Refurbishing a dollhouse

Well if that isn’t a punchy title then I don’t know what is.

But seriously, we refurbished a doll house. We did it the week before our third baby was born and during a long period of renting houses and not being able to do any kind of real home improvements so this, in some micro way, became the focus of my desire for fresh walls and a clean interior. Just, you know, on a 1:18 scale (Yes I got that technical, this early on in the post but don’t let that put you off).

Let’s start with the basics. I had a beautiful handmade doll house, made for me by my dad for my third birthday. I don’t have any photos of it at the original 1980s unveiling to share with you but it was totally beautiful. We were living in Norway and so it was a very suitably Scandinavian white and deep red.

It was perfect! But then I got old and it sat in our garage and was lived in by mice and not the cute anthropomorphised version you’re imagining either, just the horrible chew-everything-and-wee-everywhere kind of mice.

Anyway. 30 years later we pulled the dollhouse out of a storage facility and as testament to it having being built by an engineer it was still in remarkably good shape. In fact our 2 year old couldn’t wait to get out of the parking lot to start playing with it:

But if you look closely you’ll see it needed a bit of love. The wallpaper was fantastically retro and I did wonder if we could somehow rescue it, but it had really seen better days so we started by stripping it back and sanding everything down (and when I say ‘we’, you would do well to assume I mean ‘my husband, under my beady and watchful eye’)

Anyway ‘we’ stripped it back and then after we’d decided on a simple white theme, took it outside for a coat of primer and a few coats of white spray paint. Then we brought it back inside to work on the floors and walls.

‘We’ worked late into the night


And, voila! Starting to look very 2014 already.

You’ll notice the paper tacked to the back with masking tape – this is how we (WE) created templates for the wallpaper. 

For the floors, we used a thin balsa wood for 2 of the rooms, with a coat of clear wood sealant. For the bathroom floor, white painted balsa wood with the sealant on top. And the lounge, a triumph, with slightly corded upholstery fabric from John Lewis as a grey ‘carpet’. 

A better view of the flooring, there, along with the wallpaper going up – craft paper from a local hobbycraft. Surprisingly hard to find paper that feels thick enough and with a matt finish – like wallpaper, and with a pattern that isn’t vastly out of scale. I mean I might not go for these kinds of garish patterns in my own house…

Another look at the flooring and walls here. Model train companies do a great line in faux grass, as seen here. Although, perhaps worth mentioning that this is the weak link in terms of resilience and may need replacing at some point before the next 30year refurb.

Getting moved in. You can see up in the top right hand room – the bathroom – the beginnings of a monochrome tiled wall – I am yet to finish this (oh the guilt). I got pretty carried away with furniture at this point too and ordered some of the pretty stylish and iconic lundby sets:

Yes that is a piece of street art for your dollhouse
It’s a sad day when your doll house has a nicer bathtub than you do
I also couldn’t resist this Ercol-style scandi kitchen set


I will say, though, that if your children are anything like mine you may wish to delay the lundby furniture purchasing until they aren’t going to be bringing you the splintered remnants of beautifully crafted sets while you try not to feel too aggrieved. 

Eventually I had to put some of the less robust pieces away for another day – aka when they are 16. And I updated with some more resilient wooden sets from Hape, like this:

Which was inspired by (copied from) a friend who had bought her daughter the Hape doll house – which is actually very lovely and sturdy, and also excellent value in comparison to refurbishing a doll house – especially if your husband is less likely to oblige with the efforts of spray painting and sanding… or, like me, you can wait until you are 38 weeks pregnant and make a desperate and emotionally charged plea for help which your husband cannot possibly refuse. 

Totally worth it though 


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