Shingling with birch veneer shingles or cedar shakes is the most common choice for finishing a dollhouse roof but there are other options available as well. They can be used instead of shingling or in combination with it.
A very popular choice for finishing roofs is copper. Finding the materials to create copper roofing though, can be difficult. The roofing itself can be made from copper colored cardstock or poster board but these are hard to come by, especially in the sizes needed to cover an entire roof. There are rolls of real copper that can be used for miniatures but it can be expensive and difficult to work with. Lastly, the joint strips which many copper roofs have, are even more difficult to come by. They can be made with copper tape, found in the garden center of most hardware stores, but this tape is not available in some areas. So, below are two simple and easy to re-create methods that do not require special materials.
The easiest method to create a copper roof is by using copper, metallic paint. Metallic paint can be found in spray cans but the more user friendly acrylic craft paint, will work just as well. You just need to purchase a good quality, metallic craft paint. My favorite brands are Folk Art or Americana.
First, create the joint strips along the roof, using strip wood from the craft store. They are so much easier to find that copper tape. You can choose whatever width strip wood you like for your style project. Just make sure they are all equally spaced. The amount of spacing is also decided by your preferred style. There is no right or wrong way to do this. You can Google images of copper roofs to get an idea of different styles and use one as a guide.
When the joint strips are dry, paint your roof with the copper paint. You will need to apply several coats for a smooth finish. Always wait for each coat of paint to thoroughly dry before applying the next one. You also want to sand lightly, between coats.
The roof doesn’t need any type of preparation before you paint it but some people like to prime their roof with black paint first and then paint it copper. Others prefer to cover their roofs with poster board or paper for a smoother finish but neither are necessary. If you chose a good quality paint and remember to sand between paint coats, the wood grain will not show through.
Mansard panels are done the exact same way and if you would like the look of copper shingles, just paint your shingles copper instead of staining them.
Copper roofing is especially seen on dormer roofs. You can use paint for this, as described above, but you can also use a copper look cover, since dormer roofs are much smaller.
An easy to find and free copper cover is found in the paint department of the hardware store. Paint swatches. Most paint swatches are large enough to cover the small roofs of dormers, easily. They also come in a variety of metallic hues.
Because dormer roofs are curved, you will need to make a paper template of your roof first and then cut the paint swatch to size.
Then you can glue the paint swatch to your dormer roof. Because the roofs are curved, you will need to clamp down the paint swatch until the glue dries.
Be careful when clamping paint swatches because masking tape can tear them and certain clamps can cause indentations to their finish. Paint swatches are made of thick cardstock, which can become indented easily. On a metallic finish, the indentation is more pronounced and cannot be fixed. Good thing the swatches are free and you can always pick up more if one becomes damaged. So, clamp gently.
Copper finishes can also be used for tower roofs.
Trace your wooden tower roof panels on poster board and cut them out. Black poster board is best for use with metallic copper paints.
Toss out your wooden panels and use the poster board panels, for assembling your tower roof, instead. These poster board panels will allow for a proper mansard curve and tight flush joints.
Instead of cutting your joint edges, to make them flush and even, sand them down with a fine grit sandpaper. This will ensure a smooth finish and no jagged edges. You can also fill in any small gaps with lightweight spackling compound.
Now paint your tower panels with a good quality, metallic, copper paint. You will need about three to four coats. Make sure that each coat dries before the next is applied.
You can embellish your finished copper tower roof with copper painted trim and jewelry finials.
Covering porch, bay and flat roofs with sandpaper is a popular finishing choice for tab and slot dollhouses. Sandpaper comes in a variety of colors and sizes. Shop around for the right size sandpaper because some stores do not carry large sheets but others do.
Priming your roof first, with a dark paint color, similar to your sandpaper color, is vital for a good outcome. If you're using a brown sandpaper, prime with a dark brown paint and if you are using gray, prime with a dark gray paint.
Always choose a dark paint to prime with because some sandpaper has dark lettering on its back side and this lettering will show through, if you apply the sandpaper to a light colored area. Also, make sure you are using a flat or matte finish paint.
After the paint is dry, make a paper template of the roof area you would like to cover. A template will prevent you from patching sandpaper unnecessarily. Use the template as a guide for cutting the sandpaper.
Apply the sandpaper to the roof. Tacky glue spread, thinly and evenly works best for adhering the sandpaper to flat surfaces.
Covering bay roofs with sandpaper is done in a similar way but adhered differently.
First, prime the bay roof with a similar color paint as your chosen sandpaper.
Make a paper template of the bay roof and use it as a guide to cut out the sandpaper.
Dry fit the cut sandpaper to the bay roof and continue cutting as needed, until you achieve the perfect fit. Glue it on the bay roof using hot melt glue. Hot melt glue will prevent the sandpaper from lifting or shifting out of place. Glue one side first, then the middle and then the final side. This method ensures the perfect fit. Do not attempt to glue the sandpaper all at once.
