you're happy with the general look, tidy up the drawing so that it looks neat. Make the window and door holes a little bit bigger than the final windows and door will be, to allow for trim.
From here on I'm going to write specifically about the stone house I've made, with a few references to alternatives. It's roughly based on some farmhouses in our part of Canada, and is symmetrical like a Georgian house. (This does mean taking a bit more care in keeping things balanced and level. If you are inclined to get things crooked, consider making a Tudor house, or any old house that's been renovated over the generations.) This house looks a bit boring at first, but it gets better. You should be able to make any simple house this way. There are some comments on alternatives at the end.
The general idea here is to rely on squared paper and Lego bricks to keep things square and straight, and to base scale on the front door, but after that to be flexible. If you cut a window too big, maybe you can change the design. If your stones or bricks look bad, stucco the whole thing. If the roof gives trouble, make a flat roof. Shrubs, vines, and trees can cover up weak spots. A ladder against a wall says that someone is about to repair that crooked window frame. Just be inventive and have fun.
The rest of the house
We'll continue to use cardboard, although wood (about 3/32 of an inch or less) is good if you can get it. Cut a base, erring on the big side if you're not sure how big to make it. You can always trim it down. Use the thickest card you can cut, or glue a couple of layers together.
Now, again using fairly thick card or wood (up to 1/8 inch), carefully cut out a ground floor, the same width as the house front, and as deep as you want the house to be. 1 ½ or 2 inches would be normal. Two inches gives a lot of depth, making the inside harder to see, mysterious perhaps. Make sure the corners are square, then cut two more iden- tical pieces. (They will be for the middle floor and the attic ceiling.) Glue the ground floor on to the part of the base where you want the house to go, allowing for possible exten- sions, verandahs, or gardens Press under a heavy object so that the floor dries flat.
If you want all the same flooring throughout the ground floor, put it on now. It could be wood veneer marked or cut into floorboards, or paper flooring resembling wood or tiles, or carpet of velvet paper. If you want to do each room differently, leave the flooring for now.
Next we need the side walls and the back wall. The back wall should be just the same size as the front wall. If you want windows in these walls, use the sandwich technique again; if not, just use thick card or wood, or laminate two or three layers of card together. You want something about 1/16 thick. Don't worry about scale--a scale stone house can have walls 3 feet or more thick (that would be a quarter inch thick for us).
The side walls will be a bit more tricky. I said that we should avoid angles other than 90 degrees, but most roofs slant at tricky degrees if you don't like measuring, and we have to design a gable. Here's a way that will work. See diagram 1 for summary.
Get your squared paper, and lay on it one of the extra floors that you cut just now. Around it place the front and the back walls, standing up like they will do when finished. Now mark the total depth on the graph paper. See diagram 2 above, red marks.
Remove the floor and walls and cut the squared paper to the width you have just marked. That will be the width of the side walls, because they will be glued at the ends of the front and back walls, not between them. See diagram 3 below.
Fold the squared paper in half lengthwise, to find the middle of the side wall (see blue mark, diagram 4), and draw a line up the middle of the paper. The tip of the gable will be on this line. Now all you have to is decide how high you want the house to be, mark the height on the middle line, and mark the height of the front and back walls on each side. Join the dots and you have a side wall with a point at the top (i.e. a gable)..
(If you don't want to be bothered, just guess. The front slope can be different from the back slope. Best to have the roof ridge running level horizontally though, so keep left and right sides symmetrical.)
Carefully cut out the side wall you have now drawn on your graph paper, and trial fit it. (Get your Lego again and prop up the front and back walls around the floor.) The side you have cut out should fit neatly across the whole side. The edges of the sides will be visible from the front.
If you're happy with the fit, cut out two identical sides from cardboard. If you want windows in them, you can again use the sandwich method. Otherwise, you are nearly ready to assemble the house.
Here you have to make a decision: whether to paint and finsh the sides and back now or later. Advantages of doing it now: if you want to continue the stone finish, it's probably easier to do it with the cardboard flat. Wallpapering the inner walls separately may be easier to do than with the house put together, and you're less likely to mess up the floor. If you have a warping problerm, it's easier to flatten a wall before it's part of a house. Disadvantages: the corners of both the stone finish and the wallpapering will be easier to do with the house finished. And to some extent there will be less warping in a wall that's joined to others as part of a structure. Also, if you're impatient it's nice to see it look like a house.
