DIY Miniature House

Humble abodes

Ever find yourself dreaming of a house that ticks all of the boxes on your wishlist? Whether it is a quiet countryside cottage, a building with historical character, the perfect spacious kitchen… or, you know, just a little space of your own. In today’s crazy housing market, there are more dreams than prospects. It’s no wonder then, that many of us are finding solace in crafting our own DIY miniature house. We get the satisfaction of taking matters into our own hands, building something from the ground up, and becoming proud home owners of our own tiny, humble abode, which can be everything we wish for. Just a little too small to live in.

So let’s explore DIY miniature house making, from the materials to use and the techniques to apply, to some design inspiration. Get ready to think like an architect, a carpenter, and an interior decorator as you move from the foundation to the finishing touches.

A Jack of all mini trades

Now admittedly, this may sound a bit daunting for an aspiring miniature maker. If it does, don’t run away just yet. There is a way of making a miniature DIY house, without having to figure everything out every step of the way. You can build amazing mini homes with the groundwork already laid in advance, and all the needed materials handily gathered and prepared. We’re talking about DIY miniature house kits, and we’ve written an article that covers these lovely DIY kits in detail. So be sure to head on over there if you’re looking for a beginner-friendly way to build your mini home. But if you’re more into the idea of making your own, custom and personalized tiny build, this is the article for you.

What scale are miniature houses?

Just how small are miniature houses? It depends. There are minis so small that they fit on the palm of your hand, while others are so large they can be a challenge to move. To name a famous example, Queen Mary’s dollhouse towers over the observer, instead of the other way around. Still, the rooms are true miniatures, as they are exactly 12 times too small to live in. It goes to show that even when made in miniature, a royal palace will never not be grand.

Two factors come into play here: the life-size dimensions of the house you are modeling after, and the scale you are applying to miniaturize it. This scale can be any arbitrary number if you wish, but generally miniature makers go with one of the more common scale factors. The reason for this is that if you want to add anything to your mini house that is not handmade from scratch, like a piece of miniature furniture, floorboards, or a little plant, you’ll actually be able to find what you need in exactly the right dimensions. After all, keeping everything according to scale is what will keep your DIY miniature house from looking like an uncanny, disproportionate fever dream. Unless that’s what you’re going for, of course.

With that said, let’s have a look at the scales that you’ll come across in the world of miniature houses:

Hand carving a miniature antique desk cluttered with science equipment

1-inch scale miniature house

Also known as full-scale, this is the scale factor most commonly used in the DIY miniature house craft. The 1-inch scale means that 1 inch in the miniature corresponds to 1 foot in the full-sized reference. In other words, the miniature is 1:12 scale, so 12 times smaller than the real thing.

Working in 1-inch scale comes the advantage that most of furniture and accessories that you’ll be able to find in craft stores and online will be size-appropriate. Moreover, with everything being “only” 12 times as small as normal, this scale is relatively the least finicky to work with. However, it also results in the largest build overall, which might not always be preferred. If so, there are a couple of downsizing options you could consider. Like, for starters, half-scale.

Miniature living room with a bohemian interior style

Half-scale miniature house

Twice as small as the full-scale miniatures we discussed above, and 24 times as small as their full-sized counterparts, half-scale (1:24 scale) minis are another common size you can consider. With the lesser amount of space that they occupy, half-scale miniature houses easily fit on wall shelves and bookshelves. Speaking of the latter, there is a type of miniature houses that feels particularly at home among books. Tall and slender itself, a miniature designed as a town house blends right in. You can create such a book nook either by making a facade, or an open design that gives a peek at the interior.

Hand holding a paint brush next to a miniature hobbit house on a crafting table

Quarter-scale miniature house

Sometimes you want to go even smaller. For example, if you are building terrain for a tabletop role-playing game, or creating a diorama around a model railroad. These niches in the miniature hobby are often compatible with quarter-scale (1:48 scale) minis. Working at such a small scale leaves more space to go beyond a single miniature house. You can build multiple, and broaden the scope to a village and its natural surroundings.

