Some Gifts are still Handmade

My daughter is not the prototypical “girl’s girl.” She is “done” with princesses, which has saved me from another holiday season hunting down the elusive Anna and Elsa. She would rather ski than do anything else now. So, it is somewhat surprising that one of the things she wanted for Christmas was furniture for her American Girl-esque dolls.

If you do not have an elementary school aged girl in your home you have probably been spared the cult of American Girl. You will not have been subjected to birthday parties where every girl brings their doll and acts out scenes from some b-grade doll movie. However, my daughter, being an old soul, could never stomach the cost of an American Girl doll. When we told her that just one of the dolls, Isabelle, would cost over $120 her response was priceless, “That’s silly. It’s just a doll.”

Our solution was to spend ~$25 on an Our Generation doll. It looks a lot like the American Girl doll and with some of the difference our daughter convinced us to buy her an extra set of clothes. Okay, the convincing part was easy since we were into this for a fraction of what the neighbor girl spent on her authentic doll.

The challenge became what to do about furniture. A single bed would run $40 and now that our daughter had been given a second doll there would be the desire for a second bed. Also, the clothes and little accessories were getting spread all over her room so some kind of dresser seemed to be in order. I had a hard time shelling out over $100 or so on furniture made of plastic and thin hardboard.

Enter Ana White.  My wife found some of these projects on that great time waster Pinterest and a holiday project was born.

Our choice, unbeknownst to our daughter, was to build the bunk bed and doll closet.  The final results speak for themselves:


If you look at the plans on Ana White’s website and my final results you will notice some changes. Some changes were made because of the tools that I had available and others were made on the fly because of material considerations, i.e. I did not want to make another trip to the hardware store.

The bunk bed was made almost exactly “to plan.” The biggest departure is that I am not a fan of pocket screws. First, the screws get expensive and on a project with this many rails there were going to be a lot of screws. I have found that properly glued and clamped boards have just as good of durability in non-weight bearing applications. Like doll furniture. It extends the build time somewhat because you should allow the glue to cure as much as possible.

One thing to note is that in the cutting list only 2 1”x1”x19” are called out for mattress rails, but the plan actually requires 4. It’s not a big deal if you can quickly rip down a board with a table saw, but if you are buying materials at the store please take note.

It actually took longer to pain the bunk bed than it did to assemble the entire thing because the rails are a major pain.

The wardrobe is where I began to make some serious changes. The most easily identified change is that I did not use the star cutout and went with a vintage glass knob that I had laying around in the shop. One advantage to helping people with remodeling projects is that you end up with a lot of spare parts sitting around in bins. You should see my collection of drawer pulls, knobs, and hinges. I also reused a ball tip hinge instead of the called for self-mortising hinges. I thought that in conjunction with the vintage glass knob it gave the entire project a little of an antique vibe while still being modern. To keep the doors closed and from swinging too far inward I added a magnetic catch at the top.

I also differed from the plan in that I made most of the project out of MDF that I had laying around in the shop. I stayed with ¾” material, but had to rip the boards down to size. If you go to the store you will quickly discover how expensive 1”x12” dimensional lumber is and how hard it is to find a board that is not warped or bowed. MDF is flat and stable. It’s not as durable as solid wood and it is thirsty when you paint the material. Trust me, the first coat of white paint practically disappeared into the material.

I decided to forgo the shelf on the inside because my wife wanted to make small felt bins for her to put little shoes and accessories in. These are just made from heavy felt that has been hot glued together to make bins. Easy and cheap because, once again, we had the material lying around the house in a closet somewhere.

The major departure in construction and change that requires a specialized tool was the back of the closet:


In the original plan the hardboard back was just tacked to the entire back. I decided to inset the back by cutting a rabbet along the entire back of the closet and cutting the hardboard to fit. It results in a very clean look that I prefer. However, it requires a router and a rabbeting bit. Neither of which is a very common tool in people’s garages. Then again the plan does not call out a table saw either, but I digress.  The result is a flush fitting back panel:


Be careful if this is the route you choose to go.  MDF machines easily, but it can start to crumble if you push things too far and it does not like certain types of fasteners.  I glued the back panel in to avoid these problems.  Also, you will need to chisel the corners into right angles because the rabbeting bit will leave the corners rounded.  You could always try and radius the backer panel’s corners, but I am stuck in my old ways.

Additionally, I changed some of the dimensions to account for what materials I had in stock. Nothing was material to the end product, but it did require that I make a few changes to the size of the doors, etc.

Looking back I ended up into this project for the cost of the 1”x2” stock for the bunk bed, a sheet of ¼” hardboard, a quart of trim paint, and some miscellaneous parts/fabric. The total cost was less than $35 in materials and about a half-day in the shop. Painting took a little longer because of the drying time between coats, but it became a nice little night time activity for me and my wife.

I want to thank Ana White for putting plans out there that were easy to follow and building a community of DIYers foregoing the racket that is children’s doll furniture. I hope that everyone had a happy holiday.

Oh, if there was any doubt my daughter loved her new furniture, well:

Kate with Furniture


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