Tab And Slot Dollhouse Kits
Glue And Nail Dollhouse Kits
Non-Kit Custom Dollhouses
Purchasing A Dollhouse
Lets begin by discussing the most popular way of owning a dollhouse: buying a dollhouse kit that you assemble yourself. Though there are many different styles of dollhouses, they come in basically two types of construction. Tab and slot, also known as dye-cut dollhouses, or glue and nails, which use cabinet-grade plywood or MDF (medium density fiberboard).
Tab And Slot Dollhouse Kits (1/8th" Plywood)
These kits are also referred to as dye-cut, budget or punch-out plywood dollhouse kits. Some manufacturers of these dollhouse kits are Greenleaf Dollhouses and Corona Concepts Dollhouses. Both are the same company but under different names.
A lot of miniaturists have a negative view about these types of dollhouses because of their complexity and modification difficulty. These dollhouses can be very detailed and intricate, making them harder to build. These dollhouses are true to scale and look more like miniature model houses than dollhouses.
Tab and slot dollhouse kits consist of punch-out pieces that come in 1/8th" thick plywood sheets. This construction only requires glue. Every single part of the dollhouse is in these plywood sheets. Since they come in flat sheets of plywood, they are completely two dimensional and the building process transforms them into three dimensional objects, once finished. This requires a lot of laminating of wood parts to achieve rich layers and proper thickness.
- These dollhouses are replicas of real houses. They have realistic and authentic architectural features like curved mansard roofs, bay windows, winding staircases and dormers.
- These dollhouses have twists and turns in their interiors that resemble the true floor-plan complexities of a real house.
- The end product is very lightweight.
- They can be assembled by one person, using only glue. No nails are required.
- All of the trim is cut to size, so no cutting is required.
- Because of the thin plywood, cutting parts for kit modification will not be difficult.
- These kits are inexpensive. The most elaborate ones will cost you a few hundred dollars; sometimes even less if they are on sale.
- They include silk screened, acetate window glass.
- These kits bring all the components needed to complete your dollhouse (e.g., windows and doors). Many times they will even bring built-ins, fireplaces, chimneys, shop signs and furniture. Some kits even bring a yard complete with a picket fence.
- Some of these kits have siding and shingles included.
- These dollhouses are very forgiving and repairs of damaged and/or broken pieces can be done easily.
- The plywood sheets are made of a variety of wood grains and hues and sometimes can warp, crumble and/or delaminate. This gives the impression that the wood is "bad quality" when this is simply not the case. Age and improper storage of the kit are the causes for dry rotting of the wood.
- These are not "QuickBuild" dollhouse kits. There are no pre-finished, pre-assembled and/or working components in them. The windows, staircases and doors all have to be assembled piece by piece. Windows and doors have to be hinged or otherwise modified in order for them to work. You have to paint each part before assembly because it will be very difficult to paint afterwards.
- These dollhouses do not bring pre-milled sided walls. You must apply each siding piece one by one.
- Paint and glue is absorbed quickly into the thinner wood, swelling the parts and causing tabs to not fit into slots correctly. You may have to use quite a bit of force to achieve a proper fit. Sometimes the pieces fit too loosely and gaps will have to be filled.
- The punch-out has to be done very carefully because parts can break. All edges will require sanding.
- You cannot modify the construction of these dollhouses with ready-made components. It’s much harder to find components for them because of their unique measurements. Kit modification is best left to experienced builders, since most of it will have to be done from scratch.
- Since the windows have such unique shapes, you might have to create custom window treatments to get the right outcome.
- These dollhouses tend to have many inaccessible areas in their interiors, so you must plan ahead for the proper application of finishes. It's best to see how the dollhouse fits together in the overall scheme of construction, so you can decide if you should apply finishes, to a certain section, before or after assembly. This can be confusing and time consuming, but it’s the best way to proceed to avoid a visible, yet inaccessible, unfinished space.
- Hinging of doors can be very difficult because of the extra laminated parts to create depth and detail.
- You have to be careful with these dollhouses and place them in areas where they won't be disturbed or possibly damaged. Little hands are not welcome in these types of dollhouses unless you buy the less elaborate cottages or leave detailed trim off.
- Because of their realistic architectural details, like bay windows, dormers and sloping attic walls, they have limited interior space, making placement of furniture more challenging.
