In This Post
- Before You Start
- How to Paint a Dollhouse Exterior
This was going to be a delightful “how to” post on how to paint a dollhouse exterior. It will still be that post, only, not as delightful.
Well, that’s kind of complicated to explain, but I’m going to try. Basically, what it comes down to, there is no right or wrong way to paint a dollhouse exterior. Or interior, for that matter. In fact, what I’ve learned is that, for the most part, is that you can pretty much paint a dollhouse exterior any way you want.
The Advice Wasn’t Great
Not that the advice was awful, it’s just that there was no definitive answer to “how to paint a dollhouse exterior.” I know, because I Googled it. For a newbie like me that’s trying to learn how to paint a dollhouse exterior, that’s not very helpful. I mean, painting a dollhouse exterior isn’t like, I don’t know, painting the outside of my house. So, I need all the advice I can get.
Some people like sponge brushes, others don’t. Those that prefer bristle brushes split into two camps, natural and synthetic bristles. Go figure. Then there’s those that say you should paint your dollhouse exterior before you assemble it and some that say never do that! And, of course, there are those that say follow the directions. And, those that say the instructions are just a loose guideline.
I’m not going to lie. This is part of why I started this website. So newbies like me (and you) don’t have to tear their hair out trying to find this stuff out. Or, learn on the job. Well, I’m learning on the job. You get to learn from me.
That said, I did find some advice that was helpful and seems to be consistent no matter where you look.
Remove the Extras First
Depending on your dollhouse project, you may already have windows and doors installed. For example, if you’re repainting a dollhouse or you’ve bought one that’s already assembled. If that’s the case, remove those things first.
In fact, if there’s anything you don’t want painted and you can remove it, you should. Unlike painting a house (or a room, or even accent wall), it’s harder to cover the doors and windows in a dollhouse, and you could end up with paint blobs where you don’t want them.
On the off chance that something, you’ll have to cover it with tape (and maybe some paper). That’s totally doable. It’s just harder to do at one-inch scale.
Tape It Off
Speaking of places you don’t want paint, anything else that you don’t want painted will have to be covered with tape. The ceiling is a good example. While you may not have to cover the whole ceiling, you should probably do the edges. Just like in a full-size room.
I guess if you’ve got a really steady hand, you could try cutting in, just like a painting pro. Personally, I suck at that, so I’m always going to tape stuff off.
In case you’re wondering what that looks like, here are some examples. If you look closely, you can find places where taping off still didn’t help me!
Assembly Is Sort of Required
Most advice says that you should assemble the dollhouse shell before you paint. Apparently, there’s less chance that the pieces will warp if you do this. I guess that there’s a chance the wood pieces will absorb the paint (or stain, if you’re going that route), but if the pieces are already in place, it’s less likely that will happen.
When I talk about assembly, I’m talking about the shell, as in, just the big pieces. You should, of course, paint smaller pieces like shutters or trim, before you attach them to the dollhouse exterior. They’re easier to paint when they aren’t already attached.
Other advice said you should assemble first, but only if the instructions recommend it. Otherwise, you can paint the pieces before or after assembly. If the instructions give guidance, newbies should do that. More experienced builders probably have their own way of going about this.
I guess it’s a personal choice that comes with experience. For the record, I partly painted (as in primed) my first project before assembly (just the clapboard side of the big pieces):
How to Paint a Dollhouse Exterior
Thankfully, there is no right or wrong technique to paint a dollhouse exterior. So, you’re probably still wondering how to paint a dollhouse exterior. Well, you can use a bristle brush, a sponge brush, and airbrush, or even a spray can. Whatever method works best for you is the right method.
There’s a lot to remember. If you don’t want to worry about remembering, scroll to the bottom of the page for the quick reference guide.
When I was researching how to paint a dollhouse exterior, I specifically wanted to know how to paint clapboard siding that was already attached to the dollhouse. There’s lots of information about how to paint clapboard that’s not attached to your house, but nothing about how to paint a dollhouse exterior that already has clapboard on it.
