Winter brings the need for a new look for my large fireplace mantel. For me this can be a struggle after the holiday but leftover boxes for recycling led to the inspiration to make my own DIY cardboard miniature houses.
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This year my vision for my winter mantel was inspired by this adorable black and white ribbon with ink drawn houses that I had purchased from Walmart last year. The vision also included black and white miniature houses.
insert wallmart ribbon
But because my mantel is so big and long, the miniature houses I could find in the stores were either tiny little houses that looked even more dwarf-like on the mantel, or I would be dishing out more money than I am willing to spend on larger miniature houses.
At the same time I had already been shopping at places like Target and Walmart and even Dollar Tree trying to find miniature village houses to use for the décor of a winter themed mantel idea. I found several left over from Christmas sales, however, the main problem was that they were much too small for the grand size of my fireplace and mantel.
Most miniature houses in the store for Christmas villages are usually about 5 or 6 inches in height. The larger ones range anywhere from $100 or more especially if they are the Department 56™ brand. All of them are such beautiful houses, just not in my budget.
And you also need to realize I was trying to pull together the new look for my mantel the week after New Years. Any larger houses leftover from the after Christmas sales were long gone.
Right after the holidays, I had this huge stack of cardboard boxes that needed to be taken to the recycling center.
I was on the verge of mentally tossing out the whole idea I had for my winter mantel as I was loading up these boxes to haul away.
It was while I was cleaning up the recycling after the holidays, that I was inspired to make my own cardboard miniature houses for my mantel.
I knew I had to improvise or find a new theme. I decided to improvise.
So inspiration struck and I remembered that I already knew how to make miniature houses and several of these boxes would work perfectly in size and scale for my winter mantel décor idea.
And even better was that this project wouldn’t cost me any money.
You have to understand that this is not my first attempt at making miniature or scale model houses.
In Interior Design school, we were assigned several “building” projects using foam core and cardstock to make scale replicas of our houses and furniture projects. I didn’t appreciate the assignment as much as I should have at the time, but I was also a working mom with two young kids and a husband deployed to Iraq so it was just another tedious assignment I had to try to rush through with a schedule already jammed packed with so many other responsibilities.
Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I kept my sanity during those years. I do remember that making the tiny models were actually fun and creative, I just didn’t have the time to appreciate it.
This time I did get to enjoy the creative process and had some fun with it.
For this project I used:
- Cardboard boxes
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks
- 0.75 Inch White Masking tape
- X-Acto cutting knife
- Black and White Acrylic paints
- Paper Bags
I knew I wanted at least two houses on the mantel so I dug through the stash of cardboard boxes to find two that were already close to the size I wanted. I was lucky in that I had an Amazon shipping box which was already a great size for the simple smaller house, and a large Kellogg’s Pop Tart box that was also the best size for a taller house.
No I don’t eat that many pop tarts in my house! I had family staying with me during the holidays and the multipack box was on sale. Either way I ended up with a great size box.
I also had so many other little boxes at just the right time to use, such as this square cardboard tube that was part of the packing for my new laptop. It made the perfect sized chimney for each house.
When making miniature houses, you will find that your mind starts to see every piece as a building block. Or at least my does.
I started with the smaller box house. Based on the measurements of the box, I easily figured out what size doors and windows would look good. The box was 9 x 6 x 6 inches. It was easy to draw out a 3 x 1.5 inch door and several 2 x 1.5 inch windows.
Using my pencil and ruler, I drew out the sizes and shapes of each window and door around the box. Then I cut each shape using the X-Acto knife. For safety, I cut these out on top of another piece of cardboard to protect the surface of the table, and always mindful of where my hands were in relation to the blade. I learned that lesson the hard way when cutting display boards for design school to keep your fingers out of the way of the blade. Safety first!
For the roof pitch, I measured to the middle of two of the flaps on the box, drew out angles from top to bottom, and cut off the excess. The other two flaps were completely removed.
Then I needed to cut two long pieces for the roof. This was easy to measure out based on the length of the box with an inch added to the length and wide for the overhang of the roof.
These two pieces were then attached with hot glue.
Pulling out the cardboard tube from the laptop box I was lucky to have in the stash, I measured 3 inches down from the top on two corners, and 1.5 inches down on the other two corners.
Then I drew a cutting line with the pencil to connect across the sides and down to the next two marks. This created the angle of the roof line to cut for the fireplace.
I know not everyone will have something like this in their cardboard stash, but you can easily just cut and glue four pieces of cardboard together to create the box. I was just lucky this time around.
The cardboard fireplace was then hot glued in place.
One problem with using cardboard to build the miniature houses is that the cut ends of the cardboard are not smooth. To cover this up, I then cut and attached 0.75 inch masking tape to all of the cut edges of the house, around the roof and the doors and windows. The tape also helps the hot glue hold the house together.
I repeated all these steps to create the taller house out of the pop tart box as well, adding in lots more windows of course.
The pop tart box was going to make building a taller house so much easier. Again, I got lucky with the size and shape of the cardboard boxes in my stash. I pulled the box apart and laid it completely flat to consider how to design the house.
One big problem I had with this box was how to hide the bright blue on the outside of the box, which would become the inside of the house.
I figured out the best thing to use was some paper grocery bags I had in the pantry.
I cut open a large bag, used Mod Podge and tape to glue the bag over the blue side of the box and allowed it to dry overnight, adding in more Mod Podge as needed. Once I glued the sides of the house back together, the blue would not show in the inside of the house anymore.
I now had two miniature cardboard houses built for my mantel.
But I still wasn’t ready to paint them yet.
I wanted the houses to have a little bit more rustic charm and character so I decided to give each roof a layer – or multiple layers – of shingles.
This part took much longer than the first steps and so much more hot glue but definitely worth it.
I decided to cut out the shingles in one inch squares. So I took pieces of another cardboard box, drew out a grid of one inch squares, and cut them out using sharp scissors and the X-Acto knife. Then repeated that process several more times to have enough small cardboard shingles for each house.
Attaching the shingles to the roof of each miniature house was much like putting together a puzzle. On each house, I started at the bottom edge of the roof line. Using lots of hot glue, I attached the first row of cardboard shingles across the width of the roof, then attached the next layer on top of that row but offset over the edges of the first row. Just like a roof goes on for a real house. As needed I would cut the one inch cardboard shingles in half to fit at the ends.
At the peak of each roof line, I measured and cut a long 2 inch piece of cardboard, scored it in the middle without cutting all the way through and folded it over in a V-shape. It basically worked just to cap off the cardboard shingles of the roof.
Now the miniature houses were ready for paint!
Both the black and white paint took several layers to cover the cardboard of course. For the edges of the rough cardboard shingles, I used a small craft brush and forced the paint in to all the little nooks and crannies. This part took a few days to complete because I kept going back to it to add a bit more paint as each layer dried.
And this is how my entire black and white winter mantel came together using these free cardboard miniature houses.
I finally recycled the rest of the boxes in the leftover stash!
Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.”