With Some Cardboard And A Bit Of Imagination Anything Is Possible!

If you would like to transform a plain cardboard box into a stimulating and colorful play house, all you need are some really basic and inexpensive materials in addition to a bit of old fashioned elbow grease.

Below, using pictures and detailed descriptions I have outlined the process that my husband and I used to construct a play house for our daughter. It is the first play house we have made and It took us about 3 hours in total.

The design is extremely simple but effective and now that we know how easy they are to make there will certainly be more complex play houses in our future so this page has enormous potential to expand as our play house adventures continue.

Materials Used

Duct Tape
Wrapping Paper
White Glue
Glue Sticks
Box Cutter

First Brainstorm With The Box

I spent the better part of a week staring at this box before I was hit with a moment of blinding inspiration.

I knew that I wanted to make it into something for my daughter but I didn’t have much money to put into it and though the box is fairly large, it still looked a bit short when it was folded as a box. The problem was that I was only looking at it from a single perspective.

So what I did was I turned it around and unfolded it to see how much cardboard I ACTUALLY had to work with and I discovered that it was actually quite deceptive, hiding two big flaps securing the bottom.


Once I had the rough house shape in my head, knowing how much cardboard I had to work with I thought about how to cover it cheaply and explained my plan to my husband who also helped to brainstorm and fine tune the design as well as prospective materials.

Then we went shopping!

Before I go into all the details of the construction of our play house I would like to say that this was made for a 10 month old little girl, so the pattern was created with a 10 month old in mind. There are several awesome details we could have elaborated on from a design perspective if she was a wee bit older however, those designs will have to wait a little while yet!

Lay The Box Out Flat

The perspective in this photo makes it look like the box panels were uneven however I can confirm that the panels of the box are actually equal in size because the box was square.

We slit the crease between two of the panels so that we could work with a flat piece of cardboard to paper the interior and cut out shapes for the door and windows. You don’t have to open the box out flat to do this however, bearing in mind that the box loses a lot of its rigidity as soon as you take the bottom out you soon realize that it’s REALLY within your best interest to open the box out.

Before any paper went down or holes were cut out, the parts that were once the top flaps of the box were reinforced with some duct tape so that they would no longer bend. With these bits no longer able to flex outward the walls/sides became twice as high.

Windows are important because they let light into what is essentially, a very small enclosed space.

We chose to put in two windows and we made them circular in the hope that the circle shape of the side window would discourage our daughter from trying to hang out of it or pull herself up with it, which could potentially result in an unpleasant experience for her or in the house being damaged. To create the window shapes we just traced a bowl and a dinner plate.

If she was a bit older we could have made the door smaller and we could have even made it hinged as a flap however given her age we decided to make it nice and big and open.

We drew the design onto the cardboard with pencil however I’ve input the rough design on the photo above digitally to give you a rough idea of how we laid out the pattern. Again, the perspective of the photo isn’t so hot.

Cut Out Pieces And Cover The Inside

We used wrapping paper to do the interior and we applied it with glue sticks. We went through approximately 10 glue sticks to complete this part.

When you are choosing paper for the interior you want to make sure that it is BRIGHT. Remember that you are papering a very small space but you want it to look as big as possible so a light color/pattern is very important. I chose this wrapping paper because it was .89p a roll (needed 1.5 rolls) and it had the perfect balance between bright cheerful colors as well as an incredibly cute pattern (insects=love).

Since we were using wrapping paper and wrapping paper is very thin as well as unable to withstand much moisture we decided to use glue sticks as our adhesive and they worked brilliantly. You don’t need to cover every inch of the card with glue when you are papering, however you do need to make sure that key areas such as around windows and edges are very generously coated.

Remember, if any little edges are left pickable the little one will pick at them and de-paper the house with lightning precision.

An idea for an older child might be to paper the interior (or maybe the whole house) in plain white paper (super cheap) and then give them some marker pens to decorate the house themselves!

Try to be mindful to overlap paper whenever possible around edges to hide the raw cardboard. We remembered to do this sometimes, but not all the time. A lesson learned to be applied to our next house!

Duct Tape Into A House Shape

After the whole interior was papered we needed to put the house back together.

Duct tape is amazing, I simply can not say enough good things about the stuff. Be generous with the duct tape. nice strong joins will contribute substantially to the rigidity of the house as a whole.

We were quite fortunate that we could use the pre-existing bends in the box to our advantage and that there were two giant flaps on the bottom that we were able to turn into the roof peak however, if you have a box that doesn't have any spare cardboard remember that you can always butcher another box. Save up your cardboard and make something amazing!

Trim The Roof And Apply More Duct Tape

Trimming the roof was tricky because we just used a box cutter to cut along the peak shape. If you look closely you can see that on the right side we had a bit of a whoopsie but, it wasn’t the end of the world. I’m sure there is a better way of doing it but at this point it was past our bedtime and we were getting sleepy.

