How To Build A Dollhouse (Part 1: Assembling It)

Update: Check out Part 2 of this project right here.

When Sherry and I started talking about building a dollhouse for Clara, I was afraid. I know, I know – scared of a dollhouse? Get your laughs out. But that ominous word conjured up these elaborate images of perfectly crafted, to-scale replicas of Victorian mansions that seemed waaaaay beyond my skill / patience level. But once Sherry showed me some of her inspiration pictures on Pinterest (from Mousehouse, Natty Michelle and Under The Sycamore) my cold sweats dried up and I actually got a little excited. Yes, excited about a dollhouse. Now get those laughs out.

More accurately, those cold sweats turned into regular sweats since starting this project required a bit of basement cleaning first. Remember this mess?

I didn’t get rid of much of anything yet, but I did give it the ol’ “quick tidy” so I’d at least have a clean workspace to get a-dollhousing in. Here’s the “not-after-but-not-as-bad-as-the-before” result:

After giving myself a brief pat on the back for that, I moved on to dollhouse planning and material buying. Sherry loved the idea of priming/painting/decorating the dollhouse, so she called those parts of the task while leaving the entire design up to me except for very casually suggested a three-story house with seven rooms. After some thought I landed on something most similar to the Under The Sycamore’s version show above, except with a different room arrangement.

We decided on 1 x 8″ basic white wood as our building material. It was cheap and light, but sturdy and wide enough to make for easy play. We also opted for an 8″ room height on the first two floors and a sloped attic that’d go from 6″ to about 10.” So the finished dollhouse measures around 30″ tall and 30″ wide. Those 8 inches of room height with a sloped attic ceiling were a bit big for the scale of furniture that Sherry had found on eBay (more on that in her Part 2 post) but we wanted to err on the side of giving Clara plenty of room to move around rather than being sticklers for scale – and who doesn’t love a room with extra high ceilings?

My total for all of my building materials (just wood since I already had nails) was about $35 and I started off by cutting everything except the roof pieces to size, creating a box that was roughly 30″ wide and 24″ tall. I also cut the walls for my first two floors (not shown) to 8″ tall and used my table saw to shave a bit off the side so they were slightly narrower than the floors.

I wanted to affix the walls to the bottom and middle floors first, so I measured and marked where I wanted each divider to go. The two marks on the wood below represent each side of the wall board so I knew exactly where I wanted it to sit.

I’m usually a screw guy (that sounds weird, I realize) but I didn’t want Clara’s dollhouse to be riddled with screw holes and potentially split boards. So I opted instead to use a combination of wood glue and nails. I know lots of people swear by wood glue, but I just find it messy, time consuming and harder to reverse. But I put our differences aside and squeezed a line of it on each wall before putting in place. It actually worked really well.

I clamped two scrap pieces of wood (those two pieces of wood under the clamps weren’t part of the dollhouse, they were just pinching the perpendicular piece of wood to hold it up). This method helped keep things steady for a couple of minutes while the glue got a grip.

And since I’m impatient, I carefully tipped the whole thing over so I could drive a couple of nails into the wall board from the bottom. Now it’s hopefully more clear that the perpendicular piece of wood is the wall and the piece of wood on the bottom is the floor of the dollhouse (those two pieces of wood clamped above the base are just there to steady the wall I added while the glue dried and I banged in those nails).

So here’s what I was left with after putting up walls for the first two floors. I hadn’t tackled the third floor wall yet since I wanted to wait to finish the sloped roof to make sure my cut was accurate to a real roof, not my roughly sketched one. Oh and the first and second floors weren’t attached (hence them looking skewed in the pic below) – they were just both placed on the floor in a rough little layout of sorts.

Next I used the glue and nails method to affix the two sides, using another scrap board to help keep my corners at 90-degree angles. I also glued and nailed all of the walls into the floors above them.

One thing I didn’t point out earlier is that when I cut my side boards to length I actually did a slightly angled cut on the tops using my miter saw. The 15-degree choice was kind of an arbitrary “this looks like a nice shallow angle” decision, which I hoped would help my sloped roof rest evenly on the side boards.

I tried drawing some complex diagram of angles to figure out exactly how I needed to cut the peak of my roof, but I quickly realized how rough my 9th grade geometry was. So I figured I’d start with two 15-degree cuts butted up against each other and go from there. Luckily it worked out perfectly and I could scoff at Euclid as I glued the two pieces together.

Once my roof had dried enough I sat it in place to help measure the height of the center wall that would support it. Once that was cut (using two cuts of the miter saw to create a close-enough point at the tip) I glued and nailed it into place like the others.

With the roof also secured in place, this collection of boxes actually started to resemble a residence suitable for dolls.

But I still had to add a back side, which can be filed under the “two birds with one stone” column because I was able to take some thin plywood from my messy scrap pile (bird one) to make the back panel (bird two). I didn’t have a piece tall enough for the whole thing, but I was able to cut this one big piece so that the seam would be hidden behind the third floor board.

As for attaching it, you can probably guess the words about I’m about to type since I used the same method… I applied glue to the backside of the dollhouse frame, put the plywood down, and nailed it into place.

For the rest of the top I had to assemble a few scrap strips, which did create some seams. But we were already planning to caulk some other corners so it wasn’t a big deal to have a few other places to patch up before priming and painting it all to get a nice seamless end result.

Here’s the whole house after it was constructed. The last thing we wanted to do was affix the whole thing to a larger base to give it more stability. So this is a piece of 1 x 12″ that I cut to size and sanded so it had nice rounded edges.

