I asked veteran miniaturists about some common mistakes new miniaturists make, and from there, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 mistakes. As an added bonus, I’ve included methods of how to fix each mistake if you’ve already fallen victim to these perils.
1. Starting with a Dollhouse
A little roombox also lets you explore what time periods, styles, and scenes you’d like to model. It’s quite common to discover that what most people start off thinking they’d like to model (a house) they’d rather portray a small flower shop or 1920’s train station. Starting smaller gives you this chance to figure things out before you invest in something bigger.
If you’ve already started on a dollhouse, take a step back and think about what you want. Do you enjoy seeing the house as a whole unit, or do you prefer the tiny scenes each room portrays? Are you sure you even want a residential house? Many miniaturists enjoy having little shops or fairy gardens. Flip though some dollhouse magazines or scour Pinterest and find out what speaks to you the most and try modeling just that smaller scene first. Even if you find yourself back at a dollhouse after doing just one room, you can always repurpose that roombox and permanently install it into your dollhouse, so nothing will be lost by starting smaller.
2. Starting with a BIG Dollhouse
If I can’t dissuade you from starting with a dollhouse (and I don’t blame you, I did the same thing), at least pick a small one to start with. You can always get another better bigger one, and your second dollhouse will be better than your first because you’ll learn new techniques that you can use in your second. If you think you’ll only have one dollhouse, so it better be the best, well, I have it on good authority that this hobby is addicting. Your first dollhouse will only be your last if this hobby isn’t for you, and in that case, do you really want to make the mistake of buying a huge and expensive house?
If you’ve already committed to a large dollhouse, all is not lost. You can either set it aside and work on smaller projects until you’ve gained enough skills and confidence to tackle the big dollhouse, or you can continue with the large house and take it slow. Do not let yourself get overwhelmed. Take it one small piece at a time, and ask for help when you need it.
3. Because it’s Miniature, it Won’t Take up Much Space, Right?
Oh boy, if this is what you are thinking, have we got some news for you! Dollhouses are LARGE! Modeling an entire house (or houses as your collection grows) will take up a lot of space. Most miniaturists devote an entire bedroom or ‘hobby room’ to the craft. If you choose to do one of the smaller scales; 1:24 or 1:48, those houses will obviously take up less space, but you might find you end up with more of them.
This mistake in thinking isn’t terribly hard to recover from, but you might want to start clearing out a designated space for your hobby, or it will end up living on the dining room table for years, and then what will you do for Thanksgiving Dinner? Claim that spare room now before Bobby and Johnny each want their own bedroom!
4. Minis Can’t Cost as Much as the Real Thing, Right?
Sorry, again, no. You have two choices here, you can spend money on the cheaper stuff now just to ‘have stuff’ and then replace it as you acquire better things, or you can wait, save, and buy special pieces that speak to you as you come across them. Most veteran miniaturists say the mistake is to buy cheap junk early just to have stuff. Instead, save your money for the good stuff, it is worth the wait. Artisan craftwork is expensive and many pieces, especially the furniture, can run close to the same price as their full sized counterparts. One CAMPer related a story about how she sold a mini rug to a lady on eBay who messaged her back saying that ‘the sample was lovely, and when can she expect the full sized version?’ The mini rug was so exquisite that it commanded a price similar to a full sized one, hence the buyer’s confusion. Another CAMPer recalls his initial sticker shock when inquiring after a desk at one of his first dollhouse shows. The asking price was $2600.
While this information is quite paling, don’t be dissuaded. There are minis for all budgets, and excellent tutorials on how to make just about everything, so if you are short on cash but have the craft skills, you’ll be fine. If you aren’t the craftiest and aren’t flush with cash (really, who is?) all it takes is a sharp eye and keep up with the miniaturist community. There are shows happening all over the US (and plenty in Europe, too) and Etsy and eBay are full of vendors of all things mini.
