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Written by Howard Lamey (with a little help from Paul Race)
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Howard's How-To's - Tips for building your own heirloom-quality glitterhouses

A Note from the Editor: Howard Lamey, in Jacksonville, Florida, has retired from a full-time job in advertising that included designing window displays for a major retailer. Now he has turned those artistic talents to designing and building vintage-style cardboard buildings for his family and friends. Howard graciously agreed to share some of his craft knowledge with the readers of Big Indoor Trains. Now that Howard has his own site, we are adding those resources to the LittleGlitterhouses.com site as well, as time permits.

All projects include free downloadable plans and instructions. Those that use printed graphics include free downloadable graphic files as well.

Also, you should know that most collectors and builders of vintage pasteboard houses call them "putz" houses because they were often used in "putzes," the German-American term for Christmas villages of the 1930's-1950's. - Paul

New Feature! - "Tribute to Tinplate" Articles

Here's our early summer "Blockbuster," a series of projects that pay "Tribute to Tinplate," based on the tinplated-steel trains and towns of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions will help you inexpensively add an authentic vintage look to any indoor railroad. Most projects have multiple pre-scaled plans and graphics, plus scalable graphics for the smaller scales, so you can easily add a vintage look to ANY railroad or holiday village, no matter what size your trains and towns are. We have more on the drawing board, so be sure and check back. To find out what tinplate is, and why we're taking on these projects at this time, click here.

Click to go to articleUpdated Sept., 2009! Building a Vintage "Lithograph" Station Our first "Tribute to Tinplate" article pays tribute to the lithographed stations of a century ago. Free downloadable commercial-grade graphics and instructions are available in several scales. Instructions for building this project inexpensively from scrap cardboard are also included, although you could build it from tin if you really wanted to. Updated Sept., 2009 with Halloween Options

Updated Sept., 2009! Click to go to articleBuilding a Vintage Tin-Style Cottage - In the early 1900s, tinplate trains called for tinplate accessories. This entirely original project is inspired by a tinplate cottage that was available in at least two different colors. Ours is available in two different colors as well - and two different scales to better go with your trains. Free downloadable plans and graphics are provided, along with detailed instruction for creating your own vintage tin-style community. Updated Sept., 2009 with Halloween Options

Click to go to articleNew June, 2010! Building Flag City Store Fronts - A seasonal tribute to our national heritage, complete with free downloadable plans, graphics, and instructions to bring some red, white, and blue to a tinplate railroad, display village, or mantle top near you. Most of the colors have an antique tint to them, making them ideal for decorating with Colonial color schemes.

Click to go to articleNew May, 2010! Building Seaside Store Fronts - Building (Tinplate-Style) Seaside Storefronts - The latest addition to a new favorite. Sticking with the West Brothers outline, we have replaced the brick and stone with clapboard painted in the colors and themes that brighten coastal towns on both coasts. Colors are compatible with Howard Lamey's Sandy Shores beach-inspired collection.

New, March, 2010! Click to go to article. Building a Vintage Cape Cod House - An easy, but charming "Tribute To Tinplate" structure that looks great with our other projects but will stand fine on its own as well. Includes free plans, graphics, and instructions. Click on the photo for more information.

Click to go to articleNew, December, 2009! Building a Lithographed Switch Tower - Switch towers used to be among the most common North American railroad structures. They were located in large switchyards so that switch operators could see the turnouts and - in many cases - operate them remotely. Consider them the "control towers" of the railroad, as it were. When tinplate trains were in vogue, tinplate models of these structures were also available. This easy, inexpensive project pays "tribute" to both the golden age of railroads and the golden age of toy trains. Free downloadable plans and graphics are provided, along with detailed instructions.

Click to go to articleNew, December, 2009! Building a Vintage-Style Diner - Near most busy rail stations stood a diner inspired by the efficient, familiar railroad dining car. Folks coming and going knew they could "nip in" for a quick cup of "Joe" or "drop in" for a home-style meal with all the "fixin's." This project is about the same size as Howard's tinplate Marx coaches, but graphics for bigger versions are available. To get the most "tinplatey" effect possible, Howard used a real steel roof, converted from half of an old eyeglasses case. But even if you don't have that particular resource, this is a great project.

Click to go to articleNew August, 2009! Building TinPlate-Syle Store Fronts - Expanding our Tribute to Tinplate™ community is a set of down-town-style store fronts inspired by a series of tinplate candy containers that were made in the early -to-mid 1900s by West Brothers. The original containers were pretty small, but we've redrawn the graphics in larger scales and added a bit of additional detail so they'll fit into any tinplate or faux-tinplate setting.



Click to go to articleNew September, 2009! Building the Tin City Bridge - Add an eye-popping feature based on the classic Lionel Standard Gauge bridges. Works great with collectible villages, vintage O and S-gauge trains, On30 trains and more! Free downloadable plans, graphic files, and step-by-step instructions are provided.