DIY miniature house at micro scale of 1/144 in a classic mansion style

Micro-scale miniature house

For those that like their miniatures even tinier, there is the 1:144 scale. This is where things aren’t just mini anymore. They are micro. When working at this scale, the challenge is to see how small of a detail you can manage to add. When individual roof tiles are like little specks, and a door handle nearly impossible to handle, your precision and patience are sure to be put to the test. If it is to be one of your first DIY miniature house builds, we would recommend going for a larger scale. But if these micro minis have piqued your interest, be sure to check out our article about 1/144 scale dollhouses.

What materials are used for miniature houses?

When creating a miniaturized house, it would of course be amazing if we could faithfully reproduce every material. Actual miniature brick and mortar, glass windows, brass hardware, and so forth. But in practice, we often need to be a bit creative in finding materials that work in a miniature setting, while resembling their full-sized counterparts as closely as possible. There’s also a bit of preference that comes into play here, and you’ll likely discover your own favorite materials as you create your builds. But to help you get started, here are some recommendations for materials that lend themselves well for different parts of making a DIY miniature house.

  • Basswood. Sitting right at the sweet spot between durability and softness, basswood is ideal for crafting large parts of a miniature house like the walls and flooring. It has a fine and even grain and can be cut with a good craft knife, making it practical for detailed work.
  • Balsa wood. This is a very light and soft type of wood, which makes it easy to cut and carve. Balsa wood is therefore perfect for making furniture, allowing you to create all the curves and bevels you want.
  • Foam board. Effortless to cut in any shape, foam board is ideal if you’re making walls with openings for curved doors or windows. Moreover, it is easy to create creases and texture in foam board, so it can pull off a convincing appearance of a brick wall.
  • Acrylic sheet. This transparent material can be cut to size with a knife or scissors and inserted as glass panes in miniature doors and windows.
  • Modeling paste. With its thick texture, modeling paste can be used to plaster your miniature walls with a palette knife, or to fill up gaps between boards and walls.

How to build miniature houses

Once you’ve got your materials all gathered, it can be very tempting to start building right away. However, before jumping into carpenter mode, it is important to put on your proverbial architect’s hat first. After all, chances are your DIY miniature house will end up a bit odd looking if the build wasn’t guided by a design. So, to the drawing board it is.

When designing the layout of the miniature house, one option is to grab pencil and paper (ideally, grid paper) and draw it out. Start with an overall sketch, and from there derive individual plans for the floors and the walls. If you prefer doing this digitally, you can use software like Sketchup, or even Microsoft Excel. In the case of Sketchup, you can also take it a step further and make 3D model of your miniature house, which might help you plan it out even better. As you draw your design, keep in mind your chosen scale factor and convert all the normal-sized measurements to the appropriate miniature dimensions.

Using printed design as guide for cutting materials as demonstrated by Yofukashi

Once you have the individual patterns drawn or printed out, you can stick them to the materials to-be-cut as a guide, as shown here by Youtube creator Yofukashi.

Making the foundation for the miniature house

Every house, large and tiny alike, starts with a foundation. A basic structure to build upon, giving the rigidity needed to not have the whole thing get warped or collapse on itself. Now in the case of a miniature house, there’s no need to be mixing and pouring concrete – though we would applaud the dedication. Instead, thin wood boards suffice to create a basis for the floor and the walls. For example, you could use a 2mm MDF board or 1.5mm plywood board to make a foundation for your floor.

As a basis for the walls, we’d generally recommend going for 4mm plywood board to start your build off nice and sturdy. Then again, depending on the design, your walls might suffer little to no strain. If that is the case, we would consider using foam board instead. It’s smooth like butter for a craft knife to cut through, which makes it all the easier to have precisely cut openings for the future doors and windows to perfectly fit into.

Speaking of doors and windows, a practical way of making their frames is to get a set of square wooden dowels. With these, it’s just a matter of cutting the sticks to length and assembling them into a frame that snugly fits into the wall opening. However, this holds true for rectangular frames. If you want to play around with rounded shapes, we’d recommend making the frames with bendable plastic sticks instead.

