Monday, January 14, 2008
recycled cardboard dollhouse
inspired by elsie marley's blog entry on the topic (thanks for the great idea!), today eva and i made a dollhouse out of stuff from the recycling bin. it was a fun project, that can be as easy or as perfectionist-obsessed as you make it (guess where i tended?), and it costs nothing and takes up little space. hurray!
basically, i cut three rectangles of cardboard from a big box slated for recycling. i cut slits on the top or bottom of each piece extending halfway down (or up). this allowed the pieces to interconnect -- if this is confusing, think of those cardboard divider things inside a box of wine or beer bottles. then, eva and i collected fun images from magazines and cut them out (in her case, she mostly cut them "up" more than "out", but she's two and that's to be expected). sadly, the recycling went out yesterday, so our selection was somewhat more limited than it might have been (and i didn't find that ikea catalog hiding in a stack on the coffee table until too late!).
based on elsie marley's comments, i decorated each cardboard piece individually so that the house could fold flat. i also determined that if i wanted to easily cover the walls with magazine pages, i should cut the cardboard walls to that height (10.5"). i added doorways between the rooms by tracing a 3x5 card -- the exterior door was cut on two edges only so it can close. the other thing i did was to use an item not strictly from the recycling bin -- tape. after i completed decorating, i taped along the top and side edges so that little hands didn't inadvertently peel or rip off the paper.
i also made one other key structural modification: i added braces at the tops so the walls don't pivot (in a way toddlers apparently find incredibly frustrating). basically i cut cardboard strips (for strength, i glued two layers together), bent each strip in half, and cut notches at the bend and near each end. i cut matching notches on the tops of the walls, and these quick braces seem to help a lot. (see top photo for the best view of this.)
in some places, i used whole pages from things like pottery barn; other places, i cut out individual items like furniture and lamps. since i couldn't find a good kitchen scene, i made my own i constructed perspective-challenged pantry shelves out of strips of black paper and filled the shelves with little individually-cut kitchen items like bowls and pots and spice bottles from the macy's and penzey's catalogs. add some curtains, artwork for the walls, a cute dog in a bed near the door and, say, a microwave on a table, and pottery barn has nothing on you! (if i had it to do over again, i might use fewer pre-made scenes and make more of my own -- the amount of detail in the magazine pages can get a bit overwhelming.)
eva also got a bit frustrated with the time it took (and the fact that i stopped her from cutting up or putting glue all over certain key pieces), but she seems to like it. time will tell, but even if she doesn't, it was free and can just be recycled when we're done, so it's no great loss.
i think it would be fun to use the same concept to make other scenes beyond doll houses -- a stage for shows with tiny puppets or dolls, an outdoor scene like a campsite by a lake, or more activity-themed rooms of a house, like an art studio or garage workshop or music room depending on your kid's interests. you could also cut strategically-sized cardboard pieces to slip into each room (or a larger cardboard "pad" that the room sat upon) so that you could add some floor decorations -- particularly for an outdoor scene. more of a three-dimensional feel could be achieved by using cardboard pieces to form, say, a murphy bed or fold-down table if you didn't have doll furniture handy to fill those roles. and so on...
if you're interested, click on a photo to head over to my flick page. you can mouse-over each photo to see tags highlighting some more details.