I did find some interesting information about painting shingles that are already attached (the preferred method for painting shingles, in case you didn’t know). And that’s to turn the house upside down to let the paint drip in under the shingles.
Sounds like a good idea for clapboard siding. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Seal it up (or don’t)
Like most things paint-related, there are those who say you should seal the pieces and others who say don’t. Those who are in the pro-seal camp say that sealing the wood will stop paint, varnish, and even wallpaper paste from absorbing into the wood. Also, it can help prevent warping.
If you’re going to seal, it’s the first step for painting a dollhouse exterior. You may have to use as many as three coats to seal the wood.
That said, you may not need to seal the wood. If you’ve bought a kit (raises hand), you can probably get away with skipping this step. The kit likely contains high-quality wood that doesn’t need sealing.
To prime or not to prime
So, of course, some say to prime, and some say not to prime. Some top quality woods may not need primer. But, I will say, that priming the surface with white probably gives you a better, truer color than going right on the wood.
Also, depending on the primer you use, you may be able to skip the whole sealing step, since some primers act as both.
Stains are special
There’s a how-to on staining wood. So, the tl;dr version here is: if you’re planning on staining wood (like a door, or trim), don’t prime or seal that piece. The stain won’t take because (spoiler alert) you sealed and primed the wood.
Sanding is another one of those do you or don’t you things. Here’s what I learned. You probably don’t need to sand before you seal and prime. What you can do is apply one coat of paint, then sand, then paint again. Here’s why.
The first coat of paint pulls wood grain up and out, creating a “fuzzy” surface. Nobody wants a fuzzy dollhouse (I don’t think), so you should sand after the first coat of paint to create a smooth surface.
You may find that after a second or even third coat of paint, you still have fuzzy wood so you may need to sand between each coat of paint. Wipe the piece(s) down with a cloth to sweep up any dust. Don’t sand the final layer. It will look weird.
That said, if you’re sanding clapboard, use a light touch. Otherwise, you might sand off too much clapboard and ruin the look.
Less is more
Just like in real world painting, less is more. Apply a thin coat each time. Yeah, it may take more time, but you’ll be happier with the results. It allows you to adjust the color level better and is less likely to result in drips. Plus, thin coats tend to dry faster than thick ones.
Take a gander at my less than awesome painting technique:
Learning How to Paint a Dollhouse Exterior is an Experience
So, yeah. That’s what I’ve got for this post. Like I said, delightful, but maybe not as informative as a newbie would want. I’ll update this post as I learn more, either from research or doing (and messing up).
If you’ve got ideas or advice, leave them in the comments. And who knows? Maybe I’ll add them to the post!
This post was originally published on 5/3/2019 and was updated on 3/31/2020
John Kennedy says
You may want to show photos as an example
Excellent idea, John! I’m going to update the post with photos. Thanks
Vanguard Painting says
This is a great addition tips blog, thank you for sharing this article. I love it how you have written the insightful, these entire how to paint a dollhouse exterior. Well done. Keep sharing. I will bookmark your site; I hope to read more such informative contents in future.
What if you are re-furbishing an existing dollhouse. I have a Kidcraft barbie dollhouse that I got super cheap at a thrift store and I want to refurbish it for my son with cute woodsy things (I plan to use mod podge and scrapbook paper to “wallpaper” the walls and I went to paint it but I don’t know what paint to use for the exterior and roof (which are both currently bright pink). It’s made of wood somewhere under there, but really shiny and incredibly smooth to the touch… almost like it’s got a layer of something on top of the wood. I was thinking I could spray paint it, but my friend said it might not stick to it since it has a smooth/plasticy finish. I tried a quick patch on the bottom and it seems ok, but kind of feels weird now, not smooth. Do I need to use another kind of paint… or go on top of the spray paint with a layer of some kind of sealant or something, to get the texture right again? I don’t want to have flaking paint coming off in my kiddos hands. I’d rather leave it pink and flowery!
I have a Kidcraft that I will one day get around to refurbing. That said, I have painted over other painted wood pieces and here’s what I would suggest.
