Thursday, January 18

Displaying Your Dollhouse

The most important thing you need to be aware of, before buying your dollhouse, is its assembled size. Many dollhouses have been assembled in basements and have remained there because they are too big. Some have had to be given away because of the need for a large display area. You must find an adequate location to display your dollhouse, far enough from windows and heavy traffic.

You also have to keep in mind the viewing of its interior. Most of us do not have large enough display areas to be able to walk around the dollhouse, for viewing from all sides. This means that rotating and/or moving a dollhouse for viewing, will require more display space. Most manufacturers will have the assembled dimensions, for each of their dollhouse models, listed on their websites.

Display Tables
Front Opening Display
Where To Display
Back Covers And Display Cases

Display Tables

Turntable displays for your dollhouse can be expensive, but also a good investment, if you plan on only having one dollhouse. A drawback to turntables is that your dollhouse may collide with neighboring objects while being rotated. For this reason, they must be kept in a spacious area to do their job as intended.

You can display your dollhouse right on your chosen table or add a base underneath it for landscaping or garden furniture.

You can buy a separate rotating table top, which can accommodate your desired landscaping and miniatures.

You can also buy an inexpensive, metal turntable, to hold your dollhouse, wherever you position it. These metal turntables were intended to be used during assembly, but they will work fine for a fully assembled dollhouse. If you decide to use it to display your dollhouse, you may want to add a sheet of felt underneath the turntable, so you do not damage your furniture.

The ideal is to have your dollhouse easily visible from any angle in the room you are in. Positioning your dollhouse in a corner of a room, often works well.

If you have power tools and some woodworking skills, you can make your own display table, though not a practical feat for most people.

Wheeled carts display dollhouses conveniently well. Plus, they are inexpensive, provide good mobility and can save space. These carts were intended to be used for computers or printers and are made of particleboard. For this reason, they work very well for lightweight, tab and slot dollhouses but might not for larger, cabinet grade/MDF models. Check the weight limit of your cart before you purchase it, in order to make sure it can work for your dollhouse model.

Remember that tables for dye-cut dollhouses are very easy to find because these dollhouses are very lightweight. Stands for heavier cabinet grade/MDF dollhouses are harder to find. Those tables must withstand the weight and size of these heavy dollhouses to avoid collapse, resulting in possible injury or death.

If the wheeled cart has an extra bottom shelf, you can also display a smaller dollhouse underneath. This saves space.

If you have a large enough furniture piece at home, that can be used, and you don't want to be bothered with a landscaping base, you might want to add stick-on, glider, felt pads to the bottom of your dollhouse to prevent scratches to your furniture. If your dollhouse has a front-opening panel, you may want to buy furniture glider tacs that are hammered to the base of your dollhouse. They will prevent scratches to furniture while opening front panels.

Some dollhouses are small enough to be displayed on folding, wooden tray tables, even when fully furnished. These tables can be easily rotated by the legs for viewing of the dollhouse, without touching the dollhouse itself.

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Front Opening Display

This type of display method is not recommended for use on a child's playhouse.

If you have a front opening dollhouse, you can create your own display table by adding legs to it.

Wooden, unfinished furniture legs can be found in the lumber department of hardware stores. They come in a variety of styles.

You will want the legs to be no less than 20" long but no more than 28". That way the dollhouse will sit at a comfortable height and can be viewed easily when you sit in front of it.

You also need a plywood sheet of the same size as the first floor of your dollhouse. Most hardware stores will cut wooden sheets for you, to your specified measurements.

This plywood sheet must be 2/8" to 3/8" thick. No less or more than that.

Lastly, you will need 3" nails.

If the furniture legs have screws, staples or other hardware on them, you can easily pull these off with pliers.

Add wood glue to the top of the furniture legs and place them at all four corners of the wooden sheet. You might need extra hands for help doing this.

Then nail in four nails to the legs, through the wooden sheet. Be careful to center the nails well so they do not accidentally go through the sides of the legs.

Now you have a display table for your dollhouse to sit on but it needs to be sturdied with wooden supports between the legs.

You can use wooden square or round dowels to fit between the legs, for this added support. They also sell fancy spindles, used for dollhouse porches, for a more detail look. Glue these on and then use masking tape to clamp the legs together until the glue dries.

Laminate the first floor of the dollhouse to the top of the wooden sheet, which is now a base for your dollhouse to sit on.

Use wood glue and binder clips to clamp the first floor flush to the wooden sheet.

Paint the legs to match your dollhouse.