Making wall openings with corrugated plastic, by Hanabira

In one of her miniature builds, Youtube creator Hanabira used corrugated plastic to make the basis for a wall. Like foam board, this material is easy to cut, which allowed her to create the openings for round windows without difficulty. Had she used wood board instead, making the round cutouts would have been more of a challenge.

How to make a miniature wood floor

There are many things to fawn over in a well made miniature house, and we’d say a wooden floor is definitely one of them. To make a miniature wood floor, you can use a thin sheet of basswood. Start off by cutting strips, with their width equal to those of the floorboards you want to make. These strips are then cut into smaller pieces along the length, creating the individual floorboards. You can make the pieces long when going for a classic straight pattern, or make smaller pieces for a herringbone pattern or some other kind of parquet. No budget constraints here in miniature scale, it’s all just little pieces of wood – so go as fancy as you like.

Once you’ve got your pile of floorboards ready, you can glue them to the foundation in your chosen pattern. After that, you’ll probably want to deal with their unfinished wood look. This is actually one of our favorite bits, as a coat of wood stain or wood varnish does wonders in instantly adding warmth, depth and character to the floor. However, if the newly stained floor still looks a bit too newish for your liking, and you’re looking to give it a bit of extra lived-in character, here’s a tip. Take a black or dark brown pastel stick and shave off some powder. By applying some of this powder here and there onto the floorboards, you create darkening effects similar to what natural weathering would do.

Finishing the walls of a miniature house

We’ve mentioned erecting the walls of the DIY miniature house with foam board or plywood boards as a basis. However, this is just the barebones structure and while it may already look promising, it’s not quite homely yet. So let’s look at a few ways to finish the walls.

Miniature modern living room with brick interior walls

Brick work

Brick walls look great on the exterior of a miniature house, but they can also work really nicely for the interior. For example, when you’re making a city apartment with an industrial look, exposed brick work would embrace the whole vibe.

To create a brick wall, your technique will depend on the material you’re working with. If you’re using foam board, making the bricks is as easy as carving the grooves into the foam. To add some porous texture, you can use a wire brush. If the basis of your wall is wood, you can turn it into a brick wall by using cork sheet. Simply cut out little rectangular pieces of cork to make individual bricks, and stick them onto the wood.

With the basis done, there are just a few steps left to finish the miniature brick wall. For starters, it could probably use some grout. This can be created by using modeling paste to fill the gaps between the bricks. Here, a toothpick might come in handy to reach into the little grooves.

What is left is to paint the bricks in the color of your choosing. There are quite some different kinds of brick colors out there, so we recommend looking for reference photos to decide which one would be perfect for your project. Red and rust tones will give a classic and warm appeal, while an antique gray would fit nicely in a more neutral setting. For older walls, you’ll likely identify more than one color that will be needed to reproduce their look. To apply the paint, stipple it on with a small sponge to add a variety of color intensity. In addition, this technique works really well in bringing out the porous nature of the bricks.

DIY miniature house in an old farmhouse style with plaster walls

Plaster

About equally as charming of a finish for the walls, is plaster. A layer of plaster is relatively easy to apply by using modeling paste and smearing it out with a palette knife. Depending on your technique, you can try to go for as smooth a result as possible, or deliberately leaving strokes of thicker paste for a more rustic look. Or perhaps, you’re looking to create a plaster wall with lots of texture. To do this, you can stipple across the surface with a metal brush or a ball of folded aluminum foil, depending on the kind of texture you’re going for.

Alternatively, you could be going for an old and weathered appearance, if your miniature is to mimic a place that has been around for a while. There are a few tricks that you can use to achieve these signs of aging. For example, you can stick a piece of irregularly shaped tape to the wall before plastering it, and peel it off afterwards. This will then expose the underlying layer as if the plaster itself had fallen off. Similarly, you could place a thin thread on the wall and partially plaster over it. Then, once the paste has dried, you lift the thread off of the wall. In doing so, you break the layer of plaster and leave a thin crack in the wall.