Click to go to articleBuilding Tinplate-Inspired Goose-Neck Lamp Posts Add even more vintage variety to your tinplate-inspired communities, for less than $1 each worth of materials. Free downloadable instructions are provided.

Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Watchman's Shanty Back in the day before automated crossings, these were common sites alongside busy rail crossings. Howard's exclusive design pays tribute to a series of tinplate structures that go back a hundred years and include three different scales. His free plans and instructions will help you dress up any indoor railroad or holiday village.

Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Lamp Post The ideal accessory for the Lewis Park Station, or any station or city hall on your railroad or holiday village. No, they don't actually light, but they are cheap and easy to build and add a great deal of vintage interest to any setting. Free downloadable plans are available in several scales.

Click to go to articleNew Feature - Building a Tinplate-Inspired Railroad Crossing Sign This is the ideal accessory for the Watchman's Shanty project. Based on a series of products that are now available only as expensive collector's items, this easy and almost-free project will add texture, interest, and period to any model railroad or holiday village.



Introduction to Glitterhouse Articles

These articles give you a solid introduction to the glitterhouse-building hobby. We use a Christmas structure as our example, but the same techniques can be used for all kinds of vintage-style houses, as you'll see when you get further down the list.
Building a Glitterhouse - Original instructions for starting your own glitterhouse hobby with a simple project. Includes free downloadable plans and directions. Updated, September, 2008, with new photos and suggestions! Click to see the first and best complete 'how-to-build-a-glitterhouse' article ever published. Print-out plans and detailed step-by-step instructions.Click to see the first and best complete 'how-to-build-a-glitterhouse' article ever published.
Building Glitterhouse Bases - Your cardboard house projects will go better if you start with a firm foundation.
What You Need to Build Glitterhouses - Recommended resources to start building your own glitterhouse collection now. Not everything is critical, but all are helpful.
New, January, 2009! Scenery Tips - Howard and other writers and designers provide inexpensive, simple projects to add interest, texture, and a sense of "place" to any holiday village or indoor railroad. Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for many inexpensive, but attractive scenery tips.
New, November, 2009! Building the Pine Mountain Valley Synagogue - Here's a Hannukah-themed building that we hope will make our communities just a little bit more inclusive. Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for many inexpensive, but attractive scenery tips.

Unique Christmas Projects

Here are a few of the Christmas Glitterhouse and related projects that Howard has designed. All projects include free downloadable plans and instructions. Those that use printed graphics include free downloadable graphic files as well.

New, September, 2008! - Building the Little Charmer - A new glitterhouse project that is a step up from our beginning glitterhouse.

Click to see free downloadable plans and instructions for completing this vintage-style pasteboard Christmas house.
Updated, September, 2009! Picture Window House - Here's another original vintage-inspired design by Howard Lamey. This one includes unique features such as a sand finish and picture window that reveals a "Christmas scene." Includes free downloadable plans, directions, and graphics. Updated with new Halloween graphic options. Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Christmas house.
New, November, 2008! Building the Union Station - This original project by designer Howard Lamey is inspired by two traditions - the cardboard Christmas houses that were popular in US homes between 1928 and 1965 and the Lionel station that was popular for most of the 20th century. A Union station was a station that served two or more railroads, so it was usually the biggest station in town. Lionel honored that tradition with a fine series of tinplate models. Now Howard honors Lionel's tradition as well, with an inexpensive project that will dress up any Christmas or O gauge railroad. Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Union Station.
New, December, 2008! Building a Bay Window House - Bay windows were popular in Europe for centuries; they were also popular in the mid-20th century in North America. This project will add a nice variety to your Christmas village.Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this vintage-style Christmas house.
Winter Trees from Floral Pix - You can easily and inexpensively model the "Bleak Midwinter," using cast-off bits of artificial flowers and similar trim. This craft can work for Halloween (below), too. Click to see free downloadable instructions for making these winter trees.
Free Scenery "Set Pieces" - Use scraps to add vertical dimension and arrangment possibilities to your display. This craft can easily be adapted for any time of year. Click to see free downloadable instructions for making free-standing seasonal display pieces like this one.

Spook Hill™ Halloween-Themed Buildings and Accessories Updated, September, 2009!

