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DIY Barbie House Makeover

DIY Barbie house makeover

For those of you who didn’t know little me, let me fill you in on a little secret: I loved playing Barbies when I was younger.
There was just something about Barbie’s fly school dances (featuring New Kids On The Block, the only pop band we knew of), digging through her travel case for just the right outfit, and hanging out on the astroturf by her hot tub that I couldn’t get enough of.

My dad, knowing this, made me a Barbie house. A homemade, ‘let me check how much scrap lumber I have’ kind of a Barbie house.

It was fabulous from the get-go. Dad and I tracked down scraps of wallpaper to dress up the living room walls, dug up some extra shelf liner for the kitchen flooring, and stapled carefully cut carpet scraps for that plush, wall-to-wall look.

After 6 years of nearly constant use, I hit teenagerdom. My friends and I discovered makeup (just barely there, right dad?) and boys (who knew they weren’t completely gross?!) and life changed forever.

Fast forward 25 years.

One afternoon my dad is cleaning out the garage attic and comes upon Barbie house. Do I want it, or should he get rid of it? After a quick negotiation with my husband, I made plans for Dad to drop it off.

When the Barbie house arrived I found the years hadn’t been kind to it. Wallpaper was peeling, the paint was flaking, and the carpet smelled faintly of a cat. I plan on storing the dollhouse in the crawlspace for a few years until my daughter is old enough to use it.


But I forgot about my DIY tendencies.

Three days the makeover is done. I’ve sourced kitchen flooring and carpeting, picked out new wallpaper, painted the house from top to bottom, and tracked down new furniture.

Are you still with me? Perfect. Let me tell you how it all went down.

Step 1: Paint

After looking things over, I figured the best way to get rid of that stored-in-the-garage smell would be to paint the dollhouse from top to bottom. This plan also had the added benefit of brightening up the place, as the inside of the rooms, flooring, and ceilings had never been painted. 


I went to my store of leftover paint and found a few colors that would suit. The whole dollhouse – floors, ceilings, walls, inside and out – got 2 coats of warm white. Every time I paint, I once again fall in love with the innovation that is paint and primer in one – amazing coverage with no priming. If you haven’t tried it, you should!

I wanted to add an accent color to the roof to make it a bit more like a real house, so I chose this pretty dark gray I had leftover from the guest room. I’m a big fan of contrast when it comes to design, and so I was really happy with how this turned out:


I taped the edges beforehand but found the paint still bled a bit around the edges. I’ve heard that adding a swipe of silicon to the edge of the painter’s tape helps avoid that, but haven’t tried it yet. If you have any tips for me on keeping paint from bleeding, I’d love to hear it!

Do you love this post so much you just can’t stop? That’s what I thought. Read on, my friend.

The Bedroom


Since I already painted the whole house, tip to toe, a nice warm white in the previous step, and had already stripped out the old wallpaper and carpet, I was left with a blank slate.

I toyed around with how to wallpaper this cozy attic room, and came up with the following conclusions:

  1. The pattern on the wallpaper scraps I had kicking around was way too big. And the paper was really thick, which would make it hard to work with.
  2. Scrapbooking paper comes in a lot of great patterns but wasn’t quite wide enough for what I needed. It, too, is quite thick.
  3. Gift wrap, on the other hand, is thin (read: easy to cut to size), comes in a myriad of patterns, and if you buy the nice stuff even has guides for cutting on the back.

Thus I decided to paper with gift wrap. I went to several stores before finding something that didn’t scream ‘happy birthday’ or ‘gee, I wish you weren’t stuck in the hospital with that awkward catheter to keep you company’. I was so pumped with my purchase that I started measuring the minute I got home.

A few tips for you soon-to-be wallpaperers: I recommend rough-cutting your paper an inch or so larger around than you need. Then just press the paper into your room and crease the corners where you’ll need to cut. Once you’ve got your folds, use an exacto knife to trim, then dry fit the paper to make sure it fits before slathering on your glue du jour.

I had some leftover wallpaper glue from my living room so I ended up using that, but I’ve heard that mod podge works just as well. I found that although I had purchased the higher quality gift wrap, it ended up being too thin to work with well. It ended up wrinkling and not sliding around well for placement. I teased it into a decent shape, but I’d probably try a thicker stock next time around. Lesson learned.

