Monday, October 28, 2013

Building for Barbie on a Budget

Every year, Brent and I try to make a gift for the kids.  Probably for a few reasons - homemade gifts are more special to us than a gift from the mall, we get a chance to make something we haven't made before, and it's fun to see what we can create for a minimal amount of money (which usually means a ton of labor!).

***Update***  Detailed photos of the furniture we built for this house can be found here!

Growing up, my sister and I were excited to receive a Barbie house from our dad that he had built.  It was wonderful!  We spent hours and hours playing with that house and had it for many years.  Unfortunately - it had one fatal flaw.  The doorways to get from room to room were only about 4 inches tall.  Dad, Barbies are 12 inches tall.  It remains a mystery to this day why he made those doorways so short.

That's me on the left in blue and my sister, Anne, on the right.  I wonder why we are dressed like Laura and Mary from Little House on the Prairie?  Most kids sleep in floor length flannel gowns trimmed in lace, right?

For Christmas 2011, Brent and I decided to build Emma a Barbie house.  She was just about to turn 5 so it seemed like a perfect time to do it.  Building this dollhouse was easy on the budget, maybe $50 worth of materials, but extremely labor intensive.  It literally took us 2 months to complete.

Let me take you on a little house tour:

For the entire back of the house, we used a piece of plywood cut to size and I painted the entire thing pink.

I made the kids stand next to it so you have a point of reference for it's size.

We'll begin with the master bedroom.  Brent built the bed and wooden dresser.  The mattress is a piece of foam covered in a scrap of an old swaddling blanket and hot clued underneath to keep it tight.  The comforter is another swaddling blanket from Emma's infant days.  I just hemmed up the edges with my sewing machine so it wouldn't fray.  Pillows are made of scrap fabric and stuffed with stuffing.

The walls are wallpapered with scrapbook paper.  That turned out to be a ton more work than I was expecting.  Next time I would just paint them.  It was impossible to match up the seams and now that it's been a few years, the adhesive is beginning to fail so the seams are becoming more noticeable.

The wall art are Christmas ornaments I found at Hobby Lobby.  Don't forget to notice the crown moulding, wainscoting and chair rail!

Looks like these two are getting pretty comfortable!  Should we tell GI Joe that he can take off his combat boots and helmet?  Maybe they're role playing.

The pink shaggy carpet is some sweet fabric I found at the fabric store, cut to size and used spray adhesive to lay it down.  No tack strip or pad needed here!

There is also a little mirror I hung on the wall, you can sort of see it on the right.  Next to the master bedroom is the bathroom.  Looks like we've got a peeping Tom!

Prince Charming is prepping for a shave.  That bathroom countertop is made of real Corian - fancy, huh!  I cut up some towels to make tiny Barbie size towels to put under the vanity.

Here you can see Barbie relaxing in the tub, which is actually a $3 plastic organizer from Bed Bath and Beyond.  Did you know pink Barbie bathtubs you buy in the store are over $20?  That's cray!!  Nice tights, Charming.

The flooring is special linoleum they make just for doll houses.  You may have noticed there is no toilet.  My question to you would be, did you ever have Barbie use the toilet when you were growing up?  Barbie just doesn't do THAT.  

Finishing out the 2nd floor is the bedroom for the baby twins.  Brent made these adorable little cribs and then we made mattresses out of foam and little blankets to go on top.  We used spray paint to finish all of the furniture, there was no way to get a brush in all those nooks and crannies.

Moving to the lower level, we have a living room.  And a Christmas tree, with a monkey hanging off the back.  OWEN!!!!  Miniature gifts used to be under that tree.  Owen thought they were real so he opened them all when no one was looking, he was confused to find a cube of styrofoam inside.

Brent, of course, built the sofa and coffee table.  I happened to have that blue fabric laying around which worked great for the cushions.  It should be noted that when Brent was building all of this furniture, it was important to build it to scale.  So frequently, I would see dolls laying around in his shop that he was using to test furniture sizes with.  To a visitor, that may have looked incredibly awkward.

Prince Charming finally showed up with that drink Rapunzel was waiting for!  If you're me, you looked right past Prince Charming and at those doorway moldings - seriously folks, those look better than most of our real houses!

I wish this coffee table was life size - it's really cute.

Next to the living room is the dining room.  I felt like Brent really outdid himself on this dining room set.  We wanted to build our own furniture because as I could recall from my childhood, plastic Barbie furniture was always so flimsy that it would tip over when you put your Barbie in it.  Plus, it is really expensive and it breaks!

The chandelier is another Christmas ornament and the "rug" is a scrap from some of Owen's bedroom curtains.

And of course we have hardwood floors in the dining room! Looks like it could use a little cleaning.

Through the dining room is the kitchen.  The gathering space of any home.  We've got wood cabinets and real laminate counter tops.  The flooring is linoleum as well.

