How to Make a Cheap Dollhouse for American Girl Dolls

How to Make a Cheap Dollhouse for American Girl Dolls

by Kerry Scott on 17 May 2013

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Note: This isn’t about genealogy, but it is about family history. My oldest descendent and I have been working on this for a while. I’ll go back to talking about dead people in the next post.

So you have a kid, or maybe a grandkid. Your kid or grandkid likes 18-inch dolls, and you want to build a home for these dolls. You have a limited budget and you’re the least handy person on the planet. What do you do?

There are three things you need to know about building an American Girl dollhouse on a budget:

  • You need deep shelves. The dolls are 18 inches long, which means their beds and couches are more like 20 inches long. They’re bigger than you think. Regular household bookshelves are usually 11-14 inches deep, and that’s not enough room for furniture this size. You’ll need shelves that are at least 18 inches deep. I’ve found that shelves that deep are usually meant for garages, which means they’re ugly…but they’re also cheaper than fancy shelves meant for your living spaces.
  • You need to invest time. I’ve spent years keeping an eye out for stuff that can be used for dolls at thrift stores, consignment stores, garage sales, and the parts of Target that have nothing to do with toys. It’s been worth it. There are all sorts of everyday items that can be repurposed for doll use.
  • You need to prioritize. American Girl stuff is expensive. The dolls themselves are worth the expense (in my opinion), but the accessories can be found for much less. Target carries a line called Our Generation that is a good value for the money (but buy cool stuff when you see it, because the stuff is seasonal, and when it’s gone, it’s gone). Michael’s has cheap doll furniture, clothing and accessories, and they also offer a ton of coupons. Toys R Us is my least favorite store on earth, but their Journey Girls line sometimes has furniture and accessories for 18-inch dolls. Etsy is full of sellers who make all sorts of cool stuff for dolls, and the quality is often as good or better than the American Girl brand items. Economizing on some things has allowed us to save up for the American Girl brand stuff that really IS worth it.

Here’s how we made an 18-inch dollhouse out of cheap metal garage shelves:

The two large shelving units you see above were priced at $67 each at our local Lowe’s (although we paid less because we had a coupon). The shorter one on the right was $40, but I got a 15% discount because it was the floor model and was missing a part that we didn’t need anyway.

American Girl Dollhouse Bedroom Bunkbeds

American Girl has fantastic furniture, but you’ll have to sell your own furniture to be able to pay for it. I spent years haunting to a local kids’ consignment store back in Milwaukee, and it paid off. These bunk beds were $15. The floral dresser in this room is a wooden chest that came with a jewelry-making kit from Costco; it was $20 (and that included the jewelry-making stuff). The pink carpeting came from FLOR, which sells carpeting tiles. I was able to buy the five tiles I needed on clearance for $9.49 each. They’re a great resource for small quantities of carpeting, and the tiles are sturdy, which is great when you’re putting them on top of wire shelves. They provide excellent support for the furniture.

American Girl Bedroom Saige

This bed and bedding are from Etsy, and the bedding is too. The “nightstand” is a plastic organizer from Target, and the lamp is from IKEA (I think it was $8, but it’s so old I don’t remember for sure). The artist’s easel, paintings and supplies are from American Girl’s Girl of The Year 2013 collection. This year the Girl of the Year is from Albuquerque, and since we’d just moved to Albuquerque when she came out, my daughter was immediately obsessed. She sold off all of her Barbie stuff and a bunch of other toys to pay for the doll and some of her accessories. I’m hoping she this goal-oriented when it’s time to pay for college.

American Girl Kitchen Dining RoomThe kitchen set is from Target’s Our Generation line; I believe it was $61.99 (and it comes with a zillion food items, dishes and other accessories). The dining set was $5 at a garage sale. The kitchen floor is made of cheap foam core boards ($5.99 at Michael’s) covered with Contact paper.

American Girl Living Room DollhouseThe living room is made from a couch I found on Etsy, cheap lounge chairs from Michael’s ($10 each with a coupon), and a fireplace from Toys R Us’ Journey Girls line. The carpeting here is a bath mat from Target (and those are the perfect width if you choose 18 inch deep shelves for this project).

