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 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.
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.
The 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.
The 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).
The 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.
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.
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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