Greenleaf Dollhouses and Corona Concepts Dollhouses is the leading manufacturer of tab and slot dollhouses. The kits are made in the U.S.A, with the company located in New York.
The dollhouses that this company can produce out of 1/8th" plywood is amazing. This company has put out quite an astonishing series of extremely detailed miniature mansions with replicated, realistic architecture. Each dollhouse is in perfect scale, with incredible details that you just cannot get anywhere else. They are just like the real thing, but small enough to sit on a table.
This company produces kits with great attention to detail. Some models have fold out attic staircases, closets, fireplaces that are linked to hollow realistic chimneys, incredible winding staircases and those unbelievable wrap around porches. Some feature lift off roofs and turrets for easier access to their interiors.
They are also the only company that offers several, L-shaped, dollhouse models. The L-shape gives the dollhouse incredible realism, both on its exterior features and interior floor plan.
Upgrading and Additions
Greenleaf Dollhouses has made some kits that can be upgraded with the Houseworks line of components because the measurements are the same. There was a time when they offered working window and door upgrades to some of their dollhouse models, but this is no longer available. You might still be able to find these kits on online auction sites.
Recently, Greenleaf Dollhouses has added many optional, laser cut, dollhouse components and additions that work well with their models. They have also re-released many popular, discontinued kits from their dollhouse line, in laser cut.
The company has two hinged, front opening, dollhouse models, one model that can be hung on the wall and a half scale dollhouse line. There is also one limited edition dollhouse model.
This company also offers many specialty and web store exclusive kits, accessories and furniture.
The shingles, siding and flooring, that they offer for purchase on their web store, are specially designed to work perfectly with tab and slot dollhouse kits.
Assembly Process and Instructions
The construction of their dollhouses has improved significantly, with simpler to follow steps and additions that make the process easier, e.g., composite mansard roofs instead of plywood ones, so the slope is much easier to achieve.
Most instructions have been updated with lots of real photographs, easy to read steps, great finishing suggestions and fully illustrated schematics, so you know what each and every piece is, even if it falls off the sheet.
Greenleaf Dollhouses has fantastic customer service. You can buy your kit with confidence. If a piece is missing or damaged in your dollhouse kit, they will replace it at no cost to you, if you bought your kit from a retail store or from them directly.
You can also get complete assembly help by calling them or going to their online forum. Questions are typically answered in the same day and either by the Greenleaf staff or experienced builders, so you know you're getting the right answers.
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Glue And Nail Dollhouse Kits (3/8th" Plywood)
These kits are also referred to as cabinet-grade, QuickBuild or MDF dollhouse kits. The best known manufacturer of 3/8th" plywood and MDF dollhouses is Real Good Toys Dollhouses. These kits are easily modified with pre-assembled components and have large interior spaces for many miniatures.
These kits come in MDF, 3/8th" cabinet-grade plywood, or a combination of both. Some of these kits have hinged panels for front access, instead of an open back or a combination of both. These kits already come with pre-cut parts, so no punching out is required.
Because of their thicker wood, the construction requires glue and nails. A lot of the components come pre-assembled to avoid handling of small pieces. That’s why these dollhouses are so much easier to build. The wood in these kits requires minimal filling and sanding. The wood is smooth enough to apply wallpaper and paint onto it without much preparation.
These dollhouses come with many three dimensional components and will not require lamination of small pieces.
- These dollhouses have very smooth wood that is easily painted and wallpapered with minimal wood filling or sanding. The priming is much easier on this type of wood because there is no need for filling delaminating wood.
- The clapboard siding is already pre-milled into the walls, so you don't have to spend time putting each siding piece one by one.
- All of the components are three dimensional and pre-assembled. Most of these kits have pre-hinged doors and working windows.
- These dollhouse's components are easy to upgrade, making the build versatile, even if you're not an experienced builder. All pre-assembled components fit well with existing measurements.
- You can buy prefabricated window treatments because of the dollhouses universal measurements.
- These dollhouses are built in a series of steps. Each section is built individually and then the pre-assembled pieces fit together to make the dollhouse. Once you have the basic shell of the dollhouse built, which generally takes a few hours, you're nearly finished.
- Staircases and porches have dowel spindles.
