Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Foam-core Doll house

This is our fourth year 'uncamping', and we love it! Now that Tisha B'Av is over, we can concentrate on crafts.

We have made this type of doll house many times. Usually, the kids play with the bare white frames (some of them have been in daily use for years), but today we made one and decided to decorate it:

The goal is a cheap and easy, durable doll house frame for the kids to decorate.

I like to make these dollhouses very shallow (5"), to take up minimum floor space in the kids' rooms. This size house would be suitable for any standard 1:12 (1"= 1') scale doll. (i.e. 10" storeys would be 10' ceilings.) The Fisher Price/Playskool "Loving Family" dolls are in this scale. Fashion Pollys are smaller, but this size house works well with that size too, as long as the children don't care about scale.
This is a play doll house (as opposed to 'heirloom' style), with no pretensions of outlasting a couple of active seasons of active play.

Making the frame took us just under an hour. (It took this long because I paused often to snap photographs, and because the phone was ringing off the hook, causing multiple interruptions.)

Decorating the house takes as long as you'd like. It can take zero time (just let the kids use the bare white frame) or days (for something elaborate and well-executed.) Sometimes, we've let the kids go wild with magic markers and crayons, and let them decorate it however they like.

Today, Emily wanted me to help her decorate it 'according to her vision.' So we worked on a kid-style, kid-designed, medium-quality, medium-effort design that took abut half a day to complete.

We started with three 20"x 30"foam core boards.

Measure and mark the boards in the following manner:

Board A: Face of building: mark vertically in 10" wide increments. These will be the guidelines for placing the walls. This board will be used whole.

Board B: Floors: Mark the board in 5" wide horizontal lines for cutting the roof, and floors of the dollhouse.

Board C: Walls: Mark the board in 5" wide vertical lines for cutting the interior and exterior walls of the doll house.

On Board A, make a horizontal line at 10" as a guideline for the middle floor. Mark where the windows and front door will go.

For small round windows, trace the interior diameter of the packing tape. For large round windows, use the exterior of the packing tape as a guide.

Cut out the windows using a craft knife or scissors.

Cut through one side and the top of the door. Score the other side of the door, on one side of the foam core, leaving the other side of that side of the door intact.

Do not fret if you cut through the whole door by mistake. It can be reattached, using duct tape or medical tape as a hinge.

Save all the cut-out parts of foam-core throughout this project to make doll house furniture.

Test the door, and the sizes and heights of the windows before continuing. The window openings should be large enough for little hands to reach through them, without getting stuck.

Cut Board B and Board C on the lines drawn earlier. The long boards will be the floors, and the short boards will become the walls.

Three floors and two walls will be used as is.

The remaining pieces can be cut to fit, to become the interior walls.

Life will be simpler if you add the walls and floor in the following order:

FIRST attach the middle floor, with clear packing tape, using the horizontal guide-line on Board A.

SECOND, add the exterior walls and secure with packing tape.

The exterior walls should be added to the OUTSIDE of Board A. The width of middle floor will make this necessary and obvious, as it is the complete width (30") of the Board A. This is why I recommend following this order of adding walls and floors. It saves you from having to calculate/account for the width of the pieces. It prevents the walls and floors from being misaligned, without too much thinking.)

THIRD, add the roof and bottom floor with clear packing tape. These will go on the outside of Board A.

FOURTH, once the top and bottom are attached to Board A, use more clear packing tape to attach the top and bottom floor snugly to the outside walls.

Make interior walls, using a full wall-length width from Board C. To account for the space taken up by the middle floor, slice out 1/2" (roughly) from the middle of the piece.

(It starts out as a 5"x20" piece of foam core sliced from Board C. At the middle of the length, cut two 5"x 9.75" pieces, by taking a half inch from the middle.)

Generously tape everything, inside and out. The more tape, the stronger the frame. Test how it stands. Try to put pressure on the roof, etc. Your kids will surely test it once it is done!

Congratulations! The frame is done!

At this point, the kids might just walk off with it, allowing the adult to go on her merry way. Or they might want to decorate it by themselves.

What follows are some directions that Emily wanted for today's house, most of which require some adult help:

To make a doorknob, a parent can help by poking a small hole in the front door with a craft knife. We have used brads and beads in the past. Kids have made their own holes with sharp pencils, too.

It is best if an adult does this part, however, because it is easy to break the door.

Attach a handle to the roof. Emily wanted to be able to hang this doll house from a hook near the top bunk of her bunk-bed. She also wanted to be able to carry the house easily from room to room.

This is one of 5 "shelves" made of wire that were part of a broken towel rack. Clothes hangers, (or snipped wires from them) can be used to make a handle. Alternatively, you can make two small holes in the middle of the roof, each about 1/3 from the outside walls, and knot rope or heavy-duty ribbon to make a handle.

