This is in many ways the most important part of your dolls house as it is the part that is on show most of the time. The style you have chosen for your house may dictate the exterior finish or if not the choice can be influenced by the place you intend to keep the house. On the other hand, it may just boil down to personal preference.
Plan Your Work
Firstly it is a good idea to plan what you are going to do. A colour diagram will help to show which colours work to achieve the results you want. If you are unsure about what you want your house to look like you can gain inspiration by looking at books (in the library) and also real houses etc. You can even see a selection of other dolls houses in the Gallery on this site. If you do not plan, changing your mind half way through can lead to a lot of extra work however, it is not the end of the world.
Above all else don’t forget it is your dolls house it is meant to be fun for you. If you want to be faithful to a period that’s fine, but you don’t have to. If you want it bright orange with purple spots that’s fine. However, we do not recommend this as it is unlikely to win one of our competitions and people will require sunglasses to view it.
When to Decorate
If you are building from a kit it is better to complete the main painting tasks before assembly. A dry run assembly, following the instructions, but using masking tape to hold the parts together will identify the assembly points. It should then be possible to determine which parts go together for painting purposes.
Things to Avoid
Paint in the grooves
If you are assembling a good quality kit the joints will be accurately machined to form a tight fit, so it is important to avoid getting paint in the grooves. Keep a damp cloth ready to wipe any residue before it dries. It is always a good idea to check your work periodically until the paint is fully dry in case a run of paint sneaks up on you.
The dry run assembly, using masking tape to hold the parts together, will identify the assembly points and therefore the parts, which must be kept clear of paint
It is often only by trial and error that you will discover the result you want. We always recommend using a test area to practice on before you work on the house itself. The best way for this is to have a spare piece of wood ideally the same as your house (as paints etc. will dry differently on each type of wood) or failing that use a part of the house that will not be seen, i.e. the rear or the underside of the base.
The important thing to remember is that if your dolls house is of normal wood construction then this is what it is wood. This means it should be treated with regard to paint just as you would the woodwork or furniture in your own home. Many people are overly concerned about painting their dolls house. Don’t be!
Different types of paint can be used and we have listed the main ones below.
Primer The only type of wood, which may benefit from a primer, is ply. For other types such as MDF a primer is not required – but some people still prefer to use a priming coat as a base.
Vinyl Silk This is our recommended paint for the main surfaces. It is a hardwearing, easy maintenance paint. Surfaces can be cleaned with a damp cloth.
Matt We are not fans of matt paint and would not recommend its use. This paint tends to mark easily and for this reason we especially do not recommend its use when painting a child’s house.
Gloss Gloss paint produces a very shiny finish and we would definitely not use it on the main surfaces. The 1/12th scale seems to accentuate the shininess of the paint. However, a well-chosen gloss colour is perfect for your front door everyone loves a shiny front door.
Sandtex If you want a more textured look for your house then Sandtex or an equivalent is what we would use. After application, you can then stipple the paint, which will even out the textures. You can even experiment at making your own textured paints by mixing sand with the paint of your choice. This not only gives you an unlimited range of colours but also allows you to vary the texture to your choice.
When applying paints we would always recommend two or three light coats rather than one heavy one.
Various types of brick effect can be purchased from inexpensive papers to fully textured brick sheeting. Application is usually by PVA glue for the textured sheets and wallpaper paste for the papers, but it is always best to check with your supplier when you purchase them. Individual bricks are also available. However, please be aware that individual bricks add extra weight to the front of your house and will put extra strain on its hinges.
Again various types of roofing can be bought. Different grades of roofing sheet (simple paper to textured sheets) are available. Application is usually by PVA glue for the textured sheets and wallpaper paste for the papers, but it is always best to check with your supplier when you purchase them.
Many people use individual tiles or shingles. For added realism and an “aged” affect it is an idea to lay a few “broken” or “slipped tiles”. When did you last see an old roof in perfect condition? Application is usually by PVA glue. If you want to “cheat” the tiled effect can also be created by using MDF tile sheets, which give a similar effect, but without the work.
N.B. be careful of the weight you add to the roof and any effect it may have on any hinges.
Most roofing papers will come already coloured but in the case of the shingles and MDF sheet you can colour them yourself. See the information on paints above. To produce a weathered look for your roofing mixing sand into the paints or applying boot polishes (by dabbing with a cloth) can give great results at very little cost.
The most simple and cheap way to achieve a glazed look for your windows is to use perspex. This can be bought in small sheets at a minimal cost from your dolls house shop and cut to size to suit your windows. These can then be secured in place either by gluing (preferably with a clear drying glue) or by using double sided tape.
Quoining strips, pediments, balustrades etc can greatly enhance the look of your house. It is best to paint these before attaching them to the house. A good effect can be achieved by “picking them out” in a different colour to the main colour of the exterior. This effect can also be achieved by using a different textured paint to the one you have used on the main body.
If you have chosen a Tudor style for your dolls house then timbered beams will be a feature. There are many wood stains available to help you achieve the effects that you want.
A useful tip is if you are painting a lot of small mouldings such as window sills or quoins then first stick them to a piece of card or paper (using double sided tape). Then they can all be painted together. Simply peel them off the card when the paint has dried. This saves holding the fiddly little bits and getting more paint on your fingers than on the wood.
Another useful tip from “Dusty” is that a clothes peg makes a very useful mini clamp to hold things still or in place where no great pressure is needed.
There are various methods of application, which can be used.
For the main paintwork if a standard vinyl silk finish is required then a small roller is best to achieve a smooth finish and not run the risk of brush strokes spoiling the job. If you are glossing the front door then a brush is best the finer the better. Don’t forget 1/12th scale has the affect of magnifying brush strokes and runs.
For the more textured finish a whole range of methods can be used. Larger brushes to “dab” the paint on can give a “rougher” look. There are many different ways to apply paints in order to achieve the effects you want. The best idea is to experiment for yourself as this can also be great fun.
It is often only by trial and error that you will discover the result you want. We always recommend using a test area to practice on before you work on the house itself. The best way for this is to have a spare piece of wood ideally the same as your house, as paints etc. will dry differently on each type of wood or failing that use a part of the house that will not
be seen, i.e. the rear or the underside of the base.
Another tip don’t forget a wooden dolls house can be affected by heat and damp. Always bear this in mind, i.e. don’t use excessive heat to dry paints etc.
Obviously space does not permit us to discuss all decorating topics, however we have tried to cover the questions which are asked most frequently in our shops.
Good luck with your decorating and I hope this feature will have helped to answer some of your questions and also enable you to avoid some of the pitfalls, which can happen especially when decorating your first house.