American Girl Bathroom DollhouseThe bathroom walls are made of foam core board from Michael’s. The nice thing about these metal wire shelves is that you can attach “walls” made of cardboard or foam core board with binder clips. The floor is also made of foam core board covered with Contact paper. The tub is from American Girl (a gift from a relative), and the vanity is a discontinued American Girl piece I found at a consignment store for $6. The ceramic sink is actually a paperclip holder from the stationery department at Target; it was $12.99 (and my local Target still has them, so yours might too…but hurry, because it’s one of those temporary designer lines that they only carry for a short period of time). The mirror is a plastic mirror from Walgreen’s, and the “artwork” is an old postcard.

American Girl Dollhouse Salon

The hair salon includes chair I got at a consignment store for $5 (although Target sells these for around $18 too). The other accessories are part of a Target kit, and the larger drawer unit is a plastic organizer from my own vast collection of plastic organizer thingies. The American Girl hairstyle pictures on the wall came from a hair styling book I got at a garage sale for 50 cents. The laundry baskets are two for $2.99 at Michael’s.

American Girl Classroom Dollhouse

The classroom is my favorite part. The chairs are from Etsy (and prices seem to vary widely for school chairs on Etsy, so shop carefully). The chalkboard is from a $12.99 kit at Target. The white board is the one I used to use for genealogy stuff before I got a bigger one. The teacher’s “bulletin board” is made of stuff I printed off the internet. I added an American flag after this photo was taken.

So that’s our dollhouse. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t blog as often anymore, and one of the reasons is that I’m doing stuff like this with my kids. I’m pretty fortunate to have the time and resources to do this sort of thing, and I figure I’d better make hay while the sun shines. Before you know it, they’ll be all grown up, and I’ll have plenty of time to blog about dead people.

Disclaimer: I bought all of this with my own money. Nobody sponsored anything or gave me any discount, other than the floor model discount mentioned above. I have no connection to any of the companies mentioned, other than as a customer. 

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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

GrannyPam May 17, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I love this. Spend as much time on projects like this as you can, you are absolutely right that they will be grown soon.

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Donna Peterson May 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Great ideas Kerry! I’m printing this out for future reference. Might be a summer project for my granddaughter.

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KC @ The Real Thing with the Coake Family May 17, 2013 at 8:11 pm

What a great AG house! I bet it is well loved and well used at your house!
KC

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Rondina May 19, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Very nice, but I’m stunned at the difference from the first American Girls to what I see now. The dolls came with books that placed the characters in historical context. I hope that hasn’t been lost.

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Kerry Scott May 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

They still have those. The doll with the short blonde hair is Kit Kitteridge, who was a kid during the Great Depression. Even the modern ones have books that tell of some challenge they’ve overcome. The red-haired Albuquerquean one, Saige, works to save her school’s art program from budget cuts in her books.

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Debi Austen May 19, 2013 at 3:54 pm

That is VERY nice, Kerry. She is very lucky to have a cool mom like you :-)

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Kerry Scott May 19, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I’m the lucky one, believe me. They’re great kids.

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Cheryl May 20, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Although my granddaughter is getting married soon and had Barbies instead of American Girl, I loved looking at your pictures. I am doing the dead people thing for my grandkids, but I am going to have my first great-granddaughter soon, so may have to keep this in mind for the future. Thanks for sharing!

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Kerry Scott May 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Oh! A great-granddaughter! Congratulations!!

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Nancy Colley May 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Great stuff you have there. You and your kids must really be enthusiasts of dollhouses to have a collection and project like that. Despite the expenses, I think it is all worth it when your heart is in it.

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Bernitta May 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I love your doll house, I was think of doing the same thing but with some type of fabric walls; thank you for sharing your ideas and great finds.

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Brenda May 30, 2013 at 5:03 pm

ADORABLE! And your priorities are well-grounded :-)

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Audrey Collins June 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Just wonderful! I just have a regular 1:12 scale house (it was my 40th birthday present) and have the most fun improvising furniture and accessories, much better than buying stuff, as well as being cheaper. You know you’ve gone too far when you buy something you don’t really need because the plastic blister pack it comes in would make a great bathtub…

And it’s all for me, I can’t even pretend it’s not because I have two sons (in their 30s), two nephews and no grandchildren. Goodness knows what I’d be like if there were any girl children in the family.

