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Building lightweight, but solid bases for your glitterhouses.Return to Big Indoor Trains(tm) primer pageOn30 Display Trains
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Written by Howard Lamey
(with a little help from Paul Race) for Big Indoor TrainsTM

Note from Editor: Glitterhouse designer/builder Howard Lamey recycled cardboard to provide an authentic look and feel for the bases of his vintage-style cardboard structures. This is how he explained it to me.

Building Glitterhouse Bases

Forming the Base

The base for a vintage-style cardboard structure is a rectangular "box" that is primed, and sometimes decorated before the house and trees are installed. Howard builds his so that they are lightweight, but solid, with a finish reminiscent of the original cardboard mid-19th-century glitterhouses. The length and width of the base varies with the structure - usually you want to add a few inches to allow Notice the precision with which Howard has cut this base.  This base is for a very complex project we may be able to get Howard to show us later. Click for a slightly larger for gates, fences, or hedges to dress up your buildings. The height, on the other hand, is usually at least 1/2". For a very large structure, you may want to make the base even thicker.

You may form the box either of two ways:

  • Corrugated Cardboard Method - Make a base from layers of corrugated cardboard glued together in a sandwich.

    If you Click for bigger photo.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. This is Howard's preferred method, but sometimes for very small houses, he uses the following method.

  • 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.

Click for bigger photoThe finish coat of paper is glued down everywhere so it becomes a part of the surface and recreates the pasteboard finish of the original glitterhouses. Click for bigger photo.

Finishing the Base

After the base is built, you then cover it with white bond acid-free 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.

When the glue has dried, paint the box with the base coat you have chosen. In most cases this is a flat white latex or acrylic paint. A flat white interior wall paint is nice because it suggests the "chalky" feeling of the paper-mache finish typical of many early glitterhouses.


How the base is finished depends on what the rest of the house looks like. If the house is set in a season other than winter, you may want to paint the base with a different colored topcoat before you attach the house and accessories.

Other Articles about Glitterhouse include:

Other Putz House Resources:

  • "Papa Ted's Place" Ted Althof's extensive resource about vintage pasteboard houses. Includes some history, many photos from other people's collections, and resources to help you build your own. The links below will take you right to the approprate page on "Papa" Ted's site. You'll find lots of other pages to look at while you're there, though.
    • 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.
    • 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."
  • - Putz house builder Howard Lamey now has his own site, begun in December, 2007. You can commission your own custom-built glitterhouse, or buy a precut kit and finish it yourself.
  • Aimee Gomberg's original putz houses - unique collections for sale.

Other Articles that Discuss Putzes and Christmas Villages of the mid-20th Century:

  • About Nativities - Describes how German-American Nativity displays (the original "putzes") grew into communities and landscapes that included pastboard, glittered houses and even electric trains.
  • 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.
  • Author Antoinette Stockenberg's home page - includes photographs and comments on putz houses and life in general.

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