Editor’s blog: The Dollhouse Makeover (Part 2)

Making over a dollhouse for my daughter and sharing my stories along the way!

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Piecing a Dollhouse Makeover Together

November 1, 2018, was the day I told my husband I was finally going to complete the needs-fixing dollhouse I had bought for Genevieve four years ago—in time for Christmas. I remember the date well, because when he responded, “There’s no way!” I responded by going to Amazon that same day to order a few ready-made things. Not only did I need to speed things up to prove him wrong, but there were a few things I really wanted that I didn’t have the expertise to make. (You’ll recall from my first post that I didn’t want this to cost a fortune so I was DIYing most of the furniture.)

Scale Missteps

In my excitement, I forgot to pay attention to scale. I just kept hitting that Click to Buy link. I ordered a pink ghost chair (sorry, looks like I got the last one…), a white shelving unit, a collection of glass canisters and several pieces of tiny pottery. Coming from China, they weren’t part of the two-day shipping perk, but I had given myself plenty of time so I wasn’t worried. On the day they arrived, the minute Genevieve went to bed, I tore open the packages. What was I thinking? The pink ghost chair was nearly 10 inches tall (the ceilings in the dollhouse are less than a foot high), and the bookshelf totally covered the windows. I hadn’t paid much—$3 for the chair and $10 for the bookshelf—so it wasn’t worth the hassle of returning them to China. But the mistake definitely made me slow down, assess my needs and shop accordingly.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

First, I figured out the scale I was working with. I visited several dollhouse forums online and came to the conclusion I had a 1:12-scale dollhouse. That helped but didn’t always mean furnishings would be perfect. For example, the shelving unit was the right scale but just didn’t fit correctly in any of the rooms. I ended up cutting the bookshelf down with my favorite tool. I destroyed two of the four rows in the process, but two were left in perfect condition and worked well in the upstairs nursery and the main living space downstairs.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Tiny Furnishings

Second, for the remainder of the furnishings, I took inventory of what I already had—I purchased the brass modernist dining table and chairs on Etsy in July 2016 (the first time I thought I was going to redo the dollhouse) and a sink, toilet and tub came with the house.

Then, I shopped. I decided to buy three dressers (from eBay and the craft store), a refrigerator, a range and a crib because I was not confident that I could make any of those items. On Thanksgiving night, my mom and I ventured out to Michaels to take advantage of 30-percent off my entire purchase.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

DIY Spree

I bought everything I thought I would need to make furnishings and decorate—wooden beads, disks and blocks; balsa wood; faux greens; sisal trees; charms; wire; dowels; foamboard; clay; buttons; tile and paint (way more than I needed or used, by the way). We hit Hobby Lobby the following day to get fabric and scrapbooking paper.

Next, I went room by room filling in the missing pieces. In the nursery, I used balsa wood pieces, wood disks and wood blocks to make a table and stools; I fashioned a teepee from thin wood sticks and fabric leftover from Genevieve’s first birthday party; and made a mattress out of batting I had and new fabric I bought.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Found Objects

I made all of the rugs throughout the house by cutting one throw rug I bought at IKEA, like 10 years ago (thinking I was going to make a pillow out of it but never did). I painted some of the rug’s navy and light-blue stripes to better complement various palettes in different rooms.

I built beds and the sofas from pieces of balsa wood, batting and fabric, and cut pieces of wood to create legs. I made cushions by gluing fabric around pieces of batting. Spools of thread became side tables in the bedrooms.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweekA broken dresser I bought became the vanity in the bathroom (I turned one of the drawers into the sink); and extra pieces of balsa wood created a countertop and floating shelf in the kitchen.

Inspired by the Greats

From there, it was all about the details. I printed pictures from some of my favorite artists, including Gray Malin, local Jennifer McHugh and Matthew Allen and hung them on the walls using thin wood pieces to frame them.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

Unlikely Repurposes

I repurposed wood beads to make lamp bases and vases. Scrapbooking paper was rolled to make lampshades. Straws were cut, glued to wood pieces and spray-painted gold to make sconces in the bathroom. Toothpicks were pasted to a mirrored disk to create an accent mirror in the master bedroom. And each space received a one-of-a-kind chandelier. In one bedroom, I used a Styrofoam ball to mimic a modern globe; in another, I used gold berries to make a midcentury-modern lookalike. I did a drum-style pendant in the kitchen and strung wire with tiny white beads to make something a little more elaborate for the living room.

Finally, I made some last-minute purchases: these books, these doughnuts, these copper pots, and my co-worker and friend Emily, the art director here, bought a trio of the cutest succulents ever for the house.

Dollhouse makeover #secretlivesweek

All photography by Wendy Generes.

I was thrilled with the completed project—and with the look of surprise on my husband’s face when he saw the makeover had been done on schedule. “I knew you could do it,” he said. Hmmph.


It’s #SecretLivesWeek at SDH/GL. We want to hear about your secret life! Do you have a side gig? A surprising talent? A superhero alter ego? We’re going to feature stories of some amazing secret lives—plus tips and tricks for managing all the extra to-do lists!—all week long. We want to see yours too; tag #SecretLivesWeek and we will add your pics to the mix!

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