Dollhouses – Some tips

So you’ve made your decision, bought your kit or studied your plans and you can’t wait to see it all up, decorated and lit!

Hold up for a moment though; wouldn’t you like to know some of the tricks that will help you to produce a really professional result? I know that some people will be coughing into their fists and murmuring that it’s only a dollshouse and how hard can it be, but the truth is putting a miniature house together so that you’re delighted
with the result rather than a little disappointed is not as easy as you might think. So – I’ve put a list together of techniques and tips that will help you to get the best out of your hobby and with a bit of luck impress the friends and neighbours into the bargain!

1. Decide whether or not you’re going to light the house before you start, and choose the type of installation. If you’re going for the cheap and cheerful, twin cable system you need do nothing at this stage because it can all be done later, and at very little expense. The advantage is that you don’t have to spend out a fortune at the same time as you buy the house itself because it doesn’t have to be installed right away, unlike the copper tape system which goes directly onto the wall before papering. This is an expensive system which must be bought at the same
time as the house kit, it’s not compatible with any other system, and you’ll have to keep a diagram of where it is in the walls in case of any problems. You will also have to choose exactly where all your lights are going before you even have any paper on the walls. Not my favourite system at all, but some unscrupulous shops may try to force it on you by ‘recommending’ it at point of sale – be careful!

2. If you want to hide all lighting cables, you have various choices: use very thick wood and hide all cables within the walls, inside fine plastic tubing so that you can get at all the cable at any time. You can cut channels in the ceiling to hide it, or pass the cable up to the floor above and hide it under the carpet along with the dust!

3. The simplest way to fit lights is just to put wall lights at the back; that way you’ll only have to drill a little hole, pass the cable through, unite the cable with the transformer and away you go. Ceiling lights can then be added as decoration only.

4. Don’t forget your ceilings! Often a sadly-neglected part of the house, and that’s a crime in the Victorian style or earlier. The easiest way to cope is to turn the whole house upside down once the shell is built, but without the roof on, and then you can work on the ceilings as if they were floors. This way it’s all so much easier, especially if you want to do something elaborate with plasterwork, angels and the like.

5. Paper or paint? This is a very personal thing, but I always paper where possible. Why? Because I want a superb result; paint always leaves brush marks or roller signs, you have to use at least two coats and that gets you into the endless sanding situation. It’s boring! There are dozens of beautiful textured papers for an exterior,
and I use gentle shades on all ceilings as well; they cover up a multitude of sins and are their own reward.

6. Seal all wood before you do anything else with it at all. All you need is 50% water and 50% white PVA wood glue. Just slap it all over and then leave to dry. If you’re using a heavy paper you only need to sand lightly, but paint and fine papers will require much more work. MDF must be thoroughly sealed in the same way.

7. MDF does not take a stain – you will have to paint and paper this stuff, if you must use it. Remember it’s very heavy if your house is a large one, and it damages easily. Its worst enemy is damp, and once swollen can’t be repaired well, so be careful – wood is a better option if you can get it.

8. Never glue your stairs in! Use a piece of Blutack at the top so that if you want to change the décor, all you have to do is pull out the stairs so that you can get into the hallway easily, otherwise you’ll be struggling with a dental mirror and a bad back!

9. Try to get your styles right; a Georgian mansion with a Victorian interior is fine; the other way around will look very odd indeed, particularly if you have dolls in it.

10. Use ordinary, old-fashioned wallpaper paste for papering, but find one that doesn’t have any fungicide in it or you may find it reacts with any metal in your house, discolouring the paper.

11. Remember you’ll need enough wallpaper to do the inside of the façade as well as the interior of the rooms. Alternatively, some people like to paper the façade interior with something very plain as a contrast to the house interior.

12. For plastic coated papers and special finishes, the school glue that comes as a white stick is ideal, but you must get it right into the corners and cover every inch of the paper. Fixceys is my favourite glue for edging and trims that have to hold hard with very little surface.

13. For curtaining, check out the markets stalls and look for lovely old fabrics. You’d be surprised how many beautiful buttons, fine lace trims and silk pieces can be had for a little money if you search through, and it’s great fun if you go with a friend!

14. Always leave the floors until last, that way you won’t damage your flooring by using glue and tools all around it once it’s gone down.

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