- The kits window glass is made of plexiglass rather than thin acetate.
- There are no inaccessible areas. The simple, square rooms make for a lot of usable space, as well as making them easier to finish and decorate.
- Prepare to have these dollhouses for a lifetime. They are heirlooms that are tough enough for small hands to touch as well.
- These kits come in a variety of architectural styles but tend to have more modern models to choose from, which is often difficult to find in the world of dollhouses.
- Raw wood has a tendency to warp, whether thin or thick, once exposed to heat or cold. This causes difficulty hinging panels for front opening models. Because the wood is thicker, the warp is much more noticeable and difficult to fix. When 3/8th" thick MDF warps and it's a hinged panel, you will most likely have to get a replacement from the manufacturer, as it is nearly impossible to fix.
- Since doors and windows are pre-assembled, painting them is extremely difficult and time consuming. It’s easier to paint them one, solid color. If you prefer many colors, be prepared for the extended duration of the process.
- MDF can not be stained. You will not be able to stain your dollhouse kit floors or any other component in your kit if it's made of MDF. You must use paint instead or create a faux stained finish.
- These dollhouses tend to be large and bulky. This limits display space for the dollhouse, so make sure you have a large enough display area and a strong enough table. They are also extremely heavy and can not be moved from place to place by one person.
- MDF and 3/8th" plywood can be difficult to cut if you want to add custom windows or door openings to your dollhouse. If you plan on making modifications, you will need power tools.
- You will need help with assembly because of the heavier pieces. These dollhouses are very difficult to assemble by one person.
- You need nails in some areas in order to complete the assembly. Be extra careful when hammering them in, so you don't damage the finished side of the wood by perforation. Do not attempt to skip the recommended nails. The thick wood pieces of these dollhouses are exceptionally heavy and glue will not be enough to hold the dollhouse together. Omitting the nails can cause the dollhouse to come apart after assembly, causing injury or death.
- 3/8th" plywood is very hard but if your kit is made from MDF, it is even harder. Driving nails into this product or attaching hinges will be quite a struggle. You might be forced to use power tools.
- Inserting the brads into MDF for electrification will also be very difficult. It is best to invest in specialized tools for this process.
- These dollhouses lack the architectural details of their tab and slot cousins. Though they have lovely, realistic details overall, they are much more plain. They look more toy-like in appearance. They lack the realistic "model house" look and tend to be more modern looking and box-like.
- These dollhouse kits are expensive, depending on the style and size you choose.
Real Good Toys Dollhouses is the main manufacturer of 3/8th" plywood or MDF, glue and nail dollhouse kits. The kits are designed in the U.S.A and manufactured offshore. The company is located in Vermont and manufactures their dollhouses using renewable natural resources.
Their larger kits are truly breath taking in beauty and realism. They can be quite impressive in real life. Many of their kits include, pre-assembled, working windows, doors and staircases.
But what this company is mostly known for, is bringing dollhouse assembling to the masses with their QuickBuild kits. You no longer have to be a handy woodworker or spend countless hours in the garage in order to build your own heirloom dollhouse. You can easily spend a weekend or two putting together a dollhouse that you can be proud of when finished, without the need of any prior experience or know-how. With these kits, you spend less time building and more time doing what most miniaturists consider to be the fun stuff, applying finishes and decorating.
Upgrading and Additions
This company has a wide assortment of dollhouses and upgrades for them. You can modify any of their kits easily in any way you can imagine. If you outgrow your dollhouse, you can always find a matching addition, so you can have extra rooms without having to sell or give away your dollhouse, in order to buy a bigger one. You also do not need to modify your existing assembly to add an addition. This means you can confidently make these kits an investment for a lifetime.
This company has made their kits compatible with many Houseworks components. So, if you want working windows or interior doors, it’s easy to upgrade and they will all fit perfectly, without any need for adjustments.
Aside from carrying a wide array of dollhouse kits, many of them front opening, this company also offers finished dollhouses, pre-finished QuickBuild dollhouses, displays for miniatures and many dollhouse parts and accessories.
They have a line of affordable dollhouses in a wide price range, (e.g., Lilliput), so everyone can have a dollhouse they can afford. The Lilliput series has the same ease of construction and ability to upgrade as their more larger, expensive kits do. They also offer bargains and discounted items on their web store.
This company offers a line of half scale dollhouses and upgrade components for them. They also offer one model in the rare and highly coveted playscale size, which can be used with fashion dolls, (e.g., Barbie) furniture and accessories.
Assembly Process and Instructions
As of this writing, the only thing lacking, is good instructions. The instructions for these dollhouses are complicated, confusing and very easily misunderstood. There are no photographs detailing the process but rather crudely drawn illustrations that can be more confusing than the written instructions. The schematics are very confusing as well and unless you have a tape measure with you, you will not be able to identify parts.
On some models, you will have to cut trim to the right size. For a beginner, this can be a nightmare for an already intimidating situation.
Real Good Toys has exceptional customer service. They truly express concern about their customers and products. Not only has my experience with them been positive and professional, I can say that other miniaturists have also reviewed them as always being reachable, reliable, quick and very helpful, so you can purchase your kit with confidence.
There is no forum on their website where you can get help with your construction or ask questions, but they can be reached directly by phone. You can ask for missing parts online at their website or by giving them a call. They also have posted many instructions for their popular dollhouse models right on their website, so you will not have to contact anyone, if yours are missing.
As you can see each type of kit has its positives and negatives. It’s up to you to decide how important each of those are to you. But now that we have discussed dollhouse kits, what other options are there for owning one?
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If you want to have your dollhouse right now, you can buy one pre-assembled by the manufacturer. These dollhouses are more expensive than an un-assembled kit. If they are not completely finished on their interiors, it will be very difficult to do so later. This is especially true if they have inaccessible interior areas.
Real Good Toys has a line of affordable pre-assembled, cabinet grade dollhouses.
Museum quality dollhouses also come pre-assembled. These dollhouses are manufactured by Lawbre. This company does not make kits. The finishing is left up to you, if you wish.
The House That Jack Built, (A.K.A.: Melissa & Doug The House That Jack Built), also produces some pre-assembled dollhouses. This manufacturer has a wide arrange of prices. They have some select dollhouse models sold as unassembled kits as well.
Though tab and slot dollhouses do not come pre-assembled by their manufacturer, you can pay to have yours custom-built by someone. This option is also available for other types of kits as well. There is only one company, that I know of, that provides a dollhouse assembly service. I have never used this service, nor have I ever known anyone who has. Because of this, I can not provide any reviews or recommendations.
Though far and few between, there are still some people out there that will assemble a tab and slot dollhouse for you but unfortunately, there aren't many that will finish the interiors as well. Like I've mentioned before, some of these tab and slot dollhouses have inaccessible areas after construction that do not allow for the installation of wallpaper or flooring. Become familiar with the dollhouse you're interested in and always ask questions about it to someone who is an experienced builder.
Tab and slot dollhouse assemblies can be priced up to five times the retail cost of the kit, because of their labor intensity and time consumption. This price often does not include interior finishes. You might be able to find better price rates for other types of dollhouse kits, that are easier to assemble.
Whatever your choice, keep in mind that when you do find a builder, they might not be in your home state or city. This means you will have to make arrangements for the delivery of your dollhouse. As you can imagine, the finished product is quite large, fragile and heavy, so always get shipping quotes before you invest in the assembly of your kit.
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Non-Kit Custom Dollhouses
These are dollhouses built from architectural dollhouse plans like a real house is. This is for the experienced woodworker and not a beginner. You would have to draw your own architectural plans, measure and then cut all of the wood yourself. It’s best to do this if you have a workshop or empty garage where you can store your power tools.
You can also hire someone to build a custom dollhouse for you, from their own plans, or buy their plans to build it yourself.
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Sometimes you can find already assembled dollhouses listed online, at garage sales or antique shops. You might even be able to nab one for free, if the owner simply can not keep it anymore. Though they might not be in the best condition, the lure of a bargain price, many times a fraction of what the kit would cost, tempts many new, would be dollhouse owners to go for this option.
Modifying and/or repairing these already assembled dollhouses, (rehabilitating), is often referred to as "rehabbing" by dollhouse enthusiasts. Just remember that if your bargain dollhouse is in bad shape, rehabbing it can be quite a difficult process. It's all dependant on what exactly you would want to change on it. Repainting it, adding flooring or ceiling paper can be tedious and a little difficult, but doable. Exchanging rotted wood, re-wallpapering, modifying the floor plan, finding missing pieces or keeping it from simply falling apart, is quite another story.
