But we know, of course, that the true goal is to teach them to do these things for themselves. Cook their own delicious meals. Sew their own comfortable clothing.
Make their own beautiful toys?
Sure! Why not?
You might have noticed, in the past couple of months, that we’ve had a PlanToys sponsorship here at CAGW. PlanToys makes eco-friendly toys, and as part of their sponsorship, they gave me and my kids some of those toys to embellish and personalize. We wood burned and watercolor stained PlanToys building blocks, so that my kids can be the only kids in town with building blocks with fire-breathing dragons on them. For this Plan Toys Victorian dollhouse, however, I wanted to do something different.
Because a well-made dollhouse really is, you know, a house in miniature. You can paint it and wallpaper it and carpet it, add furniture, sew curtains. It’s enough to keep an interested adult happily occupied for months, and I could see myself immersed in such a project, presenting a beautiful, completed dollhouse to my kid at Christmas. She’d be thrilled.
But although she’s still VERY into dollhouses, this kid of mine is no baby. She’s well old enough to learn the proper techniques of painting and wallpapering, carpeting and curtains. And she’s the kind of kid who could get really into such details–she’s got a great eye, and although she’s so far mainly applied that to fashion design, interior design is just the next big adventure.
This, then, is the project that you’re going to check in on with us every few weeks–my nine-year-old and I, with she as the head designer and I as the head craftsperson, are going to design and decorate this dollhouse. Along the way, I’ll be teaching her the proper techniques for all the things that she wants to do, starting with this first step: how to paint a dollhouse.
Here’s the Before shot:
Notice, to the left, Syd’s design for the finished look. I’d halfway expected her to go nuts with power, but she actually wants something fairly traditional: white house, brown trim, and some gold detailing for fanciness.
Here’s what we needed to make that happen:
dollhouse. We’re using the PlanToys Victorian dollhouse (given to us by PlanToys), but, of course, any high-quality wooden dollhouse will work. If you’re remaking an old dollhouse, you can paint over old layers of paint, and *maybe* old layers of paper, but try scraping that paper off first, and of course remove anything dimensional, such as stickers or fabric.
masking tape. Frog Tape is the brand that we use. Use your own favorite brand, but older tape can be unreliably sticky, so use a new roll.
primer. My go-to primer is always Bulls Eye Zero, and I’ve also kept this as the white coat on the main part of the house.
paint. For the brown trim, we’re using a weensy can of interior house paint–I like to use every last drip of the paint that I buy, so you can expect to find this on picture frames and furniture in future projects! We also used interior house paint for the gold detailing. You could go with craft acrylic paint for the tiny details, but for anything larger than painted vines and dots, I’d use interior house paint from the hardware store. My kid wants this dollhouse to look like a REAL house, and that’s what real houses use!
paintbrushes. You’ll need lots of sizes for this! We used larger paintbrushes to prime the house, smaller paintbrushes to paint the trim, even smaller paintbrushes to do touch ups (if you’re painting with a kid, you’ll be doing loads of touch-ups…), and for those little gold vines and leaves and flowers, I used paintbrushes intended for nail art–think smaller than small.
1. Tape the places that you don’t want ANY paint to touch. I decided to keep any moving parts bare, and any spot that touches another. If you’re truly working alone, you could get away with painting these carefully, but working with a kid, it would just be too easy for her to get paint into the tiny workings of the windowsills, or inside the join that opens up a wall. Wonkily-painted fittings and joins are a major sign that something’s been poorly painted, so it simply looks better to leave it bare.
Use a sharp x-acto knife to trim the tape so that it lines up exactly where you want it to–clean edges are a major sign that something’s been properly painted, so you always want those. Also burnish the tape well at the edges, to avoid bleeding.
2. Prime the piece. Keep reminding the kid that this first coat of primer should be very thin–the kid will want to glob on paint, because that’s what kids love to do, but you don’t want paint drips.
Let the first coat dry, then repeat as many times as needed until you’ve got an even, white coat. Make sure it’s especially even and nice and you can get away, as we did, with keeping this as your white coat.
Let the primer cure completely before the next step.
3. Tape the piece for the brown coat. Syd wanted all the trim and windowsills to be brown, so we had to tape around the edges of everything that needed to stay white. Be more careful with using the x-acto knife to trim the tape in this step, as you don’t want to cut into that white layer.
4. Paint the brown trim. Grab your smaller brushes, and paint on! Expect to paint more coats of this than you’d think, because a kid will have trouble painting on an even coat every time, which means that you’ll simply need more coats to get everything covered evenly.
A kid will also drip some brown paint onto the white, even though she’s being just as careful as she can. Keep a wet cloth handy to wipe it away whenever possible, but otherwise, just live with it–we’ll fix it in a little bit.
5. Remove the tape. Don’t freak out, but when you remove the tape, you’ll have some mess-ups. You’ll be able to see places where your lines aren’t clean, places where there’s a little bleed, etc. We’re going to fix it.
6. Touch up the paint. Using small brushes and a steady hand, touch up wherever the paint needs it. Syd dealt with the paint drips (each one took a couple of coats of primer to cover, but looked fine in the end), and I dealt with the finicky little bits that nobody will ever notice but me.
7. Add detailing. This is the part that was really fun for both of us! The beauty of a dollhouse, in comparison to a real house, is that while you probably don’t want to paint gold vines and leaves all over the trim of your real house, you DO want to do that on your dollhouse! Be as creative as you like, and no, I am NOT telling the child that she spelled “welcome” incorrectly. Another nice thing about a dollhouse as compared to a real house is that the dollhouse is quite easy to repaint. When she realizes, and if it bothers her, we can just repaint that door and stoop, no problem.
Syd LOVES the way that her dollhouse looks, painted exactly the way that she’d designed, and it’s even more special because we did it together.
Our next steps are to 1) have Syd design the layout of the inside of the house; 2) do the back walls; 3) do the staircases, and 4) permanently install the staircases before we do the rest of the interior. Stay tuned, then, for more collaborative painting, as well as wallpapering, carpet laying, and some minor woodwork.
PlanToys gave us this dollhouse for free, because I can’t talk about something unless I’ve spent an afternoon listening to oldies radio and painting weensy vines and leaves all over it.