Aging looks good on a mini

Once your miniature wall is plastered, chances are that you’ll feel that it is still missing something. Perhaps it is looking a bit too pristine. Not unlike a full-sized room that was newly built and freshly painted, it may lack the feel of a lived-in place. Walls, over time, gather dust, smoke from candles, steam from cups of coffee and tea, and other little particles that leave tiny traces. Walls obtain discolorations, which could be ever so faint, or clearly visible. So try adding a bit of staining here and there, subtle or more obvious, and see how it breathes life into the little room.

Living room in a DIY miniature house with white shiplap walls

Shiplap

Perfect for a miniature beach house, a mini mountain cabin, a tiny Swedish country cottage, and an eensy weensy English kitchen alike, is a shiplap wall. Like wooden floors, you can make shiplap boards by cutting strips from a sheet of basswood and glueing them next to one another onto the bare wall. Though each shiplap wall is similar in how it’s made, there are still plenty of ways of giving it a unique character.

For starters, depending on the width of the boards, a shiplap wall can have a rustic country feel or more of a slick and geometric look. Also, going for either a horizontal or vertical orientation changes the appearance completely. Even more so, the wood stain or paint color that you choose. A warm and natural honey hued stain, a deep and opaque vintage green and a shabby-chic white wash all look vastly different from one another. What kind of coat would suit your miniature walls?

Classical miniature living room with wallpaper with vintage detailed patterns

Wallpaper

Lastly, we have an old favorite among dollhouse makers: miniature wallpaper. This is probably the easiest way of transforming bare walls into an eye-catching part of the interior. More so if it has some intricate patterns going on. Wallpaper comes in many styles and can work for all kinds of miniature houses, but we think it is especially interesting to consider for vintage and historical interiors. This is because you can purchase tiny replicas of actual wallpaper designs that were very much on trend once upon a time. Take, for example, the beautiful Victorian wallpaper designs by William Morris. Getting to stick these on a miniature wall is reason enough to build a little house, if you ask us.

How to make miniature furniture

So far we’ve talked about building the main structure of a DIY miniature house. But to make it into a little home, the most important bits are still missing: the miniature furniture. Let’s start off by saying that this doesn’t necessarily need to be a DIY project, as there are amazing little furniture pieces to be found online. We’d especially recommend having a look on Etsy, where you’ll find many craftily handmade pieces. However, if you’ve DIY’ed your miniature house all the way to this point, wouldn’t it be fun to try your hand at mini furniture making as well?

Of course it would

But how to go about making tiny pieces of furniture? As with the house itself, it starts with a design. Here’s a fun exercise: choose a piece of wooden furniture in your own home and try to derive a pattern for making a tiny version of it. Take out some measuring tape, and map out all the individual parts. Study your subject closely: are there bevels, or rounded edges? All of these can be reproduced in tiny scale, especially when working with material as soft as balsa wood. Using a knife, a file, and a mini rotary tool, you can carve details and soften edges. And once your furniture parts look the part, you can piece the whole thing together simply by using wood glue.

Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Admittedly, in practice it might prove to be a little bit of a challenge. But not one to shy away from! Making miniature furniture may very well become your favorite part of the building process. If jumping in head first and figuring it out as you go isn’t your style, we recommend checking out the Julie Warren’s book. This will take you step by step on the learning path of making miniature furniture.

Making miniature door hinges as demonstrated by Hitsuji-no-ie

Just because it’s mini, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be functional. When miniature maker Hitsuji-no-ie creates doors, they can actually be opened and closed. By drilling a tiny hole into the frame with a mini drill, and inserting a brass wire, she creates a clever hinge mechanism.

That wraps up our guide to building your own DIY miniature house. We don’t know about you, but we’re itching to build a little something right about now. Off to the drawing board, shall we?

About the author

Hey there, I'm Aimee. I have this thing for tiny things, that has grown ever since I started dabbling with miniature crafts in 2018. I started this blog to create a space for ideas and resources for making miniatures, so that they may inspire others and lead to the crafting of many more little worlds within our own.

Aimee River

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