Rehabbing a used dollhouse requires experience and special knowledge that goes beyond new kit assembly, so when committing to this kind of project, interact with an experienced "rehabber" first and learn the ropes, so you won't be disappointed. You may also pay someone to rehab a dollhouse for you.
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There are many manufacturers of dollhouses that are no longer in business. One of the most popular ones is Dura-Craft Dollhouses. These dollhouse kits are still being sold in garage sales and online auction sites. Some of these kits are highly sought after because this company produced some very beautiful models. Many models had rare details like gutters.
Most of these kits were made of a combination of punch out parts and MDF or cabinet grade plywood. They were assembled using part glue and part glue and nails. Many of the trim pieces were not cut to size, so you would have to follow the schematics and make the cuts yourself.
If you are looking for one of these kits and you happen to find one, the possibility that it will be incomplete is high. Since the manufacturer is no longer in business you will not be able to order missing parts, but rather have to make them yourself or barter for them on online auction sites or dollhouse forums.
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Purchasing A Dollhouse
Whichever type of dollhouse you decide on, your next step is to purchase it. We discussed the problems that can arise with used or discontinued dollhouses but what about the others?
Dollhouse kits are very complicated and doing an inventory on a kit, to make sure it is complete and undamaged, can be a lengthy process that only experienced builders can tackle. Few individual sellers, especially if they are unfamiliar with dollhouses, will perform this vital task correctly if at all. If the kit is missing and/or has damaged parts, you will need to replace them. Depending on the kit and the type of missing and/or damaged parts, you might end up paying close to or equal what you just paid for the dollhouse kit in replacement parts alone. If the dollhouse kit is discontinued, you might not be able to replace the missing and/or damaged parts at all.
For this reason, I recommend you purchase your kit directly from the manufacturer or a reputable miniatures dealer. Hobby Builders Supply and Dejoux Miniatures are retailers I have had positive experiences with. Buying from the manufacturer or an authorized miniatures dealer, will ensure your purchase. This is the only way you can get free replacements for missing and/or damaged parts. Unless you are an experienced builder, I do not recommend that you purchase your kit from an online auction site or an individual seller.
A lot of people that don't know much about dollhouses find a kit at a garage sale, tucked in their attic or remember that their grandmother had one laying around, which was never assembled. They see the beautiful picture of a dollhouse on the front, a lovely vintage box and immediately believe they have found treasure. They then try to sell these kits, on online auction sites, at ridiculous prices. The truth is that dollhouse kits are not worth very much. Unless the dollhouse kit came on the Mayflower, its worth is only what the manufacturer's suggested retail price is. Period. Since auction sites or individual sellers are not retail stores, the kit is worth even less. That's why people come to these sites, for deals, not to pay what they could of at a store.
To avoid being told that a dollhouse kit is worth "hundreds of dollars" by a seller, I recommened you ask them for a picture of the dollhouse kit box first. Do not rely on the seller to give you the name of the dollhouse. They often get that wrong. Look at it for yourself, on the kit box photo. Google the name of the dollhouse to get information on it. If the dollhouse kit is still in production, it will be listed on the manufacturer's website or some other miniatures retail site. Send the links of the highest and lowest selling price to the seller, in order to bring them back to reality. They should sell you the dollhouse kit for less than the lowest retail price available.
Remember, a dollhouse kit is not "new" if it's being sold on an auction site. The only one that can sell you a new dollhouse kit, is the manufacturer or a retailer. Just because a seller claims they never opened the kit box, doesn't mean it wasn't opened before by a previous owner. Trying to identify, with certainty, that a dollhouse kit has never been opened, is extremely difficult. Some manufacturers use staples on their boxes but others use tape. Some manufacturers cellophane their dollhouse box kits, but others do not. Any person, can open a box and staple, tape or cellophane it closed again. So, when buying a kit from an individual seller, "never opened" is relative. A lot of these kits have been passed from person to person, for years. The possibility they were opened, at some point, is very high. Bottom line, just because the kit is in its original box, does not mean it's never been opened.
