Build a House for Christmas

It was three o’clock in the morning. My dad had just nailed the final trim on the three-story dollhouse we had built for my little sisters (the trim was not quite dry and the white paint still bears several thumb prints). Mom and I placed inside all of the furniture we had made and gathered, and then sat back and looked with real pleasure on our creation. It had been a hectic three weeks of building, creating, and upholstering, but this year Christmas somehow seemed more real. The small house was beautiful. The furnishings were charming, and the tiny crocheted rugs just fit the decorating scheme we had chosen.

Since that Christmas several years ago we have made a few improvements in our dollhouse—pasted 1-by-1 1/2-inch cardboard pieces on the roof for shingles, added tiny accessories on the tables and shelves, found a potbellied stove for the upstairs bedroom—and with each passing year, and the arrival of each new niece and nephew, the dollhouse has grown in popularity; it has even become the pattern for several others as far away as Michigan.

Building and furnishing a dollhouse has to be one of the all-time great family Christmas projects, with fathers and older brothers building and creative mothers and sisters furnishing and decorating. Just in case some of you would like to make a similar project part of your Christmas this year (and if you don’t want to, you’d better not let your little sisters see this issue), here are the plans and specifications for the two different houses created so far by various members of my family. The wood used in the A-frame house was 1/4-inch plywood, and the ranch-style house was constructed of 1/2-inch plywood.

Furnishing the A-Frame House

The third floor of this house was the easiest to furnish since it’s the attic and we just filled it with leftover everythings. You could cover small boxes with contact paper and make them look like trunks or try to copy the look your parents have managed to create over the years in your own attic or storage area.

The bedroom on the second floor has been papered with contact paper (as has the first floor), and the curtains consist of a piece of gathered eyelet lace tacked to the wall around the window. The bed is one that we bought in a toy store before we ever thought of furnishing a house and is actually the bottom half of a bunk bed. We added the canopy, which is made out of pieces of balsam wood pinned and glued together. The gold rocking chair on the left was bought with a bottle of perfume attached to the seat. After the perfume was removed and the cushions added, it became a useful item of furniture. Both the potbellied stove in the bedroom and the cast-iron cooking stove in the kitchen can be found in the kitchen wares department of several well-known department stores. The white table and chair in the center of the room are made from balsam wood that was glued and pinned together and then painted with white enamel. Balsam wood was used throughout the house because it is soft and easy to cut with a razor or a penknife. When it is painted with enamel, it hardens a bit and is quite strong. You can buy this wood at craft and model shops.

The rugs in the house were crocheted out of colored string. The overstuffed chair in the bedroom and the chair and sofa in the front room on the first floor are made out of cardboard pieces that have been stuck together with heavy scotch tape and then covered with material. You just glue the material directly on the cardboard with white glue and then add a little cushion for the seat and a ruffle around the bottom. Each chair takes about 1/4 yard of material to cover.

The living room fireplace was made out of toy plastic bricks that were glued together with white glue and covered with a red mantlepiece made out of painted balsam wood. The two-drawer table next to the chair is a souvenir bought in Yellowstone Park. Similar small cedar chests can be purchased in most souvenir shops. The tiny china dishes were ordered through a catalog but can be found in toy shops. The dishes in the kitchen are plastic and cost just pennies in drugstores and grocery stores. The chairs and table in the kitchen were, again, made out of balsam wood.

Most of the tiny vases, pitchers, and lamps were found while Christmas shopping for other things. The tray and vase on the mantel, for instance, are actually part of a crystal salt and pepper shaker set. Use your imagination here. You’ll never find all of the same things we found, but what you discover might have ten times the charm.

At Christmastime we place a small artificial tree in the living room and tape small felt stockings on the fireplace. Tiny wrapped matchboxes are placed on chairs and tables and the whole place looks as warm and welcoming as your heart will feel on the morning you present a house like this one to a younger member of the family.

Furnishing the Ranch-Style House

Most of the furniture in this house was purchased in the toy section of a department store. A few pieces were made—the sofa is from the same pattern as the sofa in the A-frame house, but the ruffle has been left off to give it a more modern look. The ladder-back chair in the living room was made out of balsam wood and then stained with a dark wood stain. What we had fun doing in this house was carpeting it with sample squares that can be bought at most carpet stores and then découpaging pictures, making tiny frames for them, and putting them on the walls. We found that hanging the pictures in the various rooms made the house seem instantly warmer.

Note the red-enameled balsam wood shutters that have been added to the windows of this house. The cement of the garage and patio floors and the lawn of the garden have been simulated by the use of enamel paint on the wood around the house.

Now take your choice, a ranch-style or an A-frame—or design your own plan. It’s great fun, and not only will you create an absolutely beautiful Christmas gift for someone by building a doll-sized house, you will also build an abundance of Christmas spirit in your regular-sized home.