If you don't like decision-making, here's a compromise. Give the back and the side walls a coat of paint on each side, light grey for the outside and a colour that will be compatible with your wallpaper on the inside. Then glue it together, using squares, jigs, or Lego bricks to make sure the walls are vertical and the corners square.
I began with the front of the house. It's made in three layers, like a sandwich, the bread on each side being cardboard and the filling mainly window pane. See diagram.
I chose card from the back of a pad of paper. It was thicker than the card used for greetings cards, but thin enough to be cut with an X-acto knife or even scissors. I cut out the front, with its windows and door holes, and then I cut out another identical piece (the other slice of bread).
To guide you as you cut, you can make a paper pattern from your squared paper drawing. When you've done the cutting out, check your cardboard pieces against the pattern.
The front door should be little over half an inch
high. For a less formal look--a Tudor
cottage, perhaps--you can place windows in
odd spots, instead of keeping them symmet-
Check also that the two cardboard fronts are identical, and if you wish, spray them on both sides with sealer. Then put one aside. You can use a spare piece of the same card to try out the painting process in the next paragraph or two.
Take one front, and paint it on both sides with light grey acrylic paint. Then mix some more of the grey paint with something to give a rough surface. I use Polyfilla, which is like spackling compound, but you could use very fine sand. On a palette (or whatever you use to mix paints) make blobs of this thickened paint in various colours of grey/pink/brown or whatever colours you want to be in your stones. Use this paint to cover the front of the house, with a blotchy effect (but this will not be the final effect). Cover also the inner edges of the door and window holes. You may want to put on two or three layers.
Before the paint is quite dry, mark out your stonework. (You
could make bricks, but stones are usually bigger than bricks,
and can be laid in uneven rows, which will make your life easier.)
If you want the wall to look like solid stone, not stone veneer,
make sure the stones look as if they could rest on one another,
not like glued-on ornaments (see diagram). Take your time and
You should be able to mark the stones out with a pointed tool or
even the tip of a toothpick. Scribe around each stone so they
look as if laid individually. If necessary add more Polyfilla mixed
with paint and water, to give depth to the stones.
As you go along marking out all the stones, take a break now
and then to dab a little more colour on individual stones, to
separate them from one another more clearly. You don't want a gaudy patchwork effect though. If the card begins to curl, paint the other side again. When you're done, let
the paint mixture dry and brush off loose pieces. Check the overall effect, and touch up as necessary. You may want to go over it all with a dry brush (that is, one that has a little dryish paint on it), or a wash (very diluted paint). The Polyfilla will get lighter as it dries.
If you're not happy with the effect, put another layer of thickened paint on and repeat till you are. Allow to dry thoroughly. You can also sand the wall if you want to lighten the colours. Spray with fixative if you wish.
Next the windows. With a sharp craft knife, tidy up the inner edges of the window holes. If necessary, add more of the textured paint.
At this point you can, if you like, add wooden moulding inside the window, but you can probably avoid it if you are tidy enough. If not, see later instructions on making window frames.
The door frame and door will come later. Otherwise, the outer front is finished.
Inner front wall
That was one of the pieces of bread in the sandwich that will be our front wall. Now find the other, the duplicate, and lay it down to match the first. If it doesn't match, you may be in trouble . . . (help is coming). This piece will be the inside of the front wall. Paint it a neutral shade, including the insides of the window holes. It would be a good idea to paper it as well, on the side that will face into the house. A neutral paper that will go with the future room wallpapers will be easiest. Trim away the paper at the edges of the door and windows, and touch up with paint until this piece looks neat on the side that will face into the house.
The "spread" that goes between the two front walls will be put on the back of this piece. You'll need to check the diagrams below.
Find some thin transparent acrylic or mylar or whatever for the windows--part of an old overhead transparency works well, or transparent packaging that's not too scratched. Cut it into pieces (indicated by pale blue rectangles) and glue them on the inside of this inner front, making sure you use only a very thin smear of glue and that you keep the glue well away from the part of the window that will show. The other slice of "bread" (the outer front) will hold it in place.
If you want a hinge--but I DON"T recommend this--find some thin material like silk ribbon and cut strips like those indicated by the yellow parts of the diagram. The small piece will be a hinge for the front door, and the large piece will later on hinge the whole front to the back (but not very well, as I've said before). Glue these in place.