Again, we used plenty of duct tape and the house as a whole is fairly sturdy.

Cover The Outside And You’re Finished!

We splurged a bit for the wallpaper we used for the exterior but you have to admit, the stone pattern is fairly awesome! It cost us 7.99 for the roll and we’ve still got most of it. I love the effect however, lining up the stones was a pain and to be fair we could have just covered the whole thing in wrapping paper if we really wanted to.

The roof was covered last. This paper (also wallpaper) was a bargain, on clearance for a pound because it was the last roll! We of course have a ton of that left over too.

Because we used wallpaper for the exterior we needed to apply it to the house with something a bit more substantial than glue sticks. We used white glue applied with old plastic(credit style) cards, like scrapers. Using white glue is tricky because it’s very wet. You need to be extremely careful to NOT over-saturate the cardboard and to spread it quickly and as thinly as possible.

Once the paper is all applied you just have a bit of trimming to tidy up and you’re golden!

Almost A Year Later

I can't wait to see what we'll come up with for our next cardboard play house project!!

More Tutorials By Me

Recently I've started creating tiny fairy houses with cardboard and dollhouses with foam board. If anyone is interested in scaling down the big cardboard project I've included links to the tutorials in my blog below. (www.stuwahacreations.com)
Cardboard Fairy House Tutorial
This is a great craft project for both (supervised) children and adults and the tiny example houses that I made can very easily be scaled up to be as large as you like.
Modern Foam Board Dollhouse Tutorial
This was my first foamboard building experiment and within the tutorial I've explained the step by step process of how I made a beautiful budget dollhouse for my daughter.
Traditional Folding Foam Board Dollhouse Tutorial
This was my second foamboard building experiment. I made this house to drastically simplify the design and process that I used to create the first house.

Image Credits

All photographs on this page are my own (unless otherwise stated) and I do not give permission for them to be used elsewhere.

Will You Be Looking At Your Spare Cardboard A Bit Differently Now?

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  • mySuccess8 Jul 17, 2014 @ 12:27 am
    Innovative idea which is of great help for us who want to build something similar and simple. Thanks!
  • elynmac Jul 16, 2014 @ 8:53 pm
    Awesome - it is so pretty! I never thought of using wall paper as a wall covering in a cardbox play house. That is such a good idea.
  • Susan52 Jul 16, 2014 @ 5:05 pm
    Love this! My cat knew about cardboard playhouses all along, but you've taken things to the next level - for sure. Did I mention that I love this? Great tutorial, perfect little model!
  • Anonymous831 Apr 29, 2014 @ 1:41 pm
    Cool idea, I must try this.
  • CorrinnaJohnson Apr 27, 2014 @ 7:30 pm
    Very cool! I want one for myself!
  • Vellur Apr 23, 2014 @ 11:46 pm
    Awesome creative and cool lens, thanks for sharing. The doll house is amazing.
  • MarcellaCarlton Apr 21, 2014 @ 1:04 pm
    I love it. I usually just leave the box plain and the grand kids decorate it themselves. They have more fun in these than anyone could imagine. Really fun lens!
  • FlowerChick Apr 20, 2014 @ 7:46 pm
    Very clever and creative! Love what you did with this box...what a fun playhouse for your daughter! The stone look is super cool. Don't know that I have the patience to line it up though...
  • DebMartin Apr 19, 2014 @ 3:00 pm
    You have way more talent and ambition than I do and I'm impressed!
  • kathysart Apr 18, 2014 @ 10:18 pm
    Ohhh my gosh.. way cute!!
  • RockinPicks Apr 18, 2014 @ 9:05 pm
    My cat would love this. It also looks good to cover the litter pan. Sorry I don't have young ones. My cat is my baby.
  • esmonaco Apr 18, 2014 @ 8:35 pm
    How very creative, and your daughter is soooo cute, Congratulations on LOTD!!!
  • Merrci Apr 18, 2014 @ 6:18 pm
    So much fun throughout the generations! Honestly the boxes are often more fun that what is in them. Great directions for a super clever house! Congratulations on Lens of the Day.
  • RubyHRose Apr 18, 2014 @ 4:21 pm
    Cardboard houses never go out of style, you took yours to a whole new level. Awesome. Very well made to have lasted that long. Great job. Congrats!
  • d-artist Apr 18, 2014 @ 3:03 pm
    Congratulations on LOTD! Great lens and project! This is the very reason I can't throw away cardboard...I've done houses and as well for cats and little dogs...I wish now I taken photos, but have my sketches. I made shingles out of scrap cardboard, it looked cool after dry brushing with acrylic paint...there are so many things one can do with cardboard.

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