Adding furniture gliders to the bottom of the legs makes it easier to slide the dollhouse on the floor, the same as with furniture.

Wall Anchors
Remember that long, thin legs will be supporting a larger top, that is incredibly lightweight, so the possibility of the dollhouse tipping over is always present. Once the dollhouse is filled with heavy furniture, this possibility greatly increases, especially when trying to open the front panel of the dollhouse.

So, whatever the method used to install this type of display or the amount of supports you add to the legs, you must always use a no-tip, wall anchor in order to brace the dollhouse to whatever wall you plan to display it on. This is especially true, if the dollhouse will be around children.

Wall anchors are very easy to add to a dollhouse and are sold at hardware stores. There are several types to choose from.

Add the anchor to the top edge of the dollhouse, where several parts have been laminated, making the wood in this area thick and able to hold the wall anchor. The wall side of the anchor, should be screwed into a wall stud.

Always open the front panel by holding the main body of the dollhouse with one hand and pulling the panel open with the other. The dollhouse is not strong enough for the panel to be pulled opened without supporting its main body and it will tip over, if a wall anchor is not being used.

Keep In Mind
This type of display method works very well for light weight, tab and slot dollhouses but may not work as well for heavier, cabinet grade dollhouses. Even though the legs have support, with the dowels placed between them, they are not meant to carry heavy weight and will always be somewhat wobbly.

For this reason, I do not recommend this type of dislay for cabinet grade dollhouse models. If you are handy at making furniture, you might want to use braces or other add ons to this display, in order for it to support heavier, cabinet grade dollhouses.
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Where To Display

Dollhouses should always be kept indoors because attics, basements, garages, and the hot, moist outdoors are not good places to store a completed dollhouse. UV radiation and damp drafts from windows can damage your dollhouse and its finishes. Wooden dollhouses are very sensitive to temperature changes and humidity levels. If the wood is affected by humidity levels and exposure, the glue loses its effectiveness, causing your dollhouse to fall apart.

Dollhouses that can be displayed in outdoor patios or verandas, have to be sealed and this will affect the types of finishes you can use on them. It also affects the assembly process and materials needed. Unless you're an experienced builder, it is best to display your dollhouse indoors.

Build your dollhouse when you have adequate space for it. If you're moving and have to store your dollhouse temporarily, make sure it’s a temperature controlled storage facility, to prevent warping and damage to finishes.

Even though your dollhouse is made of wood, it's not generally susceptible to termites because it's not ideal food. The plywood of your dollhouse is very thin and has a lot of chemicals like stain, glue and wallpaper paste, after assembly. Keep a clean environment to protect from other pests that can cause damage.
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Back Covers And Display Cases

This is a topic that is often talked about and hotly debated. What works for one person, may not work for another. Below is detailed information on several available options, so you can make the right decision for your dollhouse display.

Back Covers
So that your finished product looks more professionally done, I will be discussing clear, acrylic back covers in this section.

You would think it's a pretty straight forward option for a dollhouse but installing a clear, back cover, to keep dust out and miniatures in, is not as easy as it sounds. This is especially true for larger models like the Beacon Hill Dollhouse or L-shaped dollhouses, like the Garfield Dollhouse.

First, be aware, that if you would like to have a back cover for your dollhouse, you must make that decision before assembly. Because of the unique measurements and architectural details of tab and slot dollhouses, it is very rare for them to have perfectly square and even backs. You will, more than likely, have to modify certain features in the back of your dollhouse, in order for a back cover to fit properly and this can only be done during assembly, not afterwards. Each dollhouse is different, so there is no "one size fits all" option to a back cover.

As you can see in these pictures, the back cover on this Beacon Hill Dollhouse is nearly invisible and can only be seen because of the glare coming from a window.

    Finding A Back Cover:
  • The best back cover, that will give the most protection, is aesthetically pleasing and will look professional, is a clear acrylic sheet. The problem is that they are extremely difficult to find. The only place you will find them is at a hardware store, in the windows and doors section.
  • These sheets are large and they will need to be cut to the size of your dollhouse. Unfortunately, they do not have them thin enough to cut with scissors or a craft knife. The thinnest one they have still requires professional cutting, preferably with a tool designed for cutting acrylic.
  • Depending on the hardware store you go to, the cutting service may or may not be available. I recommend you call the store first to find out if they cut acrylic before you commit to purchasing an expensive acrylic sheet. Buy your acrylic from a store that is willing to cut it, unless you can find another option for cutting your acrylic sheet elsewhere.
    Fitting The Back Cover:
  • Tab and slot dollhouses have special measurements and architectural designs that cause angles and curves around their open backs. You will not have a perfectly square opening to fit your acrylic on. In the Beacon Hill Dollhouse, you can see the sides of the mansard roof are curved at the top, not square.
  • You will not be able to get angled or curved cuts done to your acrylic at the hardware store. They will only cut your acrylic piece in straight cuts. This means that the square sheet protrudes from the corners of the mansard roof of this Beacon Hill Dollhouse, shown circled in the photo below. Because the sheet is completely clear, you do not see this when viewing the dollhouse from the front.
  • I installed a completely custom back edge trim, to this Beacon Hill Dollhouse, so that the sheet would sit on a flat and even surface. No other modifications were needed, but other dollhouses might need much more modification, so the acrylic sheet fits properly.
  • Remember that acrylic sheets are heavy, even if you choose the thinnest one. Rest the bottom edge on the base your dollhouse sits on, so the weight is not carried by your dollhouse. These are tab and slot, glue only, 1/8"th plywood dollhouses. They are not designed to carry large amounts of weight.

For the Beacon Hill Dollhouse I installed L channels along the top, right side and bottom foundation.

These channels will act as rails for the acrylic sheet to sit and slide on. Because I had created custom back edge trim, all of the L channels line up. This is why it is very important to keep your acrylic back cover in mind as you assemble the dollhouse. If the back edge trim is not an even thickness on all sides of the dollhouse, your L channels will not line up correctly and the acrylic sheet's edge will not sit inside all three channels, for a flat and even fit.

You can purchase miniature L or C channel trim from your miniatures dealer, but I created my own L channels from strip wood, from the craft store. I chose basswood for these channels, rather than the softer balsa wood I usually use. I painted them to match the dollhouses back edge they would be glued to.

The L channels do not have to meet at the corners. In fact, they most likely will not because of the architectural features of the dollhouse. All they have to do is meet evenly, on all sides, so the sheet is not warped or stressed when slid in place. The side and top channels hold the acrylic sheet in place.

Notice that the bottom L channel, pictured above, is placed on the bottom edge of the dollhouses foundation, resting on the display base. Like I mentioned before, the acrylic sheets are heavy and should not be held by your dollhouse. Always rest the bottom edge on the display base. The function of this particular L channel is not to carry the sheets weight but rather to just hide the sheets bottom edge for aesthetic reasons. It also acts as a rail, so that the sheet can be slid, evenly and without falling over.

Do not move your dollhouse with the acrylic sheet in place. Remove it first and then move and/or store your dollhouse. If you add a little beeswax along the bottom edge of your sheet, it will slide much more smoothly along the bottom channel. If beeswax is not available, you can use a little Ivory soap or clear lip balm.

Now the acrylic sheet can be slid to the left side and removed when I need to access the interior of the dollhouse. Once your miniatures are in place, you will rarely need to access the interior. Everything can be viewed perfectly because the sheet is clear. With the sheet in place, nothing can go in and nothing can fall out. This is great for dollhouse displays that are around pets or children. This is also useful if you have very expensive miniature displays but still want to show your decorated dollhouse to various visitors. The sheet keeps hands out and expensive items in.

Depending on the size of your dollhouse model, you can add your channels for the acrylic sheet to slide sideways or slide upwards, for removal. It all depends on what would be easier to do. Back covers for larger, taller dollhouse models, should slide sideways as they would be too heavy to slide upwards for removal.

Below is the photo of a Willowcrest Dollhouse with a back cover that slides upwards, rather than sideways. This dollhouse is small enough for the cover to be slid upwards, easily. The dollhouse would have also required more modifications of the cornice trim, in order to allow the sideways removal of the sheet. As you can see, the acrylic sheet sits between the two back cornice trims. You can barely make out the top edge of the acrylic sheet, along the top of the mansard roof line.

The clear, acrylic sheet is nearly invisible, until you notice the window glare in the sideways photo.

Notice how I applied the L channels, which act as rails, along both sides and bottom foundation of the dollhouse. The bottom channel also sits on the landscaped base, like on the Beacon Hill Dollhouse, to prevent the dollhouse from carrying any weight.

Custom back trim had to be used for this dollhouse, just like on the Beacon Hill Dollhouse, in order to allow for the back cover to lay flat and even. You can see a perfect example of how the channels do not meet at the bottom corners, circled below. The sheet is so clear, you can hardly see the exposed edge.