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Kerry Scott June 3, 2013 at 4:32 pm

No need to pretend. Doing your own thing = awesome!

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Margaret June 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Could you please decorate my house?

You are SOO right, spend time with them NOW. We’ve had some good times with our boys (thankfully) but I think about the 17-year-old going off to college next year and my stomach just sinks.

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Kerry Scott June 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Buh-leeve me, the doll house decorating is nicer than parts of my house. On the upside, my actual house is not quite so…pink. So that’s something.

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NeTaliyah Abraham June 18, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Wow! That looks so cute! I’ll definitely be trying this!

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LeAnna St. Basil June 18, 2013 at 1:47 pm

This is perfect for my daughter! She has 14 AG dolls and tons of furniture and clothes! She has three dolls in particular, Abby (the architect enthusiast), Harly (the designer) and Sassha (the chef). Thanks for the ideas, Kerry!

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Holly July 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Hi Kerry, I just love your ideas! We purchased the shelves to copy your idea and board for the walls. We were just wondering how you connected the walls with binder clips.
Thank you, Holly

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Kerry Scott July 29, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thank you! I clipped the foam core walls to the wire metal lines that make up the shelves themselves, then bent the handles of the binder clips down so they didn’t make the carpeting above stick up. As a practical matter, though, if you cut the foam core walls generously enough, you can wedge them in without clips…they tend not to move around much.

If that doesn’t make sense, let me know and I’ll email a photo to you.

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Holly July 30, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Thank you! That totally makes sense. We have been having so much fun with this project! My children are playing with the dollhouse non stop and ( bonus) everything is off the floor.

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Michelle August 1, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Thanks for sharing this! Can you tell me what size shelving units you bought? How wide are they? It looks like they come in different sizes. Thanks.

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Kerry Scott August 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

These shelves are 18 inches deep, the selection at that depth is not large. They are 48 inches wide, and that was the only width I could find at that depth in the Albuquerque area. If you can find difference sizes, grab them, because you’ll have a LOT more flexibility in building your dollhouse.

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Crisse August 26, 2013 at 11:54 am

Hi, I absolutely LOVE this house and everything in it as it was made with love and bargains!!!! I am from the Milwaukee area(West Allis to be exact) so I am curious to know which consignment shops you would recommend around here? My daughter is just getting in to the American girl stuff and i am a singe mom on a small budget so I am very happy to have found this post!!!!

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Kerry Scott August 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Hi Crisse! I occasionally found stuff at the New To You store at 124th and Capitol (across from the Target). My absolute favorite for AG stuff, though, was the Playroom Closet on 93rd and Greenfield. I heard it was sold right after we moved from Milwaukee to Albuquerque, so I don’t know how it is under the new ownership…but it’s definitely worth a shot. I think they’re in West Allis on 108th now, but I’m not sure exactly where.

Also, the Our Generation line at Target is coming out with some new stuff. I read about this on the Doll Diaries blog. They have a big barn, an RV, plus some little stuff like school backpacks, lunch bags, etc. I saw on online review of the barn, but it hasn’t hit our Target stores here yet. I just found the RV yesterday at my local Target, and it’s fabulous. We had to send Santa an email right there in the middle of the aisle. :)

Sometimes I find stuff on Target or Michael’s clearance, and I put that stuff on my Instagram, which is here: http://instagram.com/cluewagon

Happy shopping!

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Andrea Murtishi August 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Hi, I love this house! I would love to make this for my girls…can u send me the link to the shelves u purchased at Lowes? Thanks!!! arya29@sbcglobal.net

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Kerry Scott August 30, 2013 at 11:56 am

Unfortunately, I bought them in person (not online), and I don’t still have the info that would give the item number. You can find shelves at any home improvement store, as well as at Costco, Sam’s Club, etc. The key is to look for ones that are 18″ deep (or more). Beyond that, you can do any height/width/style that suits the room you’re working in.

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Andrea Murtishi September 1, 2013 at 5:13 am

I found some deep plastic shleving at home depot yesterday and bought some carpet panels and tile pieces, it looks great already, thanks for the ideas!