5. Trying to Do it All with Your First Dollhouse
When you are first starting out, chances are, you probably don’t know what you are doing, and that either leads to over-researching or throwing caution to the wind and doing whatever. Of these two options, the worse mistake is over-researching. Doing this means you’ll discover so much more to do with a dollhouse that you had no idea you ‘have to’ do. You’ll never get around to actually doing anything. This is a mistake that I often fall prey to myself. I like to be prepared and know everything about what I’m doing before get started. However, with your first dollhouse, you really do not have to do everything. You don’t have to electrify your house, you don’t have to hand-make a spiral staircase, or individually shingle the roof, or even wallpaper. Start with just the parts that excite you and that you want to try.
If you are already stuck in the over-research rut, set the books down! Make a list of everything you think you need to do to your dollhouse, then take that list and cross off at least 1/4 of the items. Maybe you can do them later, or maybe you don’t really care about landscaping at all. Cross some things off your list, and don’t look back. Once those are gone, circle another 1/4 of the items as things you do want to get done. With those items circled, look over the half of the list that is left and see if any of them can be eliminated. Now you should have a doable list. From your new list, pick an easy item, or one that has to be done before the others, or your favorite, but get going!
6. Using Hot Glue
Step away from the hot glue gun. It’s just not a good idea. Really. Many old dollhouse instruction sheets say to use hot glue to put together your dollhouse shell. This used to be solid advice. Unfortunately, hot glue used to be a lot stronger and harder and didn’t remelt as easily. The glue formula has changed, so now we can’t recommend using it for this task. Many dollhouse manufacturers have not updated their instruction sheets to reflect this change, so don’t fall prey to this mistake! Many, many dollhouses have fallen apart, or popped apart because they were initially held together with hot glue.
When putting together a dollhouse shell, it’s best to use a wood glue, or if you have painted the pieces already, a white craft glue. The only time when hot glue is advisable is to use it as a temporary stabilizer while the ‘real’ glue is drying. If you’ve already glued your dollhouse together using hot glue, no worries, it will pop apart super easy! Then you can redo it with real glue. If you’ve gone so far with decorating that you can’t pop the house apart now, you might try to see if you can slide some clear-drying white glue down by the edges to help hold the house together.
7. Putting up Baseboards Before Wallpaper
While I’ve seen recommendations from both sides of this issue, the majority of dollhouse pros suggest doing the wallpaper before the baseboards. This isn’t so much a mistake, but just an easier way of doing things. Putting up wallpaper first allows you to hide the edges of the paper underneath the baseboards and the crown molding. You don’t need to be nearly as precise with cutting the wallpaper to fit the room shape exactly. Many miniaturists also suggest creating a wall template first to make it easy to cut your paper to the right size. Some use cardstock, illustration board, newspaper, post-it notes (for strange shaped rooms like attics), or whatever else is on hand. Many miniaturists glue the paper to thin board and let it dry flat under wax paper and something heavy before putting it in the house. They will then either glue the board to the walls, or leave it loose so they can change out the wall paper more often as the mood strikes them to redecorate.
If you’ve already put in your baseboards and crown molding but not the wallpaper yet, you can try popping off the trim, but be careful not to break it! A thin metal paint scraper is a very helpful tool when you need to apply even pressure to remove something. If you aren’t able to get the trim back off, you’ll just have to put the paper up and try to conceal the edges in another fashion. One idea is to add another smaller piece of trim to your moldings that will go on top of your paper edge. (Many fancy houses have moldings up to or even surpassing 8 inches! This is over half an inch in 1:12 scale) Another approach you can try is to color in the space between the wallpaper and the trim with a pen, marker, or paint of a matching color. Our eyes are drawn to contrast, so as long as you get rid of any white or wood color showing through between the trim and the wallpaper, you’ll be fine. I’ve done this trick before on other projects, and it’s surprising how well it works.
8. Feeling Forced to Stick to a Style
Are you modeling a colonial house because you want to, or because that’s the style of the home that you have and you think it ‘ought’ to be that way? The wonderful thing about houses (in real life) is they last a LONG time. A home original built as a colonial has seen many different owners and many different styles though the decades. Your dollhouse can be furnished to fit your taste. If at some point in your home’s history, it has to be rezoned as a small local neighborhood bakery, there is no reason not to do that, if you want your dolls to be bakers. Think about what you want, and model that. Some of the best minis are the ones that took something and made it into something entirely unexpected.