Then cut thin strips of card (light turquoise strips in second diagram) and glue them around the edges of the transparent window material. You're filling in the spaces, not gluing on top of the acrylic, so that eventually most of the surface will be covered with card or ribbon or transparent material. This is the filling of our sandwich, a neat little array of acrylic, ribbon, and card, none of them overlapping one another, nice and flat and ready to receive the other layer of bread.
So get the outer front, nicely painted to look like stone, and glue it on top of the sandwich. Be careful where you put the glue, avoiding the windows completely. Carefully put the bread on the sandwich, aligning the windows and edges as you go. (If they won't align, go to the next paragraph.) Press them tightly together, particularly along the edges, or press under a heavy weight till dry.
If you've done a good job, the windows will look nice. If the inside and outside don't align well, you can cover up the inside windows with curtains (pieces of lace), or you can trim the windows outside and perhaps also inside. To make this kind of window frame or trim, you can try strips of card or veneer, but I think it's worth spending a few dollars on special model-making wood, if you can get to a hobby or model train store. Paint a few inches of a 1/32" square strip, and by trial and error cut the pieces and frame the windows. Use something thinner than 1/32" square, if you can find it, and are patient.
The front door still has to be done. First, tidy up the door hole, and add
outer framing around it if you like. (You may decide to add some kind of
porch later.) To make the door itself, use a sandwich technique again,
starting with two pieces of card that fit the door. If you like, add panelling
or grooving with scraps of card or wood strip. Paint on both sides, and
then glue the two pieces together with the small piece of ribbon on the
house front in between them so that the door is hinged and can open.
If you think this is too much trouble, just glue the door into the hole and add some more trim around it. Paint on a handle, or use a very small bead, or shape one from the tip of a toothpick. It should be just visible, very small indeed.
Outside front, with no door or windowpanes. Inside front Window edges need fixing.
This is a bit too dark; I lightened it later.
Time for more decision-making: to finish the outside or to put in the internal walls and floors? Actually you can alternate, because the stonework on the outside takes a while to do. And don't forget that we still have to deal with the front.
Slotting in the front
You should already have the sides of the house sticking out a little ready to enclose the front wall, and probably you have a front roof that overhangs the walls. See if the front will just slip in and stay there. It might slide in sideways, or go in at an angle. If it doesn't fit in, trim it. If it fits in too loosely, try planting a few shrubs that will hold it in place. Or use your ingenuity:a mailbox or a birdbath or a drainpipe or a house name sign could hold the front steady. The item could fit into a little hole in the base and be removable.
Hinging on the front
I said I didn't recommend this because the front is large and heavy, but it can be done (or you could cut the front into two, horizontally or vertically). You should already have a fabric hinge on the house front, so just put glue on the other half of the ribbon, put the house front in place with the ribbon inside, and ...oops, now it's shut and you can't get in to flatten the ribbon down nicely. (Unless you sent a small person in first, of course.) So you'll have to fiddle a bit, adjusting the hinge ribbon as best you can. When it's set, you will cover it with wallpaper.
You do this just as you did the front wall, but be careful not to make
things too wet or the glue may soften. Since there are no windows
to guide you, rule a few lines straight across so that you keep most
of the stones running horizonally level. You can make special
corners (quoins) with big stones alternating at the corners.
This will probably take quite a long time to get right, but it's almost impossible to do any harm. Just go on adding Polyfilla and paint, or sand it off gently, until you're happy with the finish. Spray with a fixative if you like--hair lacquer may do, but try a bit out first.
Internal walls and floors
This particular house would be best having only four rooms, I think, or one big room at ground level, a living room and kitchen combined. It's also possible to put a room in the attic, and to build on extensions, but we'll come to that. I'll also say something about staircases later.
For now, I'm going to suggest four rooms, two up and two down, plus attic.
If you still have the Lego bricks, you can measure out your rooms in bricks.If you take what I think of as the basic brick, one with 2 x 4 bumps on it and about 3/8 inch high, and fit one on top of the other, you get a height (including the bumps) of ten and a half scale feet, which is quite good for our purposes. So fill the ground floor with a double row of these bricks, and balance the middle floor piece on top. Then mark where it will go.
Decide where the division between rooms will be, and again line up the Lego pieces and mark the floor and back wall to indicate position.
