We bought this dollhouse shelf for Eliza when she was less than two years old. She’s outgrown it. Not because she’s no longer playing with dolls. On the contrary, Barbie got a lot of furniture this past Christmas. She grew out of the furniture because the color scheme DOES NOT go with her new big girl room. So we figured we’d give Spiderman, the Disney Princesses, Barbie, and Darth Vader a cool, contemporary hang out.

We’re big on using what we’ve got around here, and nothing solves a hodge-podge furniture problem like a coat of paint (or five).

Before & After: Eliza's Dollhouse

Most painting jobs are Jake’s, but as this required hand painting and not the dreaded spray painting, this project was mine. I chose a beautiful shade of Benjamin Moore paint (Dark Teal) and I was off to the races.

A note on paint buying: I asked someone at the hardware store which primer to buy. Best decision ever: I would have picked the wrong one. A pint (color sample size) was plenty for this project. I still have some left over!

I started by painting two coats of primer onto the dollhouse. Primer is really important, especially for dark colors. Read the back of your paint can label to see if you need primer for your color/surface combination.

The priming took longer than I thought… I was painting the dollhouse in E’s room; she was camping out in our room while I worked on it. I quickly realized that this was not a two day project, so Jake and I moved the house to the third floor until I finished it. This only took so long because I had to find one and a half hour chunks of time to work on it; not the easiest feat when there’s an infant afoot.

I started out with “hair” paint brushes (that’s probably not really what they are called) on the primer, but didn’t like them. They were difficult to clean after each painting session. The hairs kept falling out and sticking to my paint. So I switched to foam brushes for the actual paint coats. Foam brushes are easy to use and are inexpensive, so if you mess one up the world doesn’t end.

It took three color coats to get to here. With the two primer coats, that makes five coats total. I’m proud.

After: Eliza's Dollhouse


-When in doubt, ask. Hardware store workers generally don’t try to upsale you, they can save you time and money by helping you determine what (and how much) you really need.

-Think twice about painting vintage furniture. This was a cheap Target buy, so we have no guilt whatsoever about painting it. But some furniture could loose its value if you paint it!

-Pretend to paint first. Seriously. This will let you know where you naturally rest your arm or brush up against while painting and can help you to determine what order to paint the sections of your furniture.

-Don’t have a tarp to lay down to protect your floor? Use cardboard boxes laid flat.

-Have a small paint brush so that you can touch up after your last coat.

-Think about how the furniture would be used. I wouldn’t normally paint the “ceilings” of shelves, but this furniture will have small heads sticking in it all the time and will be viewed from a low angle. Thus the “ceilings” had to be painted.

If you liked these tips, you may also want to check out our DIY Fail Prevention post.