If the dollhouse kit is no longer in production, it doesn't mean that it is worth more. It just means you are taking a bigger risk so if anything, you should pay less. Remember, dollhouse kits are not items that appreciate in value. They are unassembled, unfinished parts that amount to nothing until you actually put them together. You have to put time, effort and money to make them into an actual dollhouse.
Discontinued kits may be hard to come by and highly sought after by certain collectors, but that does not translate into monetary worth. This is because a lot of these discontinued kits aren't very difficult to find at all, if you know where to look. There are a lot of people out there trying to get rid of theirs. All you have to do is take some time to ask around a dollhouse or miniaturists forum and your sought after kit, will be found in no time.
Also, anyone with a little woodworking knowledge and a rotary tool can re-create a discontinued dollhouse, using their own wood, with no need for a kit. A picture of the dollhouse can suffice to be able to do this. They might need to buy pre-assembled components or trim but the overall design and shape of the dollhouse can be easily replicated without the need of a kit.
Even though there is no manufacturer suggested retail price available, to guide yourself by on discontinued dollhouses, there are other people who most likely bought the kit recently. Guide yourself by what they paid for. There are even some retail stores, that might still have an inventory of discontinued kits. Search online and you can guide yourself by what they are selling the kit for. Send that link to the seller and you should be able to negotiate a reasonable price.
Pre-assembled Dollhouses And Non-Kit Custom Dollhouses
If you decided on one of these, then you will most likely need to hire someone to assemble your dollhouse for you. We discussed above how expensive this choice can be but there are other potential problems to consider than just the cost of assembly and shipping. One of these problems is assembling versus finishing.
Assembling a dollhouse is different than finishing one.
- Assembling is putting up walls, floors and a roof, according to kit specifications. It may or may not include the assembly of components, like chimneys, fireplaces, windows and doors. This is something that each builder decides to include or not.
- Finishing a dollhouse includes all of the painting, wallpapering, siding, shingling, interior trim work and the installation of finished components (e.g., windows, doors, fireplaces).
Make sure that when you hire someone, you discuss what is included in their assembly price. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably doesn't include finishes. The finishing of a dollhouse is labor intensive and requires special planning. It is more time consuming and difficult to finish a dollhouse, than to assemble it. The materials needed for proper finishing can be expensive, depending on the size of your chosen model. The decision making between seller and buyer, can also be very difficult since you're trying to decide on something that can not be seen beforehand. For this reason, it is very difficult to find someone who is willing to finish a dollhouse, rather than just assemble it.
When going through this process it's good to keep in mind that dollhouses are one of a kind, handcrafted items whose outcome is completely unknown until it is complete. Dollhouse kits are unpredictable and no two dollhouse assemblies are ever the same, even if they are the same model. Some dollhouses come together pretty easily but others do not. Finishes are just as unpredictable as the assembly. You can only make educated guesses on how something will turn out but you just never know, until you begin the process. Pictures and ideas, often times do not materialize into reality because of unforeseen events during the assembly process. After those decisions are made and finishes applied, its almost always impossible to reverse them, without the dollhouse sustaining damage or replacement materials and/or parts needed. A builder can try to educate their client, as much as possible but unless you have assembled and finished a dollhouse yourself, it is very difficult to grasp just how unpredictable a build can be.
Ask questions before committing to any part of the assembly and/or finishing process. Become educated in what you can expect from each finish. The builder already has a lot on their mind trying to successfully accomplish these difficult hand-made items, so do not hesitate to remind them of something you would like to discuss before you make your final decision. Remember that the agreed upon outcome is always a goal and never a guarantee.
Lastly, you get what you pay for. Most builders are building dollhouses independently, out of their own homes. They are not companies or businesses that can purchase materials wholesale because it isn't often that someone will order an expensive item, like a custom dollhouse, to be assembled for them.
If you want for your assembly to be cost effective, then expect for the outcome to reflect that. In order to give you a reduced cost, the builder will not have available to use on your build, expensive materials like flooring or siding. Omitting these options will affect the finished product. The finishing of the dollhouses original kit floors will have a different outcome than a flooring cover, regardless of how detailed the builder is. Not applying siding to the exterior of the dollhouse, also changes its look. So, take all of these things into consideration when you pick and choose what you are comfortable living with and what you aren't.
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