Keep in Mind
Sandpaper is difficult to patch but there is a great possibility that you will have to. Try to avoid it but if you simply cannot because the roof area is too large for the sandpaper sheets to cover all at once, then butt the sandpaper edges up against each other. Do not overlap them.
Always use the factory edges to butt together, not the edges you cut with a scissor. Scissor cuts are not completely straight, so the edges will never butt seamlessly together. The factory edges will.
Make sure that there is glue under the butted edges and apply weights on top of them while the glue dries. This will keep the edges down and flush together. When sandpaper is butted together, the joints are semi-invisible but if you overlap the sandpaper, then the joints are very obvious and not aesthetically pleasing.
Always try to make your patched joints in areas that are less visible. The paper template of the dollhouse roof will help you plan this out, before the sandpaper is applied.
Sandpaper can be easily ruined with glue or paint. Be careful you do not get neither on your sandpaper roofs or they will be permanently damaged. The only solution for paint and/or glue on sandpaper, is to remove the sandpaper and reapply it. Install your sandpaper when your assembly is nearly done or cover them during assembly with paper, so that they aren't damaged.
You can apply texture, to any roof, using Greelnleaf's Miniature Stucco For Dollhouses, but you can also use plain lightweight spackling compound, mixed with acrylic paint.
Just mix the spackling compound, in a disposable container, with your chosen paint color. The ratio of paint to spackle will determine the intensity of the paints hue and the texture of the finished product. The thicker the mixture, the rougher the texture.
Make sure that the area you wish to apply texture to is smooth and all tab slots have been filled and are dry. Unfilled tab slots will cause the spackle to sink and make them visible. Use masking tape to protect any areas that you do not want to get texture on.
Then slather the texture onto your desired roof using a coarse bristle paint brush. Apply your texture evenly and use the brush to create your desired effect. You can create anything from swirls to pebbly.
For roofs with large joint gaps, like where two panels meet, use masking tape to cover them and then apply your texture right over it. The masking tape will become invisible underneath the texture.
Keep In Mind
Mixing lightweight spackling compound with paint will technically create a custom paint hue. This mean that you will not be able to touch up the roof, in the future, if you did not keep some of the original mixture. If you do decide to keep some of this mixture, for future touch ups, make sure you store it an airtight container, as it has a tendency of becoming moldy or drying out if not stored properly.
If you want to thatch the roof of your dollhouse for an authentic Tudor look, then I recommend thatching with faux fur. There are many other methods for achieving a thatched look but this method seems to be the most realistic looking. I learned this technique from Deb Roberts of Deb's Minis.
First, you need to buy the faux fur. A fabric store is the best place to find faux fur in large enough sheets to cover an entire dollhouse roof.
Measure your roof, so that you know exactly how much fur you need. It's best to have some material left over than to end up short. You also want to have extra fabric for any mistakes. Remember, you might not find that same fur next time you go to the fabric store. You can get faux fur in any color and texture you want, depending on the type of thatch you're looking to achieve.
As an example, I'm going to thatch the roof of the Glencroft Dollhouse by Greenleaf Dollhouses. I bought light brown faux fur.
You first want to make templates of your roof. If your roof is already in place, use paper and crease it along the edges of each roof panel, to transfer the roof shape onto it. Cut along the creased edges with scissors. If your roof panels are still off your house, you can trace them directly onto the fur.
Label each and every template with the name of the roof panel it belongs to. You also need to label each side of each panel with a FRONT and BACK mark, so you don't position your templates wrong side up on the fur. Faux fur can be expensive, so take these extra measures and test them thoroughly until you are certain of the outcome before you begin cutting the fur.
Turn the fur over to the back side where the batting is visible and trace out your roof panel, whether you're using the actual wood panel or paper template, and then cut along the traced mark. You can trace using a fabric pencil or chalk, so that it's visible on the dark fur.
Make sure you position your template so that the side you marked FRONT is facing down on the batting. That way your template will be furry on the correct side. Also, you want the fur grain to run in the same downwards direction on every panel. You don't want any of them running upwards or sideways because then you won't be able to comb it down correctly and you'll have a hairy roof, rather than a thatched one.
If it's confusing for you to do all of this with the fur facing down, you can always place your panels on the fur side instead and cut them out that way. The only difference is that you won't be able to trace them and the side of the template marked FRONT, must face up towards you, so the panel is furry on the correct side. Getting the fur on the correct side of the panel and running in the right direction, is the trickiest part to this whole process because it can be confusing.
First, make sure you have very sharp, large scissors.
It's going to be very difficult to cut fur to the exact shape and size of your templates because it's such a tricky fabric. The goal is to always cut it a little larger than the template, so you're not short. It doesn't have to be exact. You will cut it to a perfect fit once it's on its corresponding roof panel.