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Holly September 1, 2013 at 10:08 am

Are the shelves adjustable so that the dolls can stand?

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Kerry Scott September 3, 2013 at 8:43 am

Yes, the shelves on this one are adjustable.

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Kerry Thompson September 2, 2013 at 4:15 pm

I absolutely love this Kerry! My daughter is turning 8 this month & will be getting her much coveted American girl doll : ) We just made a playroom for her & I found great shelves on Walmart.com I bought them because they were large & cheap…less than $20 each. They are plastic garage type units but I decorated the front of each (white) shelf with colored duct tape to make them beautiful as my daughter said. I think they will be the perfect size to try this with. I originally bought them to declutter but as cheap as they are I can always purchase another to make up for using one for this purpose. My daughter is going to go nuts for it! I also found lots of do it yourself 18″ doll furniture on google… I am a crafter but that’s as far as it goes so I am going to do the cardboard ones I found but for those that are more adventurous there were lots of patterns using real wood. Thanks so much for posting this. I will have to wait until after Sept.10th to do it since that’s when her birthday is but I can always start treasure hunting right now : ) Thanks again from another Kerry!

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Kerry Scott September 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

$20 each is a great deal! If you’re crafty, check out myfroggystuff.blogspot.com for ideas. The woman who runs that site is a doll crafting genius…I am constantly blown away at the creative (and cheap!) ideas she comes up with.

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Pam Ross September 25, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Thank you so much for posting this! I have been trying to figure out an affordable way to make a dollhouse for my daughter’s American Girl dolls and this is perfect!!! I will be starting on this now so I can surprise her for Christmas!!!!

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Venetta October 11, 2013 at 6:39 pm

Are you aware of whether its easy to get a round dining room table to
seat 12? Ive been looking on the internet but I can not seem to find any others
than tiny dining tables

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Kerry Scott October 14, 2013 at 7:53 am

I’ve never seen one meant to seat 12 dolls. I think for that, I’d probably look for a small coffee or end table from a thrift shop, and then cut the legs down to make it the right height for the dolls. These 18″ dolls are bigger than they seem, especially when seated, so a “regular” table might end up being just right.

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Army Wife October 15, 2013 at 7:46 am

What did you use as the flooring in the classroom?

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Kerry Scott October 15, 2013 at 8:25 am

It’s that foam core board (from Michael’s) covered with Contact paper.

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Tanya Hunter November 12, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Hi, you have started a new project (little bit addicted) for me! Love it!!! I am excited because I have found a combination of your idea plus the concept of the wooden sides…its a white storage cabinet from Home Depot. It is 48″ wide by 20″ deep by 72″ tall and it $108. My husband likes the idea that we can close the doors if we want to but the doors don’t even have to attach if you want it to stay open all the time. :) I am going to try to add windows to the inside/outside with velcro? Also I was at our local Dollar Store and they had the foam board for $1! I don’t know if the quality is different, but I was excited to see it there.

The best advice I think in the entire blog entry is to look for things other places than the toy area. I stopped at St. Vincent’s and found a DARLING Christmas tree and sled both just the right size for American Girl dolls. I’m sure they were meant as simple holiday decorations, but they are going to be adorable in the doll house. I also found three Christmas painted chairs and a little pitcher/plate just the right size for a doll table. It never occurred to me to look places like that. The best part of that St. Vincent’s trip is the entire purchase was $14. Heck I can’t buy a hair bow from AG for $14 lol. Thank you for taking the time to blog it and talk about where you got it all.

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Holly December 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Hi Tanya would love to see pics of your finished project.

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Julie Moore November 13, 2013 at 8:08 pm

You could also use an old changing table as a Barbie Condo. Just put carpet on the shelves. My girls loved it!!

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MK November 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm

We’re going to build a house as a family. I was thinking the same as you regarding the shelves. We’re thinking of covering the back with a piece of wood. I dream of not stepping on little accessories. They need a house!! Thanks for the great ideas!

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Jodi November 30, 2013 at 11:31 am

This is such a great idea! Could you tell me what the overall height and width of the two large shelving units is? I’m trying to determine how tall and wide each room is, and the only dimension I see you’ve posted is the shelf depth (18″). Thanks!