This dollhouse had to be modified, at the cornice trim line as I mentioned above, under the mansard roof, in order to accommodate the back cover, circled in the photo below. The cornice trim had to be trimmed back, about one inch on each side, so that the back cover can fit in between and reach the top, covering the attic room.

So, as I've stated above, the modifications that have to be made will always differ, depending on the dollhouse model. Careful planning ahead is needed to not encounter issues down the line.

Creating channels for your acrylic sheet to sit in, is the ideal scenario. Even though you will have to plan ahead and modify your assembly to accommodate this feature, it is well worth the extra work. It gives your dollhouse a nice finished look, as if the acrylic sheet is part of the kit itself. It keeps your miniatures clean and safe.

Avoid using Velcro to hold your acrylic sheet with. Velcro does not provide a strong hold to keep these heavy sheets in place and it is not aesthetically pleasing to look at, even if you find clear Velcro. Velcro is also difficult to work with. Though it does not provide a strong hold on the adhesive side, it sticks to itself very well, making it difficult to remove the sheet from your dollhouse. This will cause the dollhouse to move and miniatures to fall over when you try to remove the sheet. Below is a list of covers that are not recommended.
  • Fabric: You can use it if you want to but it will not give you the finish you might be looking for. Not only does it provide zero protection from pets or children reaching inside, it can actually become a magnet for pets that will want to hide inside or pull the fabric off to play. Hanging fabric on the back of a dollhouse, using Velcro, is not very aesthetically pleasing. You will have to continually move the fabric out of the way to view the dollhouses interior and if curtains become dusty, you can imagine the dust on your fabric.
  • Clear, vinyl plastic: Like curtains, draped objects on the back of a dollhouse is just not a good look.
    You might be able to stretch the clear vinyl, using clear Velcro dots, at each corner of the dollhouse, so it's nice and flat, but from what I described above about Velcro, I don't believe they will hold under the pressure. You will have loose plastic at each corner often and this does not make for good dust protection. Clear vinyl covers are also not clear enough, so you might have to remove it for viewing details.
  • Poster Frame Covers: They sound like the "problem solved" option but they, unfortunately, aren't. They just aren't large enough for larger dollhouse models. The largest one they have is still not large enough and if you try to find them larger, like at a specialty home store, they can go up in price significantly. They will end up costing more than the acrylic sheet.

    These poster frame covers are clear when against a poster but once they are moved further away from an object, they tend to lose their clarity, so you might have to remove them for proper dollhouse viewing. They are also easily scratched, so do not expect for them to be long lasting.

    Bottom line, poster frame covers should not be removed from your options list but should be used only as the last option. They might work well for smaller, half scale and quarter scale dollhouses, but not for larger dollhouse displays.
The only other option for a back cover would be clear acetate sheets, similar to the window sheets that came in the dollhouse kit but thicker and more flexible. I have seen these sheets as scrapbook paper and even though they are easily scratched, they would make fantastic dollhouse back covers. They are lightweight, completely clear and easily cut with scissors, so architectural angles could be created with precision.

Unfortunately, they are very hard to find and I have never come across any. If you look hard enough, you might be able to find online retail vendors for a product like this but they might only want to sell them in bulk.

Display Cases
If you have a smaller dollhouse, (e.g., half scale, quarter scale or smaller) you can protect it by placing it in a display case. Display cases, are very difficult to find and they can also be very expensive, depending on the size or shape you are looking for. Using a display case for smaller scales is ideal, because the smaller your dollhouse is, the more difficult it is to install a back cover. Especially for an L-shaped dollhouse like the Fairfield Dollhouse.

Display cases can be made of clear plexiglass, plastic, acrylic or real glass. They can come in a simple rectangular shape, as pictured above, to elaborate shelving units that house multiple items for displaying together. Some have lighting already pre-wired into them. They can be ready-made or you can even have your own custom case made just for you.

When shopping for a display case, keep an open mind. All your basically looking for, is a clear box you can put something inside of. It doesn't necessarily have to be labeled as a "display case" to work. Aquariums, for instance, come in many different sizes and shapes. They are usually inexpensive, if they aren't too large, and you can easily flip them and place them over a half scale dollhouse, enclosing it completely inside.

I have several quarter scale, dollhouse displays and I used Critter Keepers as display cases.

Critter Keepers can be found at most pet stores and come in a variety of sizes. Some pet stores will carry the much larger models but others don't, so shop around. They are made of clear plastic, are lightweight and are relatively inexpensive compared, to an acrylic display case.

To make the Critter Keeper into the display cases pictured above, takes minimal effort. First, you have to measure your dollhouse so you can purchase the right size Critter Keeper.

