DIY American Girl DollhouseNov 23, 2015 08:17AM ● By Stacy Snook
As a parent, I strive to give my girls gifts that encourage hours of imaginative play on a budget. Too many toys have been exciting for an hour and quickly found themselves in the "cool for a hot minute" graveyard.
I've found that American Girl dolls (or similar 18" dolls), along with some fun accessories, have stood the test of time for my girls. Even if they temporarily lose interest, they always find their way back to their dolls.
The big problem is that although the quality of the actual American Girl dolls and accessories is outstanding, the price can be a little off-putting for families. For those of you who are looking to completely wow your little girl on a budget, here's a DIY American Girl dollhouse that is not only affordable but really quite easy to build.
Note that if you have a woodworker in the family, this could be built with better materials and craftsmanship (creating something to be passed down through generations), but the price and time to build would definitely go up. My goal was something affordable and easy. This is a solid structure, so even thought it's built from standard plywood, my girls could use it in their adult years as storage or pass it down to their own children some day.
Because I have two little girls, I decided to design two equal structures to avoid any squabbles. The two structures together measure 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide and cost a little over $100 to build (I already had primer and paint, so it'll cost more if you don't). For one house, two sheets of standard plywood would be sufficient for a finished structure that's 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
All my projects start with an idea that ends up on paper with lots of notes. Pardon the mess; I'll try to make sense of it for you.
(Cut in half for the 6-foot by 4-foot single unit)
- 4 pieces of standard 3/4 inch plywood
- 2 sheets backer board
- 1-1/2 inch finishing nails
- screws (I think I used 1-1/2 inch)
- wood glue
Tools and extras to keep handy: Cordless drill, circular saw or table saw, hammer, tape measure, sand paper, primer, paint, foam finishing roller, paint brush, optional touch lights.
It's great to have a cute partner for this project; a nice cold beverage is optional.
Step One: Cutting
To keep this as simple as possible, you will be cutting two sheets of plywood in four equal 2-foot by 4-foot quarters to create the top and bottom of each unit, as well as the two "floors" for each house (horizontal pieces). The other two sheets of plywood, you will be cutting down the middle vertically to yield two 8-foot by 2-foot halves, and then cutting 2 feet off of the ends so you have four 6-foot side panels (2 for each unit) and four 2-foot by 2-foot room divider pieces. This takes advantage of every bit of plywood and allows for an appropriate depth and height per floor for the dolls.
You'll need plenty of space to do this project; it's best to assemble it on the floor and stand it up after it's stable.
Step Two: Clamping, Drilling, and Gluing
You're basically going to apply wood glue to the joints and clamp until dry, then secure with nails and a few screws for extra support.
The structure will seem flimsy until you secure it properly. Once you get the structure glued and secured with nails and screws, attaching the backer board will give the house extra support.
I didn't bother to fill the nail or screw holes before painting, I just painted right over 'em. If you'd like a more polished look you could certainly fill with an appropriate colored filler.
Step Three: Painting
Because this is standard plywood, it has a bit of a rough finish, so I did a quick sanding to smooth it down a bit. Still, I didn't go crazy.
Before painting, it's important to wipe the unit down well to get rid of any sanding dust. I ended up applying two coats of primer and two coats of paint using both a foam roller and a paint brush. (I'm a huge fan of Purdy paint brushes, FYI.)
Step Four: Personalizing
After the paint is completely dry (follow recommendation on your paint can), you can go ahead and tap into your inner design star. Most of our decor items were things that we up cycled from items found at Goodwill. You can turn a shoebox into a bed in a pinch, and make an adorable little snack stand out of cardboard and scrapbook paper.
The kitchen was a bit of a splurge purchase from Target at $60. The table was an old cutting board; I simply attached 2-inch by 2-inch boards as legs, then primed and painted. The rug is a place mat that was on sale at Target, and the little wood cabinet was found at a garage sale.
It's amazing how many things you can find to furnish your dollhouse when you start looking around the house.
The room here (left) was designed entirely of up cycled objects and some fabric scraps. Jewelry chests make good dressers and night stands for dolls. You can almost always find them at a second hand store. The little mirror above the bed was snagged at an exchange party. Little stuffed toys from Happy Meals are the perfect scale for American Girl Dolls.
The photo below gives you an idea of the scale of the structure. It's quite huge. My daughters were in complete awe the first time they laid eyes on it. We keep a small footstool near the structure for my younger daughter. She can reach the top floor, but a footstool comes in handy.
Since these photos were taken, my girls have made good use of the dollhouse, spending hours playing, redecorating, and hunting for dollhouse treasures. It amazes me how they've developed an eye for repurposing.
The touch lights came in a six pack from Menards. They're super cheap, include a battery, and are a cinch to install; basically, peel and stick. Because the depth of each room in the dollhouse is 2 feet, it can get dim without the touch lights on, so I'd definitely recommend them.
This was truly a fun, easy, and inexpensive project that can easily be tackled over a weekend.