I want to rebuild my grandparents' house... in miniature
April 26, 2014 8:02 AM   Subscribe

I have a deeply nostalgic love for my grandparents' former home, a generic but beloved split level they lived in from the 1950s to mid 2000s. As an artist and crafter with an obsessive love for details, I have long noodled with the idea of making an incredibly accurate recreation of the house in miniature... but I struggle with where to start. Architectural models, dollhouses? What is the best route forward?

My background is painting, illustration, some technical drawing, and a great deal of graphic design. I feel confident that I can recreate things like wallpaper, miniature paintings, bedspreads, etc. and to an extent, furniture. I have spent time on model train and dollhouse supply sites and have purchased some books on miniatures and model-making. I feel somewhat confident with wood-carving and polymer clay modeling. What I'm really stuck with is the actual structure of the house. All I have at this point is a floor plan drawn out from memory, and aided by photos.

Architectural models? It looks like they are generally constructed with foam core, but is that sturdy enough for a long-term project that may (eventually) include electrical wiring, siding, roofing, etc.? As for the dollhouse route, I can't seem to find a book that serves as a primer for actually building the structure... just lots of books on furnishing and decorating old Victorian looking houses.

So there seems to be a LOT of info and different communities (miniatures, dollhouses, trains, architecture) related to what I'm trying to do. I'm just struggling with how to educate myself in the most relevant, productive manner and not go down the wrong rabbit hole. I'm a stay at home mom with a toddler, forthcoming baby, and three older stepsons... so free time is at a premium!
posted by allisonrae to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered styrene? Check out Plastruct, for instance.
posted by pheide at 8:38 AM on April 26, 2014

My Dad made scale-model replicas of the houses of his nieces back in 1982 or so, and he used plywood for the (I'm not a builder, so I don't know the terms) shell? Box? Whatever it was that the rooms of the house were made of. He cut the windows and doors out with a jigsaw, and the back of the houses were entirely open.

For wallpaper and flooring, he actually used samples of the stuff that was in their houses, which threw off the scale entirely, but it was fun. I'm sure you'll be able to replicate it better.

These were dollhouses meant to accommodate Barbie-sized dolls, so I don't know if that's too big for you.
posted by xingcat at 8:46 AM on April 26, 2014

Best answer: My grandfather did this - he made a dollhouse. It was amazing as a kid to be able to play with the dollhouse and then go to my grandparents house and... be in the same place that my dolls had been just minutes ago. It had electrical wiring and real wallpaper that was from their actual walls.

I actually think that your best bet will be your local public library. In the craft section (740's; books about making dollhouses and miniatures should be shelved under 745.592) you should find at least a few books from the 1970s and 1980s about building dollhouses. You may even be able to scan your public library catalog for that classification number before you so that you can browse the titles they have virtually before heading over there.

This book is not the one my grandfather used, but it looks really helpful - it's a generic split-level and might be a good jumping off point.
posted by sockermom at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

I only have experience with architectural models, and I'd say that you don't want to go that route. Foam core is used more often for "massing" models, chipboard for more detailed models, but neither would lend itself to the kind of decorating I think you're picturing. I think researching dollhouses is the way to go.
posted by Kriesa at 9:24 AM on April 26, 2014

I've been toying with the idea of making an HO scale model of my own house. I think what you use depends on the scale you're going for. If you're doing HO, then Evergreen Plastic's styrene sheets would work. Evergreen makes a basic "how to" book. Most hobby shops have an Evergreen display or you can order it on-line.

If you're looking to build it a bit larger than I would use hobby-scale plywood. Craft stores like Michael has a display with various thicknesses of plywood sheets. Or you could maybe go to Home Depot and get an 8x4 sheet of 1/4 inch to save money. You'll need some way of cutting it though.
posted by bondcliff at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2014

Download The Sims, go to town. Or some other "digital dollhouse" type software. It's more forgiving of mistakes.
posted by quincunx at 11:44 AM on April 26, 2014

Yeah I was going to say The Sims as well - I recreated my grandparents house on there (and the house from Malcolm in the Middle). If anything it's a good way to figure out all the details and get a good visual before making it irl.
posted by littlesq at 12:00 PM on April 26, 2014

One option might be modifying a standard dollhouse by building additions, altering the porches, etc. A couple of sites to look at:

Real Good Toys: Very sturdy houses in MDF or plywood, really good for beginners (speaking from experience).

Mott's: Lots of different options, including prebuilt but unfinished. If you've not worked on a house before, I'd avoid the lower-end models like Greenleaf or Corona, as they're actually more difficult to build than pricier kits like RGTs (parts often need to be punched out, much thinner wood with a tendency to crack/split, etc.).
posted by thomas j wise at 12:41 PM on April 26, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the great ideas, everyone! I don't know why it never occurred to me to head to the library... I'm somewhat ashamed to say I've grown accustomed to all information being at the tip of my google-ready little fingertips.

I also really liked the idea of trying to build their house in The Sims first as a way of 3D-ifying my initial drawings and tweaking them as needed. I don't have much experience with actual 3D software so that could be another good place to start visualizing.

Thanks again! One of these days, after a little more reading and experimenting, I'll finally commence construction!
posted by allisonrae at 12:59 PM on April 30, 2014

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