If you’re certain it’s wood (and it probably is in your case), the kind of paint you use doesn’t really matter. What does matter is how you prep the wood–especially in the case of already painted wood. Since you say the paint is shiny, it probably has a quality top coat on the paint (they usually do). To test that theory, take a little bit of paint and try to paint directly on the dollhouse. If it beads up, then you know you’ve got a quality top coat. If not… well, I bet it still has a top coat, it’s just not as great. Either way, though, you’ll prep the wood the same way.
Start by sanding and the heck out of the exterior. Start gently, though, so you don’t over do it and damage anything. You don’t need to sand the paint all the way off (and you might not be able to). What you’re trying to do is create a rough surface for the paint to adhere to. Clean off the dust then prep your surface with two coats of primer. Stain blocking primer is your best bet. Then paint as usual with whatever kind of paint you want. I’d seal it with a top coat, just to make sure it doesn’t flake off.
Technically, you can do the same for the shingles, but I’d be careful with the sanding. Shingles are usually thinner than the walls and it’s far easier to damage them.
Good luck and let me know how it goes!
Megan Garcia says
Can I call it weathered? Lol! You’re site is great! Thanks for putting info out there for us newbies!
You can call it whatever you want! And, you are welcome! I created this site for people like us: those who have no idea what they’re doing. Hope my information helps you out!
Hi there, I am a newby..last year around this time my hubby had the idea to buy a dollhouse fir my then 10 month old twin granddaughter.. after looking around we finally purchased a used doll house for $40. It was rough shape with crayon and marker on the floors in the interior and roofing shingles off and marked up with crayon and work. It took me eight months to figure out that I wanted to do something with this little doll house but unfortunately it was not going to be for the granddaughter because all the information that I had looked up was teeny tiny and would fall in her mouth and that would not be a good thing. The long and short of the story is I sanded stained painted everything and it took me months to decorate and all the stuff being a newbie. I finally finished just before Christmas and have a beautiful little doll house that cannot be played with by my granddaughter. It’s all mine. But I showed an interest and my husband and I went shopping And found a beautiful Victoria’s Farmhouse doll house that I just got for Christmas from Santa and my husband and my son. I’m so looking forward to doing the decorating but it’s a little overwhelming. Where to store?
Turning to Google and the Internet I found your site and it is most helpful. I have picked out the paint which is the same color or seems to be what you have painted the blue. What a great color. As for the stain for the roof that’s debatable because I tried several different things on it. But I think I finally figured it out. Anyway I need to takeoff all The railings on the outside to paint them and the trim I don’t know if I’d be able to takeoff all that stuff but if not it is going to take forever and ever to paint but I have all the Time in the world and it will take months and months and months. Anyway then I will need to paint the inside and figure out colors. So that pressboard that the doll house is made out of is going to take from what you say several coats of paint.. looking forward to more information on your blog would be great I really enjoyed reading comments thanks so much from your new B also!
LORI – treehouse
I, too, will one day tackle a Victorian farmhouse. And a bunch of other Victorian style houses. I agree that these are all for us and not the kids!
Hi I just bought a wooden dolls house and I want to paint it black and what would be best paint to use thanks.
If you’re asking about brand names, I’ve got nothing! I don’t really have a favorite right now. But, if you’re asking about type, I’ll narrow it down to acrylic or latex for black paint. You can read the extended explanation here, if you already haven’t, but in short, they both have their pros and cons. Latex paint dries quickly which leads to an uneven finish. When dry, latex-based paints aren’t prone to chipping or cracking, but they aren’t as durable as oil-based paints.
Acrylics are oil-based, so they’re harder to clean-up and are prone to yellowing (which I can’t quite picture with black). Acrylics also dry quickly (easily remedied with acrylic extender) and the finish is very durable, but more prone to chipping and cracking.
My gut says go with acrylic. I think you’ll get a deeper color and you’ll like the dried result better than latex-based paint. That said, no matter what you end up deciding, prime the wood and seal the final coat. That will protect the richness of the color, protect it from chips, and keep the black from rubbing off on anything (which can sometimes happen).
Good luck, and let me know how it goes!