And finally to the attic.  Those bunk beds will also fit a full size Barbie.  Notice the two skylights on the ceiling.  I know, hard to look at the skylights when you can't see past those little girls' hair - why does doll hair always get so crazy?

The roof suffered some damage from Hurricane Owen in 2012.  Insurance wouldn't cover it so we have yet to get it repaired.

I love that Barbie cars only come in pink.  How do you think these two feel, cruising around in a pink convertible?

I almost forgot - Brent also built a hot tub that actually holds water!  It weighs about 20 lbs though, so I am usually the one that has to lug it outside for the kids to play with.

Would we ever build one of these again?  Heck no!!  Well, maybe we would, if we didn't have to wall paper it.  I also would have figured out a way to put some lighting in it so it wasn't as dark towards the back.  It was way too much work, but we had a good time putting it together and we know Emma loves it.


  1. AMAZING!! Over from YHL. This is a real feat. I love your comments esp about the role playing HILARIOUS. My dad made me a dollhouse that was incredibly ornate, but it took him so long to build that by the time he finished, I was really through playing with dolls. It was a shame, because that thing was incredible. But impractical - it was 3 feet square - like a real house shape with roofs that came off. The against-the-wall-open-front version is SO much better! That dollhouse is in the crawl space of one of our rental houses - I still feel guilty about it and one day my husband is likely to throw it away when I'm not looking because I can't bear to. But where would anyone ever put such a thing!?!!? THREE FEET BY THREE FEET of floor space - gone! Thanks for sharing your lovely dollhouse!!

    1. Haha! That things sounds gigantic!! I understand why you wouldn't want to get rid of it after how much work went into it...

    2. try mini touch lights for lighting from the dollar store. my hubby built a house for our daughter ( and I built an apartment for my dolls LOL) and that's what we have done in ours.

  2. So cute!!! Stopping by from YHL:) just a thought, could you get those mini tap lights for more lighting? Looks wonderful!

    1. We thought about using those mini tap lights but were afraid they wouldn't give off much light. I wish they would have had those LED lights YHL used on Clara's canopy two years ago, that would have been perfect!

  3. I am also here from YHL, and man, this is the funniest post ever. I would have had so much fun posing my Barbies for the photos. The GI Joe and Barbie in bed one had me cracking up. He looks so devilish there!

    Great job on the doll house! I love the pink theme :) When I was little my Grandpa made me (and all of my girl cousins/sister) a "trunk" or storage unit for our American Girl dolls. He modeled them all after the ones that were in the catalog. I had Molly and my trunk was amazing! He also made us a doll house, which was complete with wallpaper, wood floors, shingles on the roof, siding on the outside, and a brick chimney! He spent a lot of time on it!

    Rental Revival

    1. That sounds like an amazing doll house your Grandpa built! I wouldn't have even thought of real shingles. Barbies are surprisingly fun to pose when you are an adult.

  4. Nice Job!! Love your writing as well. My mom made my sister and I a barbie house when we were little, we loved it! my parents still have it. We thought of making one for this christmas for my 3 year old, but I think she is still a little young, and like you said they are A LOT of work if you are building a lot of the furniture etc from scratch.

    1. Thanks Amy! 3 might be a little young - it may be a little too easy to destroy at that age.

  5. Like mother like daughter....u commented that ur gown looked like Laura Ingals Now ur daughter is dressed like Dorothy Hahah

  6. Here from YHL! WOW, this is the coolest ever ha...I never had sisters, but they would've loved this! I am in awe of the detail y'all put into it & all of the hard work!! That little chandelier ornament is genius lol

    I also love your writing are hilarious!:)

  7. This is incredible! super duper cute! My husband built our daughters a dollhouse and it was a lot bigger than I thought....we definitely need more furniture for it. I love the wood furniture your husband built. I don't want to buy the plastic barbie furniture so did your husband use a plan for the furniture or just "eye-balled" it all? what kind of wood did he use? and what size? did he stain it all?
    thanks for sharing this!!! I'm excited to get to work!

    1. Thanks for the comment! My husband did not use any sort of plan, he honestly just pictured what he wanted to be the end result to be, in his head, and started piecing things together. He said his goal was to make the furniture as sturdy as possible. Pine, poplar or birch would work great for this furniture - as all of these take stain or paint really well. We stained ours and then sprayed them with a clear coat. Hope that helps! Heidi

  8. I love this post! You are awesome! I love the house and the furniture. When my oldest daughter was 5 or 6 (she's now 33), she wanted the $300 lighted Barbie Mansion at Toys R Us. I almost fainted. Instead she got a house that started out one box at a time. I made the entire house out of cardboard. I had a blast making it and the furniture. I repurposed more items than I can remember! And our Barbie house had a bathroom and a toilet! The toilet was made from a yougurt container. I am laughing so hard remembering! Thank you for sharing your Barbie house! I sure did need this laughter! Thanks again! Hope you and your family had a great Thanksgiving!