Designing a Dollhouse That's "Just Right"

A shopping trip that sparked an idea

Dollhouses are amazing toys for children. They allow them to role play, create their own stories and physically manipulate objects and spaces. But when I shopped for one for my daughter, I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I wanted a dollhouse that somehow tied in with reading and that we or maybe even she could build. I wanted a dollhouse that could easily be put away and taken out whenever we wanted, and that didn’t require a homeowner’s loan to purchase. And, I wanted a dollhouse that could appeal to boys, too, yet I quickly found that most are aimed at girls.

My shopping trip reminded me of Goldilocks – what I found was either "too hot" or "too cold." I knew there had to be a better way to design a dollhouse, so I started sketching and joined forces with my friend, artist Sara Argue, so we could create a toy house that is "just right."

Starting with fairytales

Since classic fairytales are so popular among children and most involve a house (or two or three!) that would be fun to depict, we decided to start with a fairytale-based line of toy houses and create a picture book to accompany each.  Kids and parents could read the stories, act them out with the playsets and imagine their own happily ever afters.

Designing the Dollhouse

Sketches of a fairytale dollhouse

Our design process started with a few pencil sketches of the Goldilocks house, characters and furniture.


Computer designed children's dollhouse playset

Once we had a clear design for the house sketched out by hand, we made our computer model (CAD model). 

 Developing a dollhouse

After considering many different materials, including wood and plastic, we decided to try something different and construct ours toys from a composite made from EVA foam, the same material used in baby play mats and card stock. It would be easy for kids to handle and environmentally friendly at the same time.


Children's dollhouse prototype


We made our first prototypes from cardboard so that we could quickly make sure that all the pieces fit and, when made from foam, would easily snap together.


Colorful fairytale playset design

Once we’d settled on the designs, Sara used watercolors to hand paint every wall, ceiling and floor, each tiny piece of furniture and every character to make the toys and picture books really fun and colorful. 


Hand painted dollhouse

Here’s Sara hand-painting the candy for the Hansel and Gretel house.


Creating the dollhouse

When it was time to make our final EVA foam prototype, we cut all of the foam and cardstock pieces using our laser cutter.


Final hand made toy prototype

Here is our final handmade Goldilocks prototype inside and out. We think it's pretty magical! 

By the time we finished designing the original fairytale playsets, we had the dollhouses I’d been looking for – colorful, charming, kid-friendly playsets that are easy to build, take apart and store and don’t require batteries or other tools to work. They appeal to girls and boys and are affordable. Most of all, they promote literacy by integrating classic fairytales with playtime, creating a mini storybook world that children could soar through with creativity and imagination. When I see children happily playing with our toys, I can see that our hard work paid off. I hope you feel the same way!

Happy reading, building and playing,


Kara Dyer
Founder and President, Storytime Toys