If you think you’ve already fallen too far down the rabbit hole, don’t worry, you haven’t. You can ALWAYS redecorate or ‘renovate’ your home to be more in line with what you enjoy. I personally make no bones about disliking Victorian styling, but almost all of the actual dollhouses that appeal to me are Victorian homes. Does that mean that I suck it up and decorate with Victorian furniture? Heck no! I remove as much of the gingerbread trim as the house can structurally stand to lose, and I fill it with contemporary furniture. My houses end up looking like they are lived in and have a back story rather than being display-only historical museum recreations. You can also go the opposite direction. Your modern dolls are allowed to have their great-grandmother’s dressing table in their house. That also gives your house a life and a story. Bottom line, do what you like. A reasonable explanation can always be concocted for any of the stranger decisions later.
9. Feeling Forced to Follow the Instructions Exactly
This one is similar to the above mistake, but it pertains more to construction rather than decorating. When creating something from a kit (like the house or a piece of furniture) you don’t have to follow the instructions to the letter. There are no dollhouse police that will bash in your door and make sure you are gluing all the pieces in the correct order. Changing things up is called kit-bashing. You can leave things out, add new things in, or change the positioning of elements. The only thing that you ought to do is first read and understand all the instructions prior to making any departures. You don’t want to end up shooting yourself in the foot because you changed a step which turns out to be necessary to do something in a following step that you did want to do.
If you’ve been following the instructions all along and are done with your piece now, there are far fewer opportunities left to you for kit-bashing it now, but if you haven’t finished the project yet, there is still time to make changes. You can kit-bash a house to add bay windows or roof dormers. You can add smaller houses onto larger houses to make one giant house. You can make stylistic changes in a piece of furniture you are putting together like I did with this little end table. I opted not to include the inlays on the feet. To do that, I needed to get more back legs from another kit because they came with the inlay groove already cut into them. I also didn’t add the curved drawer front and I made my own little drawer pull from a nail head that I later painted. I have a piano kit that I’m actually more excited about altering than putting together and I haven’t even opened it yet. I have no idea what I can change on it, just that I want to make it ‘mine’. It’s a ton of fun, so don’t hold back if you have an idea for how something could be better for you.
10. Going it Alone
Think you are the only one who is into this weird little hobby? That just simply isn’t true. There are thousands of people all around the world who enjoy miniatures, and there are likely a bunch of people near you. There are plenty of clubs you can join to meet up in real life, a handful of shows you can go to, a bunch of Facebook Groups you can join, tons of Pinterest boards to follow, a few gorgeous photo-filled magazines to subscribe to, thousands of Etsy shops and listings to favorite and some Etsy Teams to join, and more than a few Yahoo forum groups to belong to. There are plenty of new friends to make in this hobby, so don’t think you are the only one and don’t feel alone! Find your niche of the community and start getting to know us!
Special thanks to everyone who contributed to the research for this article. Your insight on your dollhousing mistakes was extremely helpful!
From CAMP: Alice Zinn, Judy R, Carol, Pauline Coombes, Lita Bower, Laurie Sisson, Lee Ann Borgiahat, Lynne L., Patricia Paul, Carolyn, Elly, Betsie Treurnicht, Fannye Burkleo, Bob Dahlstrom, Mary Allen, Frances Peterson, Linda, and Barb Jones.
From Facebook’s Hints and Tips for Making Miniatures Group: JoAnne Cutting, Linn Brooks, Rhonda Wetzell, Judi Woodmansee, Angie Shorthouse, Madaleine Baker, Mags Smith, Sandra Harding, Sammie Bushell, Tanya Waughman, Kay Webb, Zaida Page, Jacqueline Marquart Hainge, Georgina Connon O’Brien, Linda Anne Haggerty, Joy Haddow-Allen, Kay Webb, Rose Haynes, Emma Rule, Joy Haddow-Allen, Lyn Hackshaw, and Valerie Dawn Harwood.