How to Turn a Dresser Into a Custom Dollhouse
It's an upcycling project that's perfect for you and the kids.
The fun thing about creating a dollhouse from an existing piece of furniture is that it's sort of a miniature renovation project. There are a few initial plans you can make: color palette, décor style, and number of rooms, but everything else unfolds as you go. Flea markets, yard sales, and online marketplaces are great sources for finding the perfect piece of furniture to transform into a dollhouse.
You can upcycle virtually any piece of furniture as long as it has (or had, at one time) drawers or cubbies behind the doors. Wood dressers are wonderful, as are old metal cabinets and anything that can be accessed from the front. Lastly, check to be sure your piece is in good fixable condition and is free of mold or offensive smells. Try to get a good deal on your piece—the more you save on the build, the more you can spend on all of the decorative elements inside. We've outlined a few tips to help you with your project.
Remove the drawers and wipe down the interior. Use a dry paint brush or the upholstery attachment on your vacuum to get rid of remaining dust or cobwebs. Inspect the drawers to see if you can reuse any of the wood. In some cases, you might be able to use the base of the drawer as walls or flooring in the dollhouse. The idea here is to reuse as much as possible.
Painting the interior helps make everything to be more cohesive, and this is where the dollhouse starts to look less like a dresser. Paint stores sell samples that are the perfect size for the job—one or two coats of a flat or eggshell interior paint are usually all you'll need for coverage. For this project, we used Sherwin Williams Celery (6421) on the interior, Offbeat Green (6706) on the shingles, and Basque Green (6426) on the windows. The exterior was already painted when it was purchased.
Once you decide on a color palette, draw a rough sketch of the dollhouse and plan out how many paint colors you'll need to order. Tip: Pick out two more paint colors than you think you'll need—it's good to have options.
Hardboard project panels can be found in 2-by-4 foot pieces at hardware stores like Home Depot ($4.37, homedepot.com), and they're easy to cut with an oscillating tool like the Milwaukee M12 12-Volt Lithium-Ion Cordless Oscillating Multi-Tool ($89, homedepot.com) and thin enough that they won't take up too much space inside the dollhouse.
Once the hardboard has been measured and cut, run a bead of Gorilla Wood Glue ($4, homedepot.com) around the drawer rail, place the flooring and weigh it down with heavy books until dry. You can paint the floor to match the interior walls, or wait until the decorating phase to finish it.
The beauty of this project is that you can design the dollhouse's interior entirely to your vision. If you want to wall off the space and create multiple rooms, do just that. If you love an open floor plan, skip putting up walls. Taking measurements in a small, enclosed space can be a reach, but a vinyl tape measure and an extra set of hands makes the job much easier.
Create mock walls out of foam core and make adjustments with a utility knife, then use them as stencil to cut your walls out of the hardboard. Or, if you don't want to commit to permanent walls and like the option of multiple layouts, stick with foam core walls. A small dab of hot glue will keep them in place, which makes them easy to pop out once you're ready for a new configuration.
There are so many fun options when it comes to furniture and décor for your dollhouse, and the options definitely aren't limited to "Victorian" or "farmhouse" like they were in the '90s. Etsy has an unending supply of one-of-a-kind furniture options in every style imaginable; just be sure you're searching for 1:12 scale dollhouse furniture and miniatures (1:6 if you're building a dollhouse for Barbie or other 12-inch dolls).
Peel and stick removable wallpaper samples from your favorite companies are affordable and fun options. We were inspired by ones like Chasing Paper's Beaver Meadow ($40 per sheet, chasingpaper.com). Craft paper, fabric, and stencils can be used for flooring and area rugs. Some big box stores have an impressive amount of miniatures, and seem to have even more available online. Craft stores are a great source for project hardware and exterior items like shingles, trim, windows, faux flooring, and other notions that create even more distance between dresser and dollhouse.