If you're adding a handle, this is a good time to perform a hang test.

Here's Emily, testing the handle.

A quick doorknob is made from a pipe cleaner (They are now more commonly called "chenille stems"; I guess I'm dating myself calling them 'pipe cleaners' instead.) and two pony beads. Thread the tip of the pipe cleaner through the bead and twist to secure it.

Thread the pipe cleaner through the door knob hole.

Thread the free end of the pipe cleaner through the other bead, and then feed it back through the door knob hole. (You will be back on the same side as the firs bead. Pull tight to secure.

Wrap the pipe cleaner once around the outside of the first bead, then thread the pipe cleaner back through the bead. Trim the excess pipe cleaner.

Emily wanted to make a stained-glass window. We took the foam-core piece that was cut from the window and taped it to the bottom of transparent plastic container lid, using packing tape. Emily worked from on the top of the lid, using the foam-core (that was taped under the lid) as a guide.

This prevents her from making something too big for the window. (Been there; done that; had to console the kid.)

She cut shapes from colored tissue paper and arranged them on the plastic lid. She used various hole-punches to make the shapes.

Hole punching tips:

  • To prevent tissue paper from getting stuck in the hole puncher, place the tissue paper on top of a piece of regular-weight paper.

  • To sharpen the hole puncher, punch aluminum foil.

  • To "grease" it, punch waxed paper.

When the final arrangement is complete, use clear packing tape to cover the design and an additional 1/2" perimeter completely. Peel the tape from the plastic lid, and cover the back with packing tape as well. Trim the edges to 1/2" larger than the window opening.

We had a piece of fabric that looked like planks of wood. We used it to cover the outside of the house. (This would be a great job for a torn or stained sheet or pillowcase, too.)

This was Emily's completed stained window design.

"It's a fire breathing dragon at night with stars."

After securing the edges of the fabric to the outside of the house with a glue gun, I cut out the fabric that covered the window openings.

For the circular windows, start at the center of the opening, and cut multiple wedges toward the perimeter of the circle, erring on a too-small cut, rather than going past the perimeter of the window opening.

Pull the fabric (it will stretch) through the opening, securing the wedges to the interior of the house with a hot glue gun.

This is what the interior of the house looked like, once the fabric was attached to the outside and the window holes were completed.

We covered the door with a piece of a brown paper shopping bag.

To make a shingled roof, we chopped many, many, many shapes from a brown paper shopping bag. We used a diamond-shaped hole punch. This can be done with any shape.

Emily had a lot of patience. She kept at the shingle-punching for over half an hour.

She used two brown paper shopping bags to make enough shingles to cover the roof (and cover the door) of the doll house. I attached them with the hot glue gun.

For the carpets and floors, we sacrificed a couple of bleach-stained washcloths and a ribbon remnant.

Removable 'curtain rods' were made by attaching two pony beads to the edges of the window frames, using the hot glue gun. A pipe cleaner serves as the curtain rod.

Last year, after our school's annual 'gift wrap fundraiser', I salvaged from the school recycling bins a bunch of the gift wrap samples from the catalogs. We have been using these for crafts for many months! (The teachers weren't interested; I offered them to the classrooms first.)

Emily chose her favorite gift wrap patterns, and then we used the gift wrap scraps patchwork-style as wallpaper. We also used some pink tissue paper, folded over a couple of times, on the side walls in the top floor middle room, and some craft paper on the first floor.

Note the "stained glass window" (installed before the wallpaper, so that the wall paper covers and defines the edges) in the upper right hand room.

To make matched flower boxes, chop 1.5" deep edges from a foil pan. Paint and decorate before attaching to the outside of the windows with the hot glue gun.

My kids like their dolls to be Orthodox Jews. We have been using file label dots as kippot (yarmulkes) for many years. If we have white dots, they like to draw on them, pretending to "knit" the boys' kippot.

Here's the completed front, with the flower boxes.

Here's the completed interior, with curtains. (These were made by 'hemming' fabric scraps with a glue gun.)

Et voila!

All of our doll houses have mezuzot. This one is a painted toothpick (with a tiny "shin" drawn with a fine line Sharpie marker.)

I couldn't get them to stop playing and look up at the camera. They had waited all day to play with it, I didn't insist!

Final hang-test.

17 comments, so far. Add yours now!

Post a Comment

orieyenta said...

Oh my goodness! Too cute. What a great idea. I love the blue dots as kippot.

Jeanne Tuthill said...

OH. MY. GOODNESS. You are AMAZING! To not only figure out this great craft project...but to photograph the step-by-step instructions and post them on your blog. I LOVE YOU!