It took me a week to find the right carpeting. Initially, I’d thought that carpet samples from the home improvement store would do the trick. They ended up not scaling well and looking too bulky and large-grained. The carpet I ended up with was actually a bath mat from Walmart. Springmaid makes an ultra-fine nylon mat (think: plush like your grandma’s toilet cover) with rubber backing that ended up being very easy to cut to size, didn’t show my minor cutting mistakes, and ended up feeling completely luxe. In a 70s shag sort of way. Check it out:


I also made a bed out of an extra shoe box I had kicking around, but I’ll leave that tale for another day. I digress too much already. Right? Right.

The Living Room

My Barbie, Liz (so much cooler than Elizabeth. Right?), was kind enough to pose for us in her old digs. The paper was in pretty rough shape, and that pale blue so popular in the early ’90s among suburban housewives.  See?


I wanted the update to be a combination of shiny chic and mod, and so went off to the always-lovely Ikea. They have one set of 1/6 scale doll furniture that comes with a loveseat, chair, the perennially popular Kallax shelves (you’re such a square!), a green coffee table, and the stripey rug, all for $10. The clock and mirror were box punch-outs, so it turned out all I had to do for this room was get some shiny stripey wallpaper/gift wrap.

Note: I figured if I just used one long strip of wallpaper for all 3 walls I could avoid matching stripes. It worked, but the sides were tricky to get the paper smooth/lined up with the ceiling on.

The Kitchen

Let me just start this off by saying that Barbie kitchens have always felt a bit off to me.

Does Barbie need to sleep? Sure. Sleep is one of the twelve wonders of the world. Does she need to have a sweet pad to hang out in? Absolutely.  Entertaining is where she shines. Barbie needs to cook with dishes you can hardly see and eat at a table her legs don’t fit under? Not so much. What do you think takeout was invented for?

But, even though I have my doubts about the efficacy of Barbie’s kitchen – maybe some ergonomic adjustments would help, or a little feng shui – my doll house did have a kitchen.  I suppose I could have reno’d it into an ensuite bath, if I were to follow the current trend, but I must admit to having my qualms about that whole debacle as well.

So. It stayed as a kitchen. I laid my qualms aside and started looking for flooring.

I read up on popsicle stick hardwood (too much work), checked out laminate flooring samples at Home Hardware (too thick, large patterns), and browsed through the tile aisle for something just right. Traditional flooring turned out to be just too large of a scale to be feasible.

I looked into using adhesive shelf paper as well since we had initially done the kitchen floor in mac tac the first go around. It’s not a bad way to go, but I didn’t find anything that looked much like kitchen flooring. The closest thing was a roll of sticky cork, but I was really hoping for tile.


The best option turned out to be plastic stick-it tiles. They’re about as thick as a puffy Strawberry Shortcake sticker, come in a variety of colors and patterns, and cut easily with scissors.  I found them in my local home improvement store between the wallpaper and kitchen tile sections. They look something like this:

Stick It Tiles

In terms of the furniture, I’ve just left it with a fridge and stove for now. A co-worker was giving away some of his daughter’s old barbie things a few months before and I’d applied my ‘free doesn’t hurt’ logic.

When you put it all together, you might get something almost as majestic as this:


Budget Buster

The one question I always want to know the answer to is: how much did this thing cost?

I was pretty fortunate to have most of the materials on hand: the Barbie house, paint, wallpaper glue, and kitchen furniture didn’t cost me a dime. Here’s a breakdown of what wasn’t quite so free.

$12 – Gift Wrap (Wallpaper) – 2 rolls
$10 – Ikea furniture set for living room
$30 – Tiles for kitchen floor
$15 – Bath mat for bedroom floor carpeting

I hadn’t calculated it out before, but it looks like the makeover came out to… let me grab a calculator… $67.

So there you have it. My $67 dream house. What a steal!

By Martha

Martha is a miniature-making, Hary-Potter-and-Back-To-The-Future-loving designer with a thing for her grandma's pot roast. And really swank vintage chairs.

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