Spook Hill™ is our Autumn and Halloween village - complete with a haunted mansion and a station that will serve all the needs of your Halloween train All projects include free downloadable plans and instructions. Those that use printed graphics include free downloadable graphic files as well. Includes new Halloween-Themed Projects for 2009
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.
Updated, August, 2009! Spook Hill™ #3 - Spook Hill Water Tower - Here's another first-ever Halloween-themed train station craft project. This is the third of our series of Spook Hill™ buildings, designed to look good with the station above and Halloween Trains of all kinds. Updated with new Tinplate-style Option Click to see articleClick to see the first-ever collectible Halloween-themed railroad water tower project.
Updated, August, 2009! Spook Hill™ #4 - Spook Hill™ Billboards - Here's our easiest-ever Spook Hill™ project, billboards that work with just about any Halloween village or railroad. Click to see article
Building a Vintage-Style Cardboard Halloween House - This is the first article Howard wrote about building vintage-style cardboard buildings, and the one that inspired the Spook Hill™ collection below. Get started now on your Halloween village.Here's a family-friendly project that sets the stage for spooky fun.

New for 2009! Sandy Shores™ Seaside Structures and Accessories

All projects include free downloadable plans and instructions. Those that use printed graphics include free downloadable graphic files as well.

New, January, 2009! Building the Sandy Shores Light House and Keeper's Cottage - In the days before GPS, lighthouses dotted the coastlines and much of the Great Lakes, guiding shipping near the coast. This project is the beginning of a series of sea-side projects to bring a bit of "vacation" to your home whatever time of year it is.

Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this delightful seaside accessory.

New, February, 2009! Building the Twin Peaks Beach House - Need a place for vacationers to stay while they're visiting your seaside village? This is a "scaled-down" version of many Victorian seaside "bed-and-breakfasts" that sprung up in the days before air conditioning, when a week in the "salt air" would bolster you to face the rest of the summer in the city.
Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this delightful seaside accessory.

New, April, 2009! Building the Peach Cottage Beach House - How does owning your own seaside cabin sound? Pretty good. Here's a great addition to our "Sandy Shores"™ village, or any seaside village.
Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this delightful seaside accessory.

New, January, 2009! Modeling Sea Grass - Most beaches in North America have some version of this sea grass - an important feature that helps keep beaches eroding during bad storms and provides a home for countless bird species. It also adds interest to the Sandy Shores™ lighthouse and beach houses, or other seaside village collectibles.
Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this delightful seaside accessory.

New, March, 2009! Modeling Palm Trees - Here's an easy way to model palm trees, for your seaside village, or for your nativity scene.
Click to see free downloadable plans,  directions, and graphics for this delightful seaside accessory.

Building Projects for Year-Round Fun

The projects in this section are designed to be useful any time of year. A few of them were originally designed for model railroads but easily can be adapted for other purposes. All projects include free downloadable plans and instructions. Those that use printed graphics include free downloadable graphic files as well.

New, April, 2008! Building a Vintage-Style Barn and Silo - This building project uses downloadable graphics to put realistic shingles and siding on an old barn and silo.

Click to see this original project.

New, August, 2008! Build a Vintage-Style Cardboard Stone Cottage - Here's a new building project that is inspired by the vintage cardboard houses folks used to set around their Christmas tree in the early 1900s. This building uses free downloadable graphic paper to put a realistic stone veneer on an old-world cottage and fence.
Click to see this great project.

Easy Log Cabin Flat - If you want to add some depth and country charm to a display and you have absolutely no room to work with, check out this project that lets you put a 3d-looking log cabin into less than 1/2" space. This building uses a free downloadable graphic and includes free plans and directions.
Click to see this great project.

Easy Street Scene - If you want to add some depth and urban life to a display and you have absolutely no room to work with, check out this project that lets you put a whole downtown in a few inches of space. Perfect for shelf railroads and shadowboxes, this project uses a free downloadable graphic and includes free plans and directions.
Click to see this great project.

Other Resources

These free downloadable patterns from Paul Race's BigIndoorTrains.com site supplement many of the projects above and help you create our own seasonal or tinplate-style projects.

click to go to Building Textures pageTinplate Textures

This section includes brick, shingle, siding, door and window patterns inspired by the tinplate buildings that Lionel and other companies made to go with their toy trains a century ago. Many of these have already been used in our Tribute to Tinplate(tm) series, which has been embraced by toy train buffs.

The Tinplate Textures page provides most patterns in three different scales to help you find the best sizes for your existing railroad or holiday village.

Click to see building textures for Christmas-themed tinplate-style buildings. Christmas Building Textures

If you want to design your own buildings for a Christmas railroad or village, check out this brand-new addition - roof and wall patterns for making your own holiday-themed structures. The Christmas Building Textures page includes brick, siding, and roofing tile patterns in colors that are ideal for Christmas and other midwinter decorating. Patterns are available in three scales for all of your "big train" and Christmas village needs.

Click to see building textures for Autumn or Halloween.Halloween and Fall Textures

If you want to design your own buildings for a fall or Halloween village, check out this brand-new addition - roof and wall patterns for making your own seasonal structures. The Halloween and Fall Textures page includes brick, siding, and roofing tile patterns in colors that are ideal for fall decorating.

Conclusion

A Note from the Designer: 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 visit our Orders page. - Howard

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 Links of Interest

One reason people keep finding this site through Internet searches is that so many other folks have linked to it since we got started. We're returning the favor and linking to a bunch of other sites you might find interesting.

  • Click to go to article.A Brief History of Christmas Villages from the Race family's Family Christmas Online™ site. If you enjoy setting out a holiday village of any kind, we think you will enjoy learning about the deep roots of this multicultural tradition.New for 2009!

  • "Papa Ted's Place" - Ted Althof's extensive resource about vintage pasteboard houses. It includes history, many photos from other people's collections, and resources to help you build your own. Ted was a train collector who came across as set of these a few years ago and wondered if anybody had ever bothered to do serious research on them. So he started asking questions and assembling the answers people gave him into a series of web articles. Although the result is a work in progress, it is by far the best single resource I have found on this topic.

    If you want to jump right to some GREAT photo pages, try this link. I hope you have high-speed internet because there are a lot of photos on this page and the following ones, but they are inspiring as well as inspirational.

    Other features of "Papa" Ted's site include:

    • Building from Scratch - "Papa" Ted Althof has collected tips and photos from other glitterhouse builders including Tom Hull and Ted Howard.
    • Repair and Restoration - "Papa" Ted Althof publishes Tom Hull's tips for restoring damaged antique glitterhouses.
    • Click to see 'Papa Ted' Althoff's authentic putz house reproduction pieces.Reproduction Parts - Ted offers authentic reproductions of just about every door and window that were used in glitterhouses over a 35-year period. These include celophane and paper "see-through" windows, as well as "stick-on" windows. If you don't know what sizes you need, you can order a template or sample pack. The page includes several photos showing how the replacement parts bring otherwise solid vintage glitterhouses "back to life."
    • Making "Flocked" Windows - Tom Hull's method for making "fuzzy" windowframes on celophane, with additional tips by author and glitterhouse collector Antoinette Stockenberg.
    • Repairing or Replacing Trees Tom's article about the "lufa" trees that were common on pre-war glitterhouses, and can be repaired or else replaced by new lufa carefully cut, soaked with dark green acrylic paint, and allowed to dry before gluing and applying white paint for "snow."

    Click to be charmed by Antoinette Stockenberg's wonderful Christmas displays.
  • Antoinette Stockenberg's photographs and comments on putz houses and life in general. - This is an entirely different kind of site from Ted's, but first class in every way. Antoinette is a published novelist who started decorating her home with putz houses some years back, started learning about the hobby, and the rest is history. She populates her putz with period-appropriate accessories, including "flats," inexpensive vintage figures made like tin soldiers. She also writes some nice articles about her putz villages and other subjects. The above link takes you to her home page, which usually has great photographs of her mantle-top putz. Be sure to look at previous years' pages to see other buildings, accessories, and arrangements. Click to go to Shanna's article.

  • Putz House Patterns from the 1960s - Blogger and money-conscious mom Shanna has found a set of putz house patterns in a 1968 magazine for crafters who use recycled materials. These folks were "green" way back when, and recommended building their houses from recycled cardboard pulp meat trays. While I can't imagine saving anything porous that meat fluids might have seeped into, those trays are made out of styrofoam now, anyway, and not much good for this sort of craft. Howard and Shanna both recommend using cereal box cardboard to make "recycled" putz houses today. That said, this article is worth a look just to see how creative and "ahead-of-their-time" these authors were.

  • Click for to see Catherine's site.Catherine Henry's Glitterhouses - The proprietor of the "Not Your Average Sock Monkey" blog has built several our glitterhouse designs, mostly with a few modifications you may find interesting. To see her December, 2009 blog on the subject, click on the photo to the right.

  • What Do Trains Have to Do With Christmas? - Describes how electric trains contributed to the communities many families set up at Christmas, with some details about the elaborate "Christmas Gardens" of the Baltimore/DC area.

  • About Nativities - Describes how German-American Nativity displays grew into communities and landscapes that included pasteboard, glittered houses and even electric trains.

  • Don't Try This at Home (Anymore) - Dangerous decorations people used to use

  • Special Christmas Memories from Family Christmas Online™ - a new feature for 2009.

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Add realism and interest to your O scale railroad or village display.


Links to our editor's sites are shown below:

Home Pages
Reading Index Pages
Buyer's Guide Pages
Visit the Big Indoor Trains Home page Visit the Family Garden Trains Home page Big Indoor Trains Primer Articles: All about setting up and displaying indoor display trains and towns. Garden Railroading Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden RailroadingBig Christmas Trains: Directory of Large Scale and O Scale trains with holiday themes
On30 and O Gauge trains to go with indoor display villages and railroads


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