I'm going to try to make this with my girls. They will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it.

I'll post a picture on my blog of the end result once we actually get it done!


Jendeis said...

What a wonderful idea! Thank you for doing the step-by-step instructions for all your ideas; they are invaluable.

Hope your girls have fun with their new house!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I have to say the nicest part of this whole craft is the in depth detail and amount of step by step pictures. That had to have been a lot of work. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

This is a great tutorial....who needs Family Fun when we have you?

What this tutorial taught me more than anything else was how lucky your girls are...and how fortunate that you took the time to take your wonderful idea from thought to reality.

I am past the stage of doing this with my children (both married) and I regret all of the wonderful ideas I had that never made it out of my mind and into reality. Perhaps I will have a chance with my grandkids?

I love your blogging,

RaggedyMom said...

Wow! What an innovative camp morah/mommy you are!

Where do you keep all of your crafty creations? Maybe it's just my living in a not-too-large metro-NY apartment, but I'm figuring lots of crafts can easily = clutter? What's your storage solution?

Miriam said...

It must be so much fun! I'm sure the kids love decorating, the wallpaper, so many details!

I really like the kippah, that's hilarious...and so doable for me lol

Orthonomics said...

Can we come un-camp with you?

Shelli said...


I'm SOOOO impressed, and am going to save it to use for Malka, when she's old enough to figure out that doll houses aren't drums! ;)

Juggling Frogs said...


Thank you! We go through a lot of those sheets of dots.


Thanks. I can't wait to see the finished product! We had a blast with this, and I hope you do, too!


Thank you. The instructions took some time, but they made it even more fun. The girls enjoyed posing with the partially finished house.

Emily is very methodical, so I had plenty of time to snap pictures while she punched diamond-shaped shingles from the shopping bag.


Thank you! I hope it helps someone else have some fun and avoid hassles while making the project.


Thank you for those very kind words.

I think this is a PERFECT project to do with the grandkids.

The result house is very narrow and lightweight. It takes up very little floorspace.

You could have a great time making it, and furnishing it, slowly over time.

If you add a handle (as we did), you could hang it on a wall with a 3M hook (so it won't damage the wall) behind a door. That's what we're doing.

Quick! Grab a notebook and record all those yet-unrealized ideas. I bet you'll do more of them than you think you will.

I find, that if I write down ideas, I end up doing them, even if I never look at the written record again.

Juggling Frogs said...


We do have a bunch of supplies! I try to keep them tidy, but it isn't easy.

Here's an annotated a picture of the kids' SupplyMobile. It would work well in an apartment.

During the school year, the recyclables are given to the kindergarten for crafts. During the Summer, we have a stockpile of them, waiting for the school year to begin.

This dollhouse is very light and can hang on a wall. It is also very narrow.

I made a set of shelves 6" deep to fit behind the door to the girls' room. It holds a bunch of narrow dollhouses. The one we made in this blog post hangs above those from a 3M hook.


Thank you. Go for it! I'd love to see the results when you do.

Sephardi Lady,

Absolutely! I'll put on a pot of tea.


Thanks you for the compliments. How old is she? The dollhouse years started at around 2 years old for most of my girls.

Anonymous said...

My mom found this page and we love the idea. We love to do crafts and this sounds so cool. We can't wait to try it over the holidays. GREAT IDEAS! THANKS! ( Avery age 10 )

Anonymous said...

Great idea getting the kids involved. Scrapbook paper makes great wallpaper too. Love foamcoare; you can do a lot with it if you're careful. Matboard is great too for making all kinds of stuff, even easy furniture. Hopefully we have a few new miniaturists in the making! See my collection at - and details on my coming book, Searching For A Starry Night, involving the search for a miniature painting. Some miniatures are also on my blog at
Cnris Verstraete

Anonymous said...

Hi there !!
Thanks for sharing !!??

This was superb and innovative
Lucky of the kids to have such a talented mother !

Thanks again for sharing such a great Idea and putting in effort of clicking pictures and uploading them to share with the World ! Voila !!?

Amy in "The Neighborhood" said...

THANK YOU so much for taking the time to post all the photos and this idea! It helped make my little boy a happy guy when he was able to use your ideas to create his sister's Christmas present for her polly pockets for this year! I've enjoyed your blog immensely!

I posted photos of our house for you and/or others to see. Blessings to you and yours! amy

nandini said...

Amazing work... Loved ur step by step pics... very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

Planning to try it with my twins.

Opheliathegreat said...

I liked it, but have a question. How will the people get up to the second level without you putting them up there. In my houses I have designed stairs for each floor. Your is very nice though.

If you liked this article, congratulations! You have great taste. Please brew yourself a cup of coffee.
subscribe to Juggling Frogs