If you decided to place your template on the furry side instead of tracing it on the batting, keep the template and fur flat on a large surface and then cut. This makes cutting easier and the fur shifts out of position less. You can use binder clips, paper clips or pins to try and hold the template onto the fur.
Once you have all the roof panels cut out in fur, use tacky glue to glue the fur onto each panel. If your roof had not been assembled yet, assemble it now and then apply the fur. You have to apply the fur on an assembled roof because you will not be able to assemble it correctly if it's covered in fur.
You can then cut any excess that overhangs to give each panel the perfect fit. Always glue on main roofs first and then gables. That way all the seams will be hidden. Join the fur well where each panel meets, so there’s no gaps.
The fur has a strange sheen in my photos because of the camera flash but it doesn’t have that same sheen in real life, even with all the lights on and windows open. You won't have shiny fur, I promise.
Comb all loose pieces off the fur. Believe me, there will be plenty. Faux fur sheds a lot so this will be a messy process.
Without using the camera flash you can actually see the true hue of the thatch on the photos below. As you can see, it's extremely realistic looking. Apply matte varnish to the fur, with a stiff paint brush and then comb it with a fine tooth comb. Do not brush it too much or the varnish will cloud.
Dip your brush in the varnish and apply it to all of the roof panels, in the direction of the fur, which should be downwards. You might have to give the roof two coats.
Do one panel at a time and only apply a second coat of varnish once the first coat has completely dried. If you apply it while still wet, the varnish will cloud. If the varnish clouds, you will not be able to fix it.
Now let the fur dry thoroughly. As you can see the varnish gives the fur a real thatch look.
You can make your thatch any style you want. You can leave some overhang at the edges, if you want but I decided to cut the edges short. Always cut your edges to the desired length AFTER you have varnished your roof and it's dried. If you try to do it before, you will end up with a lot of uneven edges.
I put “thatch weave” on the roof ridges and where certain panels meet. It's made of cotton lace ribbon in a beige color. You can cut fancy shaped strips, out of your fur, and apply them horizontally over the edges of your roof as well.
An example of dark brown thatch can be seen in the Aster Cottage Dollhouse, pictured below.
Try your hand at thatching. It's not a difficult project if you follow the above steps. Google search “thatched roofs” and you will get many pictures of real thatched roofs for inspiration and authenticity.
Replacing Mansard Panels
The plywood of tab and slot dollhouse kits is extremely hard and nothing embodies how true this is more than mansard panels. Some newer kits have composite mansard panels, so that it is easier to achieve the mansard curve but there are many kits out there that still have plywood mansard panels.
My recommendation is to get rid of those panels. They are extremely difficult to work with and no amount of preparation will get them to curve. Even though they are scored, to make them easier to bend, it’s not enough. You will put your dollhouse and yourself under unnecessary strain to make these hard, panels curve, for absolutely no reason.
Switching out plywood mansard panels for a more user friendly material will in no way affect the assembly process or compromise the dollhouse. Mansard panels are not a structural component and they do not hold up any part of the dollhouse. All curved, mansard roofs have an interior frame, that holds the top roof and third floor together. The exterior, curved mansard panels are not a part of this inner, structural frame.
The best material to replace your mansard panels with is heavy, cardstock, poster board. One sheet is large enough to cut all of the roof panels, of most dollhouse models. You can buy poster board in a variety of colors. I chose a black poster board for the Willowcrest Dollhouse, shown below. This was because I eventually shingled the dollhouse with black, stained shingles. Try to find a poster board that is similar in color to the shingles you plan on using but if you don’t, that’s fine. Poster board primes with paint very well. Do not attempt to do this with foam core. It will not curve smoothly but bend and crease instead.
First, trace all of your mansard panels onto the poster board.
Second, cut along the traced lines.
Third, enjoy the easiest to install, mansard panels in the dollhouse world. Just install them as you would the wood panels, following your dollhouse kit instructions. These panels always have a perfectly, curved slope, without a bit of effort. Trim any areas that are difficult to fit around dormers, etc. You can achieve the perfect fit with just your scissors.
Apply shingles to these panels, using hot melt glue, exactly as you would the wooden panels.
In some dollhouses, the back of the mansard panels make the interior walls of the third floor attic. This is true for the Lily Dollhouse. The method to switch out the mansard panels, is the same as above.
The only difference is that you will apply wallpaper to the inside of the panels before installation. Apply your wallpaper to the panels with a thinner glue, rather than with the standard wallpaper paste. A glue stick or thinly spread tacky glue will work well. You don’t want to oversaturate your poster board panels with moisture, so they don't end up warping or wrinkling the wallpaper.
If you used a white poster board, like I did on the Lily Dollhouse pictured above, paint the exterior of the poster board in a similar color as your shingles so the white doesn’t show through.
Lastly, take the original kits wooden mansard panels and use them for kindling.