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the cardboard box playhouse post: a not-really tutorial with an inordinate number of photos of a box

Sun January 02 2011

before you recycle all those cardboard boxes that the holidays bring — and leave behind — consider what else you can do with them.  my kids were on holiday for a whole week BEFORE Christmas, so we had lots of days to fill with something fun and creative to do.  one of those days found me spontaneously turning a big cardboard box into a nice little house for my four year old’s Toy Story Jesse doll. i was just winging it with that one – we need a door… here! and some windows…. here! i drew the features with a thick sharpie marker and fastened a roof with masking tape and cut the doors and window flaps with scissors and a craft knife. a day or two later, i spread the kids out on the floor with a muffin tin of craft paint and brushes, and they gave the house some colour. it’s been well-played with over the holidays with both pre-loved toys and new additions.

of course, with two kids, we tend to do things more than once. just before Christmas, we got a delivery of a gift that came inside multiple cardboard boxes – oh happy day! my 8 year old wanted her own house, except that she didn’t want a house at all. she wanted an apartment building! knowing that i probably wasn’t going to be able to wing this one successfully on my own, i went straight to Google and searched for some ‘apartment building’ images which we quickly narrowed down to two that my girl liked and would fit the shape of the box we were using. i did indeed use some parental influence to sway the final vote over to my preferred building style – the Greenwich Village style NYC apartment building. i filled up lots of browser tabs with more images with the magic of wikipedia, flickr images, Google Street View, and away i went. thanks to lots of inspiring and delightful images and handmade and art i’ve been browsing on the web, i have been dying for a reason/opportunity/context to play around with drawing houses. this was completely fun to have a go at!

here’s how it happened:

assemble supplies (yep, this is it. other than google, my camera, and a trip to the playground in the middle of the whole enterprise):

hire some reliable construction workers:

here she is taping together our flat roof line with masking tape,  cut from a flap of our second box.

take direction from your clients:

a) she wanted the original flaps of the box to still be able to open and close, and she wanted to be able to play inside. she also wanted it to have floors, like an upstairs and downstairs. the inside (2 floors) doesn’t match the outside (3 floors) but no one has noticed so far  😉

b) she wanted a trap door on the roof so that her stuffed animals would be able to “pop up!”  i messed this up later by drawing a door on this door – she wanted it to be more secret and stay unmarked… what can i say. i got carried away. there is a slit cut in that brace for the roof, that holds the twine (with a button on the end), that holds the door up.

c) the duck needed a way to get up to the second floor. we debated stairs vs. elevator and of course she won: stairs it is. this is the highly technical and professionally constructed wrapping paper tube with cardboard pieces as stairs wedged into slots in the tube and reinforced with masking tape.  the duck couldn’t contain herself and moved in while we were still undergoing renovations…

and then i started drawing the facade from the images i chose for reference. the kiddo wasn’t keen on the fire escape, but i insisted it had to be there, and since i was wielding the marker, well, you know… i drew first, and cut after.

we made each flap of the box one building, so this is really two apartment buildings smushed up right next to each other, true to the originals.

left side: fictitiously addressed 62 Jonas Ave… oh my. yes, that Jonas.

(that orangey-yellow peak-y triangle thing behind this box is the other box-turned-house-painted-brightly. the four year old was playing, but really didn’t consider such things as “space” or “peace and quiet” of any importance!)

as you can see, i didn’t trouble myself fussing with the box’s original labels. i just drew right on over them. that’s a teapot off to the right side. of course.

this is one side.

this is the other. the one with the fire escapes… the door at the bottom left was cut larger than it was drawn, so someone playing could put their hand in the side to operate  a stuffed animal, should the story call for such action.

i also googled images of  sidewalks found outside these type of buildings (having not ever  been to NYC) and added a sidewalk and half of a road to the bottom flap – this can be folded underneath if someone decides they don’t like it. the fire hydrant and the tree were chucked almost right away… but not before Daisy Duck and a Littlest Pet Shop moved in!

and there you have it! not  an accomplished piece of fine art by any means, but still a pretty awesome example of what you can do with a few really basic supplies that are probably in your house right at this moment, and an example of how you can craft and make with your kids that doesn’t involve macaroni. yes, i did the drawing this time and not my daughter, but i also call that ‘modeling’. sometimes it’s hard to get great ideas out of thin air without seeing some inspiration.

you never know where a plain cardboard box might take you…

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