Assuming that you're using wallpaper (perhaps in a plain colour), cut a strip the exact height you want. Use its height to measure the height of your dividing wall, and cut this wall out of cardboard. Trial fit it, and trim the length.
Cut a doorway out of this middle wall, if you like. A simpler alternative is to have the middle wall not come all the way to the front of the house, so that the dolls can move back and forth without putting you to the trouble of making doors.
If you want a fireplace, install it now. I'll give some ideas at the end.
I suggest fitting and folding the wallpaper before gluing in the middle wall. If you have trouble wallpapering, take your time and use Lego bricks again to make the corners neat.
Install the flooring, if you haven't already done so. If you've been able to obtain model railway wood strips thinner than 1/32 inch, they make good baseboards that will help hide any gaps.
The piece I've been calling the middle floor will act as both ceiling for the ground floor and floor for the middle floor. Paper it a light colour underneath (you can add beams or bits of doilies and cornices if you like). On the upper side glue the flooring for the two rooms now or later. Glue this piece neatly and level, using the Lego bricks again, and clamping the sides so they grip the floor.
If the result is disappointing and the floor won't stay in place, add cornice moulding or wooden beams on the sides and back underneath, and wide baseboards above. A closet or bookcase or fireplace or anything sturdy that goes against a wall can help keep things sturdy.
Add the wallpaper and dividing wall as for downstairs.
Attic and roof
You should have another floor/ceiling left. Depending on how high
you've made the walls, you may have to put this piece partway up
the gable, in which case you'll need to trim it to fit. Paper the
underside as before, put the flooring of your choice on top, and
glue the floor in place as for the middle floor.
Now comes the only carpentry of the project, and it's not compulsory. The easiest way to do the roof is to glue a big wooden beam from one gable top to the other. If you have a trip of basswood about 1/8" square, this will do nicely. If not, you could cut down a popsicle stick or wooden coffee stirrer, or a dowel or skewer, sanding two flat edges.
Cut it so it fits neatly (in other words, cut it the same width, side to side, as the three floors). Now we get mathematical. The corners of the wood are square, right angles, but the angle at the tip of the roof may not be:
All you have to do is shave or sand the wood strip so that it matches the top angle. The underside of the strip doesn't matter.
You can glue this beam in place now, between the tips of the gables, or wait. If now, make sure it's straight (use the Lego blocks again).
For the roof, get out the squared paper again. You want a roof that overhangs the walls on all sides, so cut a rectangle that's big enough, and trial fit. Use this pattern to cut the front roof out of cardboard. If you haven't already glued the beam at the peak, glue it now to the top of the front roof. It will be shorter than the roof, so centre it.
If you want to see into the attic, cut the back roof the same size as the front, but remove a big rectangle to allow viewing. This piece will be a bit delicate. Alternatively you could make both sides of the roof full size, then glue on in place and hinge the other to it at the ridge with ribbon.This can look a bit untidy.
Trial fit and glue front and back roofs. You can bevel the edge where they meet at the top, or cover the gap with tile (we're coming to that). Both front and back roofs should be glued
to the beam along the ridge. Don't worry if there's a gap under the eaves--you can fill it with a bit of card and call it a soffit.
By now you may be weary of doing everything yourself, and ready to buy some nice printed paper or plastic roofing material or even tiny wooden shingles from the train store. You can also make your own tile or shingle paper with your computer. But for those with some energy left, here is an easy but lengthy way of making very nice roof tiles. These will be slate, but you could do them in brick colour. They are flat; if you want Spanish- style or other curved tiles, try Fimo.
Take a piece of index card (blue or grey if possible) and cut it a little wider than the roof. It should be nearly twice as long as the two roof pieces put together. Now paint it by dabbing it all over with grey, blue, black and white (or whatever colours you consider appropriate. Make each dab quite small, and streak the colours into one another.
Take, for once, a blunt knife, and carefully mark the card vertically into 1/8 inch stripes. Not strips; you don't want to cut right through. When done, give the whole card a wash of very thin black paint, so it sinks into the partial cuts. Wipe it off the slates themselves quickly.
Then take a sharp knife or a pair of scissors, and cut the card horizontally into strips, also 1/8" wide. It doesn't matter if they break apart here and there. Then (tedious rather than tricky) paint one cut edge of every strip in a colour that goes with the roof, probably dark grey.
Now you can glue the strips like shingles on the roof. Start at the bottom and work up. They should overlap the strip below a little bit, and the cuts between slates should alternate. Mix the strips up so that the dabs and streaks look quite random. Keep the painted edges facing down the slope.
If some streaks or blobs are too big, so the tiles look as if they are joined together, paint a few tiles individually so they don't match their neighbours. (Of course they are joined together; if you have nothing better to do, cut the strips into individual tiles.) Make sure (by painting everything with a very much diluted coat of black or dark grey) that no white card shows.
When done--it will get you through several TV shows--coat with a matte finish.
Extra bits and pieces
By now if you're still with me you'll be quite capable of making your own additions and decorations. Here are a few ideas to start you off.
A chimney is almost essential, and should be reasonably placed to deal with the smoke from any fireplaces you have installed. A fireplace must have a chimney, but a chimney doesn't need to have a fireplace, so you can add more chimneys if you like. A stone chimney running up the back or side of the house would look nice, or you can just perch one on top or on the slope of the roof. Drill a hole in the top, and make it look deep by blackening it inside.
If you want a fireplace, or several, cut pieces of wood or heavy card, or layers of card, in the shape of the diagram, or a variation of it. Blacken the back of the opening. I'll leave the rest to you for now.
If you crave a staircase, the easiest way is a single flight, probably at one
side. This page is long enough without going into details on staircases, but
what I usually do is cut pieces of wood 1/16 x 1/8 x 1/4 wide, and glue
these together, overlapping:
Get it as straight as you can, and glue it directly to an inner wall. For a little more
strength, don't glue it directly to the wall, but rather to a piece of card or wood cut
as in the diagram on the right. Then you can cut another identical piece and glue it
to the other side. From there you are on your own to develop handrails if the dolls
are nervous. (The model train store can probably help you out.)
If you find the house too plain and severe, you could add some "gingerbread" trim of fretsaw work around the gables. You can make this out of light card using decorative scissors, or snip away your own design, or buy laser-cut or plastic or metal trim.
A tiny porch--just a rain shelter--can be made by simply joining two wood strips in an upside-down V over the front door. A wider shelter could be supported by toothpick posts (add a little decorative turning with a file).
A partial or full verandah starts with two flat right-angled triangles
of wood or card. Glue them at each end of where the verandah will
go. The right angles go at the bottom against the house wall.
Take a couple of toothpicks or something similar and cut them to
make posts to support the triangles. Use your squared paper to
cut a roof as wide as you want the verandah to be, and a little
deeper than the slanting edge of the triangle (the long side or
hypoteneuse, if you remember). If you want a wooden floor, cut it
to fit the space beneath the roof. You will have to shorten the posts,
or drill holes in the floor for them.
Add a few more supporting posts if you think a real verandah
would need one. If you want a railing, you can buy nice ones at
the train store, or very carefully cut tiny strips of wood and make your own. It's not difficult, just painstaking. Cut every piece exactly the same size, and it will work.
If you want the verandah on the removable front, that's no problem, as long as you make everything quite firm so it can be handled. It will move with the front. You can put some shrubs around the verandah edge to disguise the fact that it's not attached to the ground.
Building something more elaborate
There's no reason to follow my pattern, since most of the methods I describe can be adapted. And if you are comfortable with measuring and angles, you can go ahead and put in all kinds of fancy gables and towers. As you'll have gathered, you can also buy ready-cut wood and moulding which will extend your options.
Just one comment: if you want to add little gabled sections, as attic dormer windows, for instance: it's very easy to get those roofs on the side backwards or upside down. See diagram:
Many old stone houses have additions like a summer kitchen, and perhaps a bathroom or shed, or even a whole new wing, not necessarily in matching stone. You can probably figure out for yourself by now how to do these.
If like me you've made quite a deep house, front to back, this gives you extra opportunities. You can put in false walls at the back, with a partly-open door that shows a little bit of the bathroom (etc.) that is supposed to be beyond. A false wall would also allow you to install lighting. You can put the finished house on a big base that conceals batteries.
Finish off by adding some nice landscaping. For this you really should get to that model train store, or to a miniatures dealer who carries floral material. A little packet of green foam goes a long way, with flowers lightly dotted on in paint.
Don't forget a birdbath (with bird), shrubs and trees, a garden bench, a climber for the children, a vegetable garden . . . It could be a lifetime project. Have fun!
Copyright Frances Armstrong 2001