Your source for custom-made, handcrafted Christmas village houses and churches

Written by Howard Lamey (with a little help from Paul Race)
for Big Indoor Trains™ and

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Note from Editor: Howard Lamey, in Jacksonville, Florida, has an artist's eye for proportion and charm. He also has the good taste to be one of my readers. I met Howard online when he told me he had used a stained glass pattern from our Free Graphics Resource Page pattern on a vintage-style cardboard church he had built. When I saw the Halloween Click for bigger featured in this article, I begged him to tell us how he did it, and now we have the chance to share with you. Howard keeps sending me new photos and plans faster than I can get them published, so stay tuned.

Building a Vintage-Style Cardboard Halloween House

Paul has asked me to tell you how I made the building that shows in the title photo. It's a "family-friendly" Halloween house that will eventually be part of a village for my grandchildren.

What You Will Need

If you are going to build cardboard houses, stop throwing away used, clean cardboard yesterday. Save cereal boxes, the backs of writing tablets, anything flat, firm and clean, that you can save. This pattern doesn't require any corrugated cardboard, but it wouldn't hurt to keep some of that on hand, too. In addition, for this project you'll need:

  • A sharp mat knife or Xacto knife
  • Elmer's white Glue-All. A glue stick would also come in handy.
  • About a cup of sawdust
  • Clear glitter
  • A sheet of yellow bond paper (well, two sheet in case you mess one up)
  • Several sheets of acid-free white bond paper
  • Orange, black, and beige acrylic paint
  • Some means of spraying brown, dark green, orange, and yellow. This could be paint cans, or a spray bottle you can use with acrylic paints.
  • Floral picks from artificial flowers with the flowers removed for the trees (optional)
  • A few square inches of hardware cloth for the fence (optional)
  • Two wooden pegs with round ends for the fence post (optional). I believe they're called "loom pegs." You can get these at most craft supply stores.
  • Access to silhouette images of a ghost, cat, and jack-o-lantern. (Alternatively, if you have a computer printer, you can print the graphics Paul has supplied us with.)

Printing the Plan

Double-click on this image to see a higher resolution pattern.

Double-click on the plan above to see a blow-up. You should be able to print the big version at the size you need.

  • If you have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer, click here to open the pdf version. Select the print option, tell it to "auto rotate and center" or whatever else you need to make it go to Landscape mode. Don't select the "scale to page" or "shrink to fit" option. Print.

  • If you don't have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer or for some reason that doesn't work, open the big JPG version. Choose the "file, page setup" from your browser. When the page setup menu comes up, select "landscape mode." You should also choose the "print to fit" option if you have one. If you don't have a "print to fit" option, you may have a margin setting option. Set the margins to 1/4" if you can and print.

If neither of those work, contact Paul and ask him for help - that's his department. :-)

Building the Base

The base is a rectangular "box" that is decorated before the house and trees are installed. It should be about 4" x 6 1/2" x 1/2".
  1. You may form the box either of two ways:

    • Built-Up Box Method - You may form the base from thin cardboard like posterboard or the cardboard from a cereal box. Build it like a department store “gift box” with a lid. Place layers of scrap cardboard inside the box to keep the box from caving in when the house, fence and trees are added.

    • Corrugated Cardboard Method - Alternatively, you could make a base from layers of corrugated cardboard glued together in a sandwich. If you choose this method, you will then wrap and glue a strip of cereal-box cardboard all around it to camouflage the rough edges of the corrugated cardboard.

  2. When the base is built, you then cover it with white bond paper just like you would wrap a gift, except that all surfaces of the paper cover must be glued down to the box. A glue stick works great for this.

    Note: For more information about building bases for vintage-style cardboard houses, please see our Glitterhouse Bases article.

  3. When the glue has dried, paint it with an acrylic beige.

  4. Spread the Elmer’s Glue-All over the top and sides of the base and sprinkle sawdust over it. Press the sawdust into the glue a little and make sure there aren't any major "holes" in coverage. Then set the base aside and allow it to dry.

  5. "Mist" the sawdust with brown, dark green, orange and yellow spray paint in a random pattern. The house, fence and trees are not glued on to the base until the base is finished.

Prepping the Structure Pieces

  1. The house, chimney, and chimney cap (and the roof, eventually) need to be cut from thicker cardboard, such as the cardboard from the back of a writing tablet.

    • Layout the lines carefully.

    • Using a steel-edged ruler as a guide, cut out the shapes with a sharp mat knife or X-acto knife. Watch your fingers.

    • Score all fold lines.

  2. Cut the roof from the same cardboard as the house. It should be about 2 1/4" x 8". The most important thing is that it has an overhang on all sides just like a real house. After you determine where the peak of the roof should be, score the crease.

