I have a particular regard for dollhouses. In my childhood, the two shelves in my room that served as a dollhouse held as much drama as the four volumes of War and Peace. When I got older, I was fascinated with the art of building miniature houses and expressing the personalities and stories of their inhabitants through objects. This dollhouse was inspired by the story Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson that my son got last Halloween and has loved ever since. What would the witch’s house look like?
The image of a house for the witch came to me back when my son was requesting to hear Room on the Broom again and again. I pictured a big stove with a cauldron over it. Then I imagined how much fun it will be to fill the shelves in such a house with little bottles and pots, and the idea was planted.
The more I thought about it, the bigger the dollhouse grew in my mind. In no time, it became such a big project that I saw there was no way I could pull it off with all the other projects planned for the holidays. So I folded my plans and started over. What did I want?
1. To have fun, reconstructing a hut where the kind witch could live, drying herbs and sitting in front of the fireplace with her cat.
2. To create a dollhouse that could be put together simply and cheaply.
3. Of course, to give my son a new toy that he would be able to play with right away, so something that would not be too fragile nor overwhelming.
So I took a wooden box, turned it one way and another and decided to paint a scene depicting the house on its lid, then wallpaper the inside and go from there. I like that the result turned out to be so portable with all the furniture fitting in the box. Yet there is plenty inside to inspire play and storytelling: a bed, a table and a chair, a fireplace, a ladder, a little lamp and much more. For our house, I got the animals – the cat, the dog, the bird and the frog – from the story Room on the Broom, but they are optional. As a matter of fact, it does not even have to be a witch’s house. Take the cauldron away, and it can be the house of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandma. Or any old-fashioned house. The idea of a house in a box can be adapted to any setting!
Transformation of the Box
It is not rare for me to walk around the craft store and find something that I feel like I can use, even if I am not sure how at that moment. That was how I acquired this box. Any box with a length of about 11″and width of about 8 1/2″ will do. The depth matters less, but I would say that more than 4″ is great, and 3-4″ is passable. For a smaller box, you may have to scale the size of the objects down or make two rooms instead of three. Because the most popular scale for doll houses is 1:12 and there is a variety of furniture and miniature accessories for sale at this scale, I decided it would do.
1. Here is a plain unpainted box (11 5/8″ x 4 5/8″ x 8 3/4″).
2. Wallpaper with scrapbooking paper and some white glue (Weldbond). I used the same glue for everything in this project. Cut four strips: two big strips to cover the bottom and the lid of box and two for the sides. Glue them to the walls, carefully avoiding wrinkles.
3. I went for a vintage look, trying to give the impression of wainscotted walls. I took a differently textured paper and cut thin strips to glue at the bottom of the walls.
4. Crafts sticks will represent the baseboard in the house. I glued another set of strips on top of the wainscotting to give it a more finished look. For cutting the craft sticks use a saw. I find my little mitre saw with a box very useful for such projects.
5. In picture 3 you could already see the window I used. It is one window from a very inexpensive set of three that I picked up at the store a while back. It is pretty plain, so here I glued on a very thin piece of moulding (left from my puppet theatre project) to create a windowsill. It could also be done with a couple of craft sticks. If I did not have this pre-made set, I would have made the whole window with craft sticks. After you choose or make the window, trace its outline on a piece of stiff paper.
6. Paint the sky, covering the outlines of the window you traced. Cut it out. Paint the window frame, if you intend to, and glue the paper to its back. I recommend using acrylic paint since it is fairly waterproof after drying. Glue the window to the wall. To see the result, look at picture 8.
7. Make a second floor in the bigger compartment. If the box was smaller, I would not recommend doing so, but I figured there was enough room in this box to make a little mezzanine for the witch to sleep in. Plus, it allowed me to make a ladder for her, and I love ladders! Take a 2 1/2″ board and cut it to the right length. Glue it to the wall. If you want it to be very sturdy, you can nail it from the back of the box, but if you get a tight fit and glue it in, it is not necessary.
8. Now, for making shelves! I am convinced that every respectable witch has shelves full of little jars and curious trinkets, and therefore the shelves took a quarter of my witch’s house. Quite a bit of space if I put it in the perspective of an average house. For making the shelves, I used some of old wooden blocks we have. Budster has a different set for playing, and we picked this one up at a thrift store for craft projects. I cut two rectangular blocks length-wise and glued them to the wall.
9. Finally, you can paint the lid of the box. You do not have to, but I think it adds a new dimension to the little house, imagining it outside of the box.
A witch’s dollhouse seemed incomplete without a fireplace, and so I came up with an idea of how to make one simply and quickly. I used some more wooden blocks to build the shape and painted it. Here is my detailed tutorial with pictures.
I bought the chair you can see on the pictures because it fit well in my image of the house and the price was fair. But I made the table.
1. If you cut the board for the second level of the house, you have some wood left. Cut two rectangles: one should be about 1/8″ smaller than the other on all the sides. It can be done with a handsaw, but if you have other woodcutting tools, they may work better. You will need dowels for the legs. You can use plain 3/16″ dowels, or you can buy decorative spindles like in the picture. The link will take you to my favourite shop to buy wooden parts from: I got quite a few things for the witch’s shelves from there.
