You Are Here.
Jump to other pages.
Building flats can add ealistic interest in less than 3/8-inch of space. Click for bigger photo.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
O Scale Accessories
O Gauge Christmas TrainsOn30 Christmas Trains

Written by Howard Lamey
(with help from Paul Race) for Big Indoor TrainsTM

Note from Editor: Designer Howard Lamey likes building vintage-style cardboard houses for holiday villages. This project, though would be at home on any indoor model railway. It uses downloadable graphics from our Building Front page.

Easy Street Scene

This is an easy, very inexpensive project that doesn't require much in the way of talent or fine measurements. The final project is only about 3-inches deep from the low front wall to the background but it looks a lot deeper, and will add a great deal of interest to any "blank walls" on your indoor railroad. The cost is almost nil if you use recycled cardboard.

This collage shows some examples of the 'cleaned-up' building photos on our resource pages. Click for bigger photo.It uses Paul Race's building graphics, which are available in sizes suitable for Christmas villages or O scale/On30 railroads from Big Indoor Trains' Building Front Photos page.

For bigger sizes, go to the Family Garden Trains' Building Front Photos page.

For smaller sizes, use the O scale versions from the Big Indoor Train Building Front Photos page, and print at 50%.

This is a “layered” glue up project. The “layers” add just enough depth and show actual shadows. When viewed from straight on, or just to one side, the street scene looks much deeper than it is.

All pieces for the store front project are cut from graphics which have been mounted on cardboard.

Making the Pieces

  1. Print at least two color copies of each building you choose.
    • The gray building was very small, so I actually printed it in a slightly larger scale than the other ones. Because it looked closed, I chose to "fence off" the lower level. Not only does this add dimension and interest; it also disguises the fact that the building will now have to be "chopped' a bit to maintain the overall height I wanted.
    • The billboard graphic is from another source. Two good sources for signage are the Business and Station Signs page and the James Powell signage archive that you can access from the bottom of that page.
    • The fence graphics are from our Building Textures page. We will also use street pavers and flagstones from those pages to complete our project.
    • For this project, I also printed out some brick and stone pages to use for a street and sidewalk detail I planned to add (see below).
    Click for bigger photo.

  2. Glue one copy of each building printout to a foam board or to a relatively thick piece of non-corrugated cardboard, such as the cardboard from the back of a legal pad.

  3. Cut out the profile for each building.
    Click for bigger photo.

  4. Decide what "extra" pieces you want to add, depending on the building details you want to emphasize and the roof detail you would like to add. For this project, I printed out bits of other buildings and textures. The photo to the left below shows pieces of printouts that I glued to another piece of cardboard so I could cut them out without "wasting" a whole piece of cardboard. The photo to the right below shows the pieces I planned to use for roof detail after they have been cut out. Most of these will be small, non-descript “somethings;” they are made from pieces of dark color cardboard or scrap pieces left over from cutting out the details for layering onto the store fronts. They will be glued along the back edge of the store fronts. They will stick up a fraction of an inch and simulate roof hatches, skylights, small roof top buildings, vents, pipes and chimneys.
    Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo

    The following photos show the bits of trim I eventually cut out to go onto each of the buildings I selected. If you do this in Large Scale, you can add extra depth and realism by layering window-sills, trim over the windows, doorsteps, another layer of depth to the top trim, and so on. In fact, some very convincing structures have been built up this way.

    Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo.
    Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo.

  5. Click for bigger pictureMake several strips of black cardboard that you can use to join the buildings together from the back.

  6. Before you start gluing things together, paint the edges of all pieces with an appropriate color flat acrylic paint to cover the white line that shows when graphics are cut.


  1. Glue the trim pieces and roof detail onto the buildings.
    Click for bigger photo.

  2. Glue the joining strips and an extra strip of wood to provide strength onto the back of each piece.
    Click for bigger photo.

  3. Click for bigger photo.Assemble the sidewalk and street as desired. I glued a brick pattern to the "road." To create the "sidewalk," I simply drew pencil lines to simulate paving joints on a piece of light gray paper and wrapped it around another strip of cardboard. I then wrapped a long, low strip of cardboard with the stone pattern to provide a low wall that would separate the street from the railroad tracks. You could do this with a "hedge" or some other material if you'd like.
    Click for bigger photo.

  4. Fasten the buildings to the sidewalk assembly. The drawing below shows the overall assembly from the top. I don't actually have a separate background glued to this assembly, but you can see how you could easily add another row of buildings or a mountain ridge or such to add even more apparent depth.
    Click for bigger photo.

    Click for bigger photo.The drawing to the right shows the overall assembly from the side.

  5. Add any additional signage you think will add appropriate character to your project. In addition to our Business and Station Signs and the James Powell signage archive, you can also use ads from junk mail, from the phone book . . .

    Some signage ideas can be seen in the detail to the lower right.

    I made the department store sign on my computer, glued it to a cardboard base, and attached it by the edge to the store.

    Click for bigger photo.

  6. You can also use optional “weathering” and “aging” techniques to enhance the scene and reduce the contrast between the different printed patterns.

  7. Spray the entire assembly with several light coats of a clear satin indoor/outdoor acrylic finish. This protects it somewhat from moisture and dust and also helps reduce fading.


Add you our own accessories such as figures, vehicles, telephone poles, street lamps and other “downtown clutter” to bring these flats to life.

Click for bigger photo.


Several other downloadable, cleaned-up building photos are available in two size ranges for you to use for similar projects:

  • Click on one of the choices to the left to get the appropriate page for your trains.Sizes suitable for Christmas villages or O gauge, S scale, or On30 railroads are available from Big Indoor Trains' Building Front Photos page.

  • Sizes suitable for Large Scale trains (including 1:32 and larger scales up to 1:20.3 for some small buildings) are available from Family Garden Trains' Building Front Photos page.

Reader Response

Folks have been using the resource pages, including our building fronts since the day we put them up, but Howard's article has inspired a new set of hobbyists to give it a try. Tom Amara's O scale version is shown just below - I told him to put trains in the photos so folks could get an idea of how nicely these go with O gauge. If you do ANY of our projects, let us know, and we'll send you instructions for sending in your digital photos.
This is Tom Amara's O-scale downtown, largely inspired by Howard's as you can see from the Penney's sign, etc.  Click for bigger photo.

Plus, the salmon building debuts on national network television: In addition, you might be interested to know that our salmon building, which is featured in both Howard and Tom's downtown districts, was recently featured in an American Idol video. Click here for details on that bit of weirdness. :-)

Other Howard Lamey articles about buildings for your indoor railroad or holiday display include:

Howard Lamey's own web site about cardboard houses for holiday villages is

To Return to the BIG Indoor Trains(tm) Primer Page, click here.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer page

Click to sign up for the 'Trains-N-Towns<sup><small>TM</small></sup>' newsletter, with articles about display villages, indoor railroading, and much more

Click to see the Internet's largest buyers' guide of trains that are just the right size for indoor displays.

Home Pages
Reading Index Pages
Buyer's Guide Pages
Return to Big Indoor Trains Home page Return to 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

Note: Big Indoor Trains(tm), Big Train Store(tm), Family Garden Trains(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), Garden Train Store(tm), and Trains and Towns(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications ( All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Paul D. Race. Reuse or republication without prior written permission is specifically forbidden.
Big Indoor Trains(tm) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

For more information, contact us.

Click to see exclusive, licensed Disney(r) train and village collections!


Special Offers - FREE gift!!