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Re-purposing: From Cabinet to Dollhouse

Updated on January 31, 2014

A Wall Mount Miniature Display

My first dollhouse was a refurbished bathroom cabinet... a medicine cabinet, no less The selection, I admit, was more by necessity than choice. I was a very young woman in a housing co-op, short on cash and short on real furnishings -- but I had a penchant for painting and re-fashioning dollhouse furnishings. I had an old cabinet on hand, and it occurred to me that instead of having it on its side, acting as a stand in or a sewing basket, I could give it a decorative finish and use it to display my miniatures.

It may not have been by choice, but it worked! A verdigris finished changed the character of the cabinet, and made it something of a display piece. My collection did eventually outgrow it -- and I was glad to find a big old Tudor at the thrift store -- but it was my one and only dollhouse for six or seven years.

There are a lot of good reasons to use a cabinet as a dollhouse. If you already have an old one on hand, it's the thrifty and environmental choice. A coat of paint, or a faux finish, and it no longer looks like a cast off. There are a lot of old medicine cabinets in the world looking for a home -- or looking to become one.

It's not necessarily a bad choice, though, even if you're buying new. Sometimes people choose cabinets, or wall-mounting dollhouses, over traditional free-standing ones. They take up less space and can be kept out of reach of little pet paws. Plus, if you're doing the papering and carpeting yourself, with limited tools, you've got an easier job. Three little shelves in a cabinet equals three little room settings. This page includes a variety of ideas for using a cabinet as a doll house. The main focus is sharing tips for re-purposing an existing cabinet, but I will also spotlight a few items I found on the web that might make stylish mounted dollhouses.

miniatures with verdigris finish
miniatures with verdigris finish

Applying a Verdigris Faux Finish

My cabinet had been painted gold before I ever got it, so I opted for a verdigris finish. I find verdigris a natural choice for remaking gold colored furnishings. It takes a few shades of acrylic color, ranging from teal or turquoise to white and a sponge. Start with the darker teal and apply aqua next and white last.

Generally, it's better to work with a slightly translucent acrylic -- perhaps a glaze. If you are working with a metal finish, though, you either need to apply a base coat, or apply layers of acrylic slowly; you can use straight acrylic as opposed to glaze, for the first layer or two.

Alternately, you can use stencil cream. It makes a great faux finish -- but don't try applying it directly to metal. Build up a layer or two first.

Sometimes I have found little metal dollhouse furnishings for a dollar or two -- they get the same verdigris finish.

Refinishing an Old Cabinet - Faux Finishes

Some people will say you have to complete remove the finish from an old item of furniture. Not so -- at least not always. My cabinet is a dozen years old, and it's none the worse for wear. (Why use chemicals or generate all that dust?)

You will generally have an easier time with a piece that's covered in plain (porous) paint than one with a shiny surface. If you're working with a shiny surface, you'll want to build up layers s-l-o-w-l-y. The following are finishes that work well on finishes that may be a little old or little bumpy.

  • Stippling
  • Verdigris
  • Crackled Paint
  • Crackle Varnish
  • Distressed Ivory

A Dollhouse Display Case - If You're Not So Crafty

This model is for someone who is short on space and/or wants to keep their house away from prying little paws -- yet still desires a degree of realism. It's got the silhouette of a real dollhouse, but has an acrylic display case front and sits flush against your wall. There is some assembly required, but less than there is with the typical seven room dollhouse kit. Real Good Toys also makes a more narrow four-story model.

Real Good Toys 1 in. Miniatures Showcase Kit - 4 Room
Real Good Toys 1 in. Miniatures Showcase Kit - 4 Room

A space-saving seven-room miniature display that sits flush against the wall. There are two extra partitions to give it extra rooms.


Considering Using a Cabinet as a Doll House?

What motivates you -- the recycling element, or the ability to conserve space by using your walls?

What motivates you?

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More Re-purposed Dollhouses

Ikea bookcase on hand? Old nightstand or chest of drawers perhaps?

Making Your Miniature Display Realistic: Flooring

You have a number of options for flooring, and some of them can be quite economical. If you have a large fabric store near you, you can check out the upholstery fabrics. Some look like plush carpeting, others like vinyl flooring. Another option is to buy sheets of laminate that are designed especially for dollhouses. And then there's paper that just looks like flooring...

Yes, you're looking at paper 'wood' in this photo!

Dollhouse Miniature Square Parquet Wood Flooring Paper
Dollhouse Miniature Square Parquet Wood Flooring Paper

Three 12 by 17 sheets of miniature "wood" flooring -- enough to floor a miniature cabinet.


For smoothing out uneven interior cabinet 'walls', try dollhouse stucco.

Before (Re) Finishing... - Anything to Say?

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    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 5 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've always been intrigued by miniature things like doll houses, trains and villages but have never made one myself. Great information.

    • profile image

      gemjane 6 years ago

      Good ideas!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Clever idea, making a dollhouse out of a cabinet! It's a good compromise between those beautiful but expensive kits out there and building something completely from scratch.