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Kerry Scott December 2, 2013 at 4:45 pm

These are 48″ wide, but you can use any width you like. I believe they’re 72″ high, but again, the height can vary based on the height of your child and what you plan to store on top. The depth is the part that’s important, because the dolls themselves are 18″ long, so if they’re not deep enough, the furniture won’t fit.

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Clodagh December 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

Thank you so much for taking the time to post. My daughter has been begging me for a doll house for her AG dolls but as we live in Muscat, Oman it’s near impossible to get anything for 18″ dolls. I’m going to try to get this done for Christmas but we may need to add things along the way. I LO VE the classroom. Thanks

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Nanax4 December 13, 2013 at 6:41 am

Thank you! My granddaughter and I are really excited about this project, and Christmas is a great time to get started. Love that the “house” doesn’t take up the middle of a room, and can be repurposed if and when she outgrows it. Totally “stealing” your idea…thanks for sharing. God bless!

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Comfort April 1, 2014 at 10:53 am

Well, Well, Well!!! Hello! This is the best idea ever! I have a Target My Generation doll (Sara Ruth) who has needed a house for a very long time. I have been collecting antique and collectable 18-inch-size doll furniture for years because I had an antique Anne Shirley doll from the 1930′s. (Anne is the girl in the Anne of Green Gables books). She now lives with my son, waiting for my granddaughter to be interested (which will probably be when she has her own daughter, as she’s a teen now!). I got Sara Ruth to replace Anne Shirley. I have wooden beds, cutely decorated tables and chairs (found at Big Lots during spring sales), outside benches and dishes n such. I have been thinking about wooden bookshelves and dreaded the weight of that, plus the ungainly size! We use these exact metal shelves all over our house…for housing kitchen wares and foods (in bins on the shelves), for computer and music stuff, crafts, clothes, etc. After my move to another state this May, ’14, I will be finding the new Lowe’s and buying two more shelves! I want “solid” walls, so will borrow your flooring idea. Some of these shelves come with wheels. You can also buy wheels to fit from Harbor Freight for a good price. I can’t wait! I have bought almost all my dolls stuff and much else from thrift stores, dollar stores, Big Lots, some from Target and hardware stores. I love repurposing things. Thank you, I’m glad i found you! Comfort

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Kymmi June 26, 2014 at 10:41 am

I am impressed! I had discussed the idea of repurposing bookshelves to make dollhouses with Comfort (see above) but it seemed that so much bulk and weight would be involved that it would be too ungainly. This makes the idea so perfectly functional, flexible, and much more in line with today’s tech-savvy world. What a wonderful idea!

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Lisa July 5, 2014 at 9:17 am

Hi Kerry, I just love your idea! I’m doing this for my daughter and myself because I just love dolls and also I have a business where I sew American Girl doll clothes. You said that you did the flooring from carpet tiles at the website Flor. How big are the tiles? And how many does it take to cover one shelf? I tried Home Depot and they don’t sell carpet tiles. They only sell something that was really ugly and they come in about 100 to a box.

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Kerry Scott July 6, 2014 at 9:48 am

The FLOR tiles are about 19.5 inches square, and it took two-and-a-half of them to cover the shelves I used here (so if you don’t already have a carpet knife, I’d definitely get one, because you’ll have to cut the third tile to fit). I highly recommend checking the sale section on the FLOR website, because the tiles can be pricey (even on sale they’re not exactly the cheapest thing ever, but cheaper than regular price). I’ve found that the sort of flamboyant patterns/colors of carpet tiles that are a bit much for a human house are perfect for dolls, so the ones that tend to go on sale are exactly the ones we dollhouse decorators need.

Good luck!

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Lisa July 7, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Thanks for your reply! I’ve got one shelf right now and I’m going to add another 74x48x18. And maybe a smaller one like you have. I will get a carpet knife.

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Lisa July 13, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Kerry, I ran across some carpet remnants at Walmart for $1.88. They were the right size too. 18×24. So I got 2. The color is kind of plain but the price was really good.

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Kerry Scott July 14, 2014 at 10:21 am

Wow, that’a a great deal! Good for you!

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