Before and After: How I Transformed a $26 Cubby Organizer into an Epic Dollhouse

published Dec 27, 2021
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If you’ve ever balked at building your own dollhouse because of the skill, time, tools, materials, and sheer willpower it takes to finish one, you’re going to love this secret I’m about to share with you. Ready? Here it is: you can turn just about anything with walls and a “roof” into a dollhouse, and you don’t actually need a “dollhouse kit.” Kids already know this (mine does it all the time with things she finds in the recycling bin!) but you can truly make something special — and maybe more your style, using a simple, three-cube storage cubby and a little imagination!

We purchased this easy-to-assemble organizer from Target and had it together in under 15 minutes. The only tools required were a screwdriver and a hammer, and it was easy enough to assemble with just one set of hands. This particular cubby was intended to stand vertically, but when I saw it I had visions of a sprawling, single-story atomic Palm Springs-style home. So, I just flipped it on its side!

The cubby on its own looks like just that — a standard storage cubby, nothing special. Things start to get interesting when you begin adding design elements like wallpaper, doors, windows, shingles, staircases, or an interesting roofline. When shopping for accessories, I looked for items that were 1:12 scale, because I planned to have my daughter use this house for her Calico Critters. 1:12 (one inch to one foot) is standard in the dollhouse world, but there are other sizes to choose from. 1:6 is the perfect size for Barbie, then there’s 1:8 which you can find at Ikea and fits the Blythe doll just perfectly. Any of the three scales work for this size dollhouse; just decide beforehand which size dolls you’ll be creating the house for.

It is possible to cut into the medium-density fibre board (MDF), but for this project I kept things simple and added a door to the cardboard backing wall that comes with the cubby. The cardboard is thin, and so easy to cut into — all you need is a very sharp utility knife. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Let’s start at the very beginning:

Set the theme with “wallpaper”

After assembling your cubby and deciding on the orientation (either vertical or horizontal), plan and glue wallpaper in place. For this project I pulled a few coordinating colors and patterns from a 12”x12” kit of scrapbooking paper. The great thing about using a kit is that it’s been curated so that all the papers included vibe well with each other, which means whatever you choose will look great together in the dollhouse.

For my project I decided to mix the pages, because I love pattern-mixing and thought this would be a great opportunity to play. All of the prints in the house are scrapbook pages that I glued on with Mod Podge, with the exception of the larger florals in the kitchen. That is actually a sample of peel and stick wallpaper from Chasing Paper. The paper wasn’t quite large enough to fill the wall, so I cut a scallop pattern at the top to make things interesting.

Install your corkboard floors

After the wallpaper was in, it was time to add flooring! I came across this amazing cork paper in the scrapbooking section and thought it would add an interesting textural element to the house. It was easy to fit and trim, and looked awesome. Easiest floor I’ve ever laid! I’ve rehabbed quite a few dollhouses over the years, and I’ve found the trick to keeping costs low is to think outside the box. Let yourself wander away from the “dollhouse” section at the craft store and check out other aisles. Scrapbooking, wood crafts, and the floral section have a lot of great items you can use and are usually a bit less expensive.  

Pay attention to your wall placement

Two pieces of thin cardboard come with this piece of furniture and are meant to be used as backing boards for two of the three cubbies, leaving one open, without a back. If you plan to utilize the backside of the cubby and decorate it as we have done, face the white backing to the outside, so that the dark cardboard is facing the interior and can be covered over with wallpaper. Before nailing the backing boards to the cubby, trace and cut out any areas you’ve designated for doors or windows, then glue in place. I used hot glue, but you can use something stronger like E6000 if you have it — and have the time to wait for it to dry completely.

Don’t forget the exterior of your dollhouse

I wanted to add some design elements to the exterior that you might see in Palm Springs, so I created an exaggerated, low-pitched roof using a thick foam core. Next, I added some decorative elliptical sheeting that I spray-painted pink to mimic the privacy walls you see in some of the more iconic homes. I love how you can see through the wall into the kitchen on the left side of the house. The aluminum sheeting wasn’t difficult to work with at all, especially because I picked up a pair of tin snips that made trimming out the area for the door a breeze!

Then the fun part: the accessories!

Lastly, accessorize your dollhouse with fun furniture — vintage, handmade, secondhand, or modern, it’s all up to you! For this house I used some Mid-Century Modern furniture I sourced on Etsy from a fantastic seller. (Etsy is truly the best place for unique dollhouse finds.) The furniture was so easy to assemble and customize. Need to stock the shelves in the kitchen? Try these 3D printables! Don’t forget about the exterior! I found some nice little evergreens in the dollar section at Target (wished they were palm trees — but they’ll work!) and a funny pink grill, then tossed a few disco balls around the house for kicks.

The best part of using a household item like an organizational cubby as your base for a dollhouse is you have free reign to take the design in any direction you like, with any level of skill you’ve got! This project was just as fun for me at 38, as it would be for a young kid to take on. I’m already planning to pick up another cubby so our 5-year-old can create her very own dollhouse. As long as you do a little research ahead of time and talk about the plans over with your child, this project is very doable, and very rewarding! Let them sketch out their ideas, or take them along to help you make home more homey. This cubby DIY is an affordable and endlessly fun activity for any age, really; even teens would get a kick out of the project. But watch out — you may be hooked; and your house overrun with tiny little houses!