A few more squirts of glue and swings of the hammer later, the construction phase of the d-o-l-l house (as we were calling it at this point to keep the secret from Little Miss Hears A Lot) was c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e.

It was actually surprisingly straightforward and took me about three hours in total (after about an hour of basement clearing out before I got down to business). And not that I’m gonna get all Victorian mansion on it, but it has given me the confidence to try to add some details like doors and windows (decorative, not functional) on the so-far blank backside at some point. But since all of this happened just a few days before Clara’s birthday, that’ll have to wait since the first priority was to get it all painted, decorated, and gifted by this past Monday (which was the bean’s big oh-two).

So Sherry will be back tomorrow with a giant breakdown of what she likes to call “the fun part.” You know, the priming, painting, furniture-ing, and decorating (there were too many pics/descriptions to squeeze it all into this post, but she’s working on it right now and can’t wait to share). Hilariously enough, I thought the fun part was building it, so I guess we’re a good pair. And in case you’re wondering, Clara is obsessed. As is Sherry. Even I want to play with it sometimes.


So it went over really well. And we all know that a happy wife/kiddo = a happy hubby. So… score! Has anyone else out there built a dollhouse? Or some other fun kid thing? Or been obsessed with hunting down eBay dollhouse furniture like the wife? Let’s chat… about dollhouses. Haha. Oh yeah, I’m man enough to say that.

Update: Check out Part 2 of this project right here.


  1. Shannon says

    Love the dollhouse. My mom and stepdad built my sister and I a dollhouse when we were about 10 years old. Initially it was just plywood that my sister and I splattered with some pretty basic paint. Over the years my sister and I helped my stepdad to (wait for it…) carpet, lay down flooring in the kitchen, wallpaper, tile the bathroom, wire the structure so that there were functioning lights and a doorbell, add siding, install a window in the upstairs bedroom, and shingle the ceiling. The dollhouse was passed on to my nieces and will hopefully come back to me one day when we start our family. :) It’s been close to 25 years and the dollhouse still looks as good as ever. When we travelled, we’d pick up furniture or bits and bobs for the dollhouse (ceramic fixtures for the bathroom, cute kitchen things, miniature cuckoo clocks, etc). Love it! Have fun. I’m sure Clara will love the dollhouse for years to come.

  2. Lori says

    Love the dollhouse! My parents gave me one when I was 12 that spurred a lifelong love of miniatures. I have a dollhouse kit – the dollhouse of my dreams – sitting out in the garage on my husband’s workbench that we’re going to put together. It was his gift to me for my 40th birthday in March. I cried tears of joy.

    Anyway, just wanted to mention there’s a (very rare for you guys) typo in the post title :)

  3. Sara says

    This looks really awesome. You’ve inspired me to think that maybe I could build something like this for my little girl. Just wondering though- why no stairs?

    • says

      We just thought Clara might not really play with them much at this age, and the idea of bigger rooms to move things around might be a better use of space. We can always add them later though!


  4. Carly G says

    It looks so good!!! Way to go guys!
    p.s. I think you’re missing an ‘I’ in the title of the post.

  5. says

    That picture is such a tease, but it looks sooo cute! And once again, John takes the difficult and makes it seem so easy! Great job!

  6. says

    I love that y’all put so much thought and time into Clara’s gifts. My husband and I were talking the other day and want to make out little girl’s gifts for her first birthday this year. One special handmade gift is way better than a bunch of store bought ones! Can’t wait to see the finished product of the d-o-l-l house.

  7. Sarah says

    I love the idea of making a dollhouse, instead of buying one! Totally want to make one for our little girl. What a special gift!

  8. Anya says

    The dollhouse looks great, and seems like a perfect size for Clara as she grows! I can’t wait to see what it looks like all decorated. Tomorrow’s post?

  9. Nicole says

    When I was a kid, my dad made me a dollhouse one year for Christmas. He made it to replicate our house, using scrap pieces of carpet and laminate flooring, and leftover paint to match each room of our real house. I loved that dollhouse, and to this day its still such a special memory!

    Yours turned out beautiful, and I’m sure it will be just as special for Clara as she grows up!

    I can’t wait to see “part 2″…great job, guys! :)

  10. Heather W says

    How cute. I can’t wait to see the decorating phase. This is a true dollhouse story….. My Mom was driving down a street to go home and saw this big beautiful dollhouse sitting on the sidewalk that said needs good home. She immediately stopped and the gentleman told her he had built it for his daughters and they had outgrown it and didn’t want it anymore. He wanted it to go to a good home for a little girl to enjoy. My Mom told him she had a 6 year old granddaughter who would love it and he said take it. This dollhouse was amazing with front pillars and he had built a little front porch and shutters. He used tongue depressers that he cut to look like a shingled roof and everything. It had really high ceiling which was perfect for when she wanted to play with her barbies in it. My daughter is now 13 and is not interested anymore so, I am debating on keeping it for her to pass down or find another home with a little girl to now enjoy….

  11. Audra says

    What a wonderful gift for Clara! I still have the dollhouse that my Dad built for me twenty years ago!

  12. says

    OMG! I love it! So cool! I love all of these amazing toys you have created for Clara! So awesome to see parents do that and it’s nostalgic for me because my parents built a swing set and playhouse for me as a kid that I got to help design. Clara’s got the kkkkeeewwwlllest parents lol

    But anywho …. speaking of dollhouses….I am a huge fan of dollhouse furniture and found a ton of wooden (unfinished) dollhouse furniture at Michael’s off of Brook Road yesterday for 99 cents!

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