I tossed away the Critter Keeper lid. I then created a dollhouse base out of foam core, using the Critter Keeper as the size template. I landscaped the base and placed the dollhouse on top of it. I then applied Velcro dots along the four corners, of both the base and the Critter Keeper. I then placed the Critter Keeper over the dollhouse, lining up the Velcro dots. This creates an instant, inexpensive display case.

The dollhouse can be viewed, from all angles, without the need to remove the case. This is especially convenient at this small scale, where miniatures can be lost very easily. Another good thing about these kinds of display cases, is that your landscaping is as protected as your dollhouse and its miniatures.

Lastly, if front opening dollhouses have panels, then why not create a back opening panel? All you need is plywood and hinges, right? If your dollhouse model is completely, 100% square on its backside, this might be an option but dollhouses are usually not. Installing a hinged back panel will require plenty of planning ahead, work and power tools. If you're handy, you might be able to pull this one off.

Just remember, that large, plywood panels are heavy and tab and slot dollhouses were not meant to carry heavy weight. Choose plywood that is the same thickness as your kit and avoid warping by finishing the panel on both sides, at the same time. Also, keep in mind that swinging open a large back panel, will require additional display space.
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If you have a dollhouse on display, provide maintenance and attention to increase its longevity. Usual wear and tear is remediated with tacky glue.

Your dollhouse will collect dust. Cleaning will be tedious but necessary. The best way to dust your dollhouse is using a soft bristled make-up brush. Use it only for cleaning your dollhouse because miniatures are delicate and can react to chemicals or powders. Do not use life-size dusters because they can snag and damage your dollhouse. The make-up brush will even dust off your landscaping wonderfully.

When you decorate your dollhouse, attach all of your miniatures to furniture using a repositionable adhesive. This is going to make your life easier when you dust. Since everything is attached to furniture, you just remove the entire furniture piece, with everything attached on it, and dust with the brush. This will prevent very small items from falling and getting lost. Once the furniture is out and the room is empty, you can dust the window treatments and flooring. Shake off dust from miniature area rugs.

Miniature shops sometimes sell a very small micro vacuum cleaner to dust off dollhouses. Micro vacuums they sell for delicate electronic equipment, also work for dollhouses. A dust blower for electronics will work just as good as a vacuum for removing dust.

A soft bristled cleaning brush works best for dusting shingles.
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When built correctly and given the right maintenance, your dollhouse can last a long time. Whether it's made from 1/8th" or 3/8th" plywood, the secret to a long life span is how the dollhouse was assembled and how it was treated afterwards.

There are dollhouses that were built in the 1700's and are still on display with only minimal restoration. Back then, the materials used to build a dollhouse were all homemade and natural. Imagine the advantage we have now with stronger and longer lasting, synthetic adhesives and materials. A well built and cared for dollhouse can truly become a family heirloom.
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Anonymous said...

What does your cute kitty think of all your houses? Does she get into them?

Gina said...

Thankfully, my kitty is 13 years old and out grown interest in objects that do not move. She only likes interactive play. My houses are against the wall as well so she has no ability of getting around to the open backs. If she would have been a playful baby though, I can only imagine what my houses would look like....:)

Kathi said...

Thank you for this post. I "somehow" now have four almost finished dollhouses plus three kits to build! I like your ideas for displaying them. I have four folding "TV" tables that I don't use. Found them for a dollar each at a yard sale. :D Now I just need to figure out where to put them AND my dollhouses! Great post!

Anonymous said...

Where can you buy the metal turntable to make your own display table?

Gina said...

You can find it at HBS:

Amanda Davey said...

What about putting acrylic on the back of the house ? I've been considering doing it with small magnets in the corners.

Gina said...

If your dollhouse is pretty square and flat on the back, it is easy to put an acrylic panel so that the contents are protected and dust does not collect as heavily. You can have the acrylic panel cut for you at the hardware store. You can use velcro or magnets to hold it in place but my favorite method, which I have seen used on the Greenleaf Forum is actually glue a C channel trim around any three of the back edges of your dollhouse and slide your acrylic pain into it. That makes the panel easily removed when needed. The C channel trim can be painted to match your dollhouse.

Anonymous said...

love this site, thankyou for the input, im new to dollhouse collecting and bought the Paintedlady dollhouse and I love it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your information-there are some great suggestions. It is so true that you should have a permanent location for your dollhouse defined before purchasing! We have a beautiful dollhouse that has lived in three different locations in our home. We would never get rid of it since my parents and I built it for my daughter.


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