2. Drill four holes right through the wood in the corners of the smaller rectangle. Use the drill bit that is the same size as the dowels or spindles you are using. Glue two rectangles together and then insert the dowels.
3. You can varnish the table or paint it, but I left it plain. I think the witch prefers the natural look.
4. The table is ready to be used!
Next, I made the ladder. I am very fond of ladders and stairs for their play value. For the fairy tree house in the past I made a rope ladder, and I was considering using that idea for the witch’s house as well. But she had some tall shelves and needed the ladder to climb up to the highest one, so she got this wooden ladder.
1. You will need a 1/4″ square dowel and a couple of 1/8″ inch dowel rods (alternatively you can use thin bamboo skewers). Cut off two 8″ long pieces off the square dowel and ten 1 1/2″ pieces off the dowel rods. I used my mitre saw with a box for this job as well.
2. Drill ten holes about 3/4″ apart on both square dowels. Use the 1/8″ drill bit. Then assemble the ladder, inserting 1 1/2″ dowel rod cutouts into the holes with a little wood glue.
3. The ladder is ready!
My aim was to make a doll house that could be made quickly and with a minimum amount of tools, and settling on a simple design for the bed was surprisingly challenging. I could think of ways to make it prettier, but it would require the use of a scroll saw, and somehow I saw the witch’s bed as just a sack… But with a bright quilt on top!
1. Take a long rectangular block from the set of wooden blocks and a little bit of polyester for stuffing toys and quilts. If you do not have polyester on hand, use some felt or other soft, thick fabric.
2. Glue the polyester to the block.
3. Wrap it with some fabric that will be a bedding sheet. I simply glued its ends together.
4. I had the perfect fabric for a blanket: it already consisted of tiny squares and looked like a miniature quilt. I cut two 4×4″ squares and sewed them together, then turned them right side out.
First of all, there was the task of dressing the witch. A week ago, she was Budster’s bathtub buddy, and wore as much as he did in the bath. But Halloween was coming, and the doll expressed the desire to dress up. Later, I will be sure to write about how to dress your doll for Halloween! For now, let’s look at all the jars, pots and herbs she has in her house.
Of course, no proper witch can do without a cauldron.
1. For the base of the cauldron, I bought something that was called “a bean pot novelty box” at the craft store. Sometimes they also sell wooden candle holders that would work well. Paint it black.
2. Drill two pair of 1/16″ holes in the top of the cauldron like on the picture. Using a pair of pliers, bend 1/16″ wire to make two staples and a handle.
3. Force the staples down with the handle in place.
With a cauldron as spacious as our witch’s, we needed quite a selection of herbs. Luckily, we still had some herbs and even flowers outside, so I went into the garden to pick a few specimens: dill, parsley, and many weeds.
I arranged my finds in the baskets and in the pots on the witch’s shelves. I tied two with threads and hung them on little nails on the wall. Some will dry soon, but evergreens will keep for a while. We are heading into the winter now, but in the other seasons it may be a lot of fun for children to go outside and regularly refresh the herbal collection of the witch!
For getting pots, bowls and barrels for the witch, I recommend the Woodworks on-line store; there you can find wooden flower pots, big barrels, small barrels, buckets, and bowls. I appreciate that they are wooden: they are not fragile, and my toddler can play with them! Of course, you can also paint them any way you want. For instance, I painted the wooden bowls with white acrylic, then added blue floral design to imitate Chinese porcelain.
Another great source for stocking the dollhouse kitchen would be a local craft store. They usually have a section for dollhouse making, and there you can find little bottles, pots and pans, baskets, or even a tiny vintage coffee grinder. I could not resist getting one for the witch. It seemed that she would have a lot of use for it in her house! That’s also how I came upon a cuckoo clock. Next to the witch’s bed, you can see a little LED lamp: it had to travel the farthest! It is by no means a necessary addition to this simple and cheap dollhouse, but Budster is charmed and amazed by playing with light, and he fell in love with the lamp as soon as he saw it. In the future, I can reuse it for other projects.
Filling the shelves was my favourite part, and I could go on forever, but I was thinking that my little toddler will not appreciate this amount of little things to lose and drop. I will take half of the container off the shelf for now, so that they will not get in his way. Of course, you can only give a dollhouse with such small parts to children after they have stopped mouthing objects.
I have just given Budster his dollhouse in a box, and he explored all the shelves and played little scenes with the animals. He was particularly fond of the frog that jumped all around the house and then ended up falling into a cauldron, but was immediately rescued. And then he found the lamp and was awed by it. Here he is, demonstrating the power of light to all of his little friends.
If you liked the dollhouse, you may also find these related activities interesting:
– Fairy Tree House: build the house, using natural materials from your backyard
– Furniture for the Fairy Tree House: furniture does not have to be complicated either for fairies
– Waldorf-inspired Nature Blocks: make these simple blocks to create forest scenes