  3. Cut the door and window frames from thinner stock, such as posterboard or cereal box cardboard.

  4. Locate silhouettes of a ghost, cat, and Jack-o-lantern and print them on yellow bond paper. I got mine from an Internet search. Alternatively, if you want, you can print off the ones that Paul located. He has a version that includes an amber background in case you don't have yellow paper, also. Don't use the "resize to fit" option when you print, or you'll get something way too large to use.
    Silhouettes on white background, GIF versionSilhouettes on amber background, GIFversion
    If you try Paul's and it comes up the wrong size, download the JPG version and resize it as necessary on your computer.
    Silhouettes on white background, JPG versionSilhouettes on amber background, JPG version

Assembling and Painting the House

  1. Assemble all the building pieces with Elmer’s white Glue-All.

  2. Prime all surfaces with flat white paint.

  3. Paint the primed and assembled house.

Prepping the Scenery

The fence is made from ¼-inch hardware cloth. Cut and fold it to the shape you need and paint it black.

If you can get loom pegs from the craft store, you can paint the lower part black, then paint the round tops orange and put tiny jack-o-lantern features on them.

For trees I used floral picks that have a branch-like structure that provides a dead tree look. The little "barbs" on the end of the branches are even acceptable for a Halloween house. If the floral picks you use aren't black, brown or gray, you may have to spray them. You'll also have to cut the trunk to the appropriate length, probably with a pair of wire cutters. Eventually you make holes in the base and glue the trunks into the holes.

When everything is glued together and the glue has dried, add little touches of frost on the roof, chimney, fence, and base. I use clear glitter sprinkled over Elmer’s Glue-All.


Here's a day shot and a night shot.
Click for bigger photo.Click for bigger photo.

Since making these houses, I have added a yellow moon with a witch on a broom silhouette...the moon is mounted on a black bamboo skewer and is stuck in the base behind the added a lot to the scene...

Click for bigger photo.Using With Trains - A few months after I built this, Paul sent me a Hawthorne Village "Nightmare Before Christmas™" locomotive and a few cars. He wanted to give readers a sense of how this and the other Spook Hill™ buildings would look with a commercial Halloween train. (This train and others are described on Paul's Halloween Trains web pages. Except for the holiday paint job, this train is actually an On30 model compatible with Bachmann's On30 trains, which were designed to look good with Christmas villages. Most HO trains would be a little smaller, and most Lionel trains would be a little bigger, so this should give you a pretty good idea of whether it will work with your train set.

Update for September, 2008

This building was so popular that we have has started a whole collection called Spook Hill™. These cardboard vintage-style Halloween building project are perfect for giving your mantle, or your HO, On30, S, or O-gauge railroad a special bit of Halloween cheer. The links below will take you to the buildings in the 2008 series.
New, August, 2008! Spook Hill™ #1 - Shakey Pane Manor - Here's a new Halloween-themed building project that based on forms typically used in some of the more elaborate cardboard Christmas houses that were made in Japan between 1920 and 1930. This is the first of our series of Spook Hill™ buildings, enough to give you a fantastic creepy community by October.Click to start your wickedly festive Halloween community now.
New, August, 2008! Spook Hill™ #2 - Spook Hill Station - Here's the first-ever Halloween-themed train station craft project. This is the second of our series of Spook Hill™ buildings, designed to look good with Halloween Trains of all kinds, and to get your community ready to receive guests by Halloween. Click to see the first-ever collectible Halloween-themed train station project.
New, September, 2008! Spook Hill™ #3 - Spook Hill Water Tower - Here's the first-ever Halloween-themed train station craft project. This is the second of our series of Spook Hill™ buildings, designed to look good with Halloween Trains of all kinds, and to get your community ready to receive guests by Halloween. Click to see the first-ever collectible Halloween-themed train station project.

Do You Want Your Own Custom Vintage Cardboard House?

Now that I'm in "retirement," this hobby has become a sort of avocation for me. Several folks have commissioned me to build specific houses for them. So if you'd like me to "bid" on a cardboard house for you, or if you have any questions at all, please use this link, and I'll get back to you.

Also, if you have a similar project you'd like to share with your fellow readers and hobbyists, we'd love to add it to our site, and we'll be sure to give you full credit for your contribution.

Other Resources for Putz Houses and Related Information

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas Express Illuminated Train Collection

Click to see unique Disney Halloween village collectibles and more

The Munsters™ Halloween Village Collection

The Munsters™ Express Halloween Train Collection

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas Village Town Collection

Universal Studios Monsters Express Halloween Electric Train Collection

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Note:™ and Spook Hill™ are trademarks of Howard Lamey, North Jacksonville, Florida. Big Indoor Trains™, Big Train Store™, Family Garden Trains™, Big Christmas Trains™, Garden Train Store™, and Trains and Towns™ are trademarks of Paul Race and Breakthrough Communications ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web page are Copyright (c) by Howard Lamey and/or Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.

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