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My first recreated haunted house, seen at an angle

Shoebox Haunted House
    with covered porch

My first recreated haunted house, seen from the front

When I was a kid our mom made us these shoebox haunted houses.  They came out every year with the other Halloween decorations, and they were always just a part of the holiday.  We usually had them on our dressers, and I remember I used to look mine over while, thinking about Halloween and haunted houses and trick-or-treating and really trying to capture the spirit of Halloween.  These houses just seemed to embody so much that seemed magical about the holiday.  My brother simply played with his (and I'm not proud to say I gladly joined in), but my house was strictly a decoration, beause I didn't want it to get beat up.

There are lots of directions for shoebox haunted houses on the Internet now, but I've never seen any that are like these.  Mom says she got the instructions from a craft magazine; I thought she said it was something like Sunset, but when I asked her about it later, she said it was something she found in these brief craft booklets that Michael's used to put out.  The thing these have that others don't is the porch roof, which gives the decoration a lot of depth: that covered porch really makes the house.

The original haunted houses are long gone, but as a grown-up I set out to recreate them.  Mom says she made some modifications to the original instructions when she built them, but she doesn't recall exactly what.  I made a couple other changes.  The shutters on my original were made of paper bag, as I recall, but I used corrugated cardboard, which gave them more depth.  The porch pillars on my original were thin, made from the sides of a shoebox or something like that.  I made my pillars with corrugated cardboard, which not only gave them some visible thickness but also made them sturdier.

So if you want to make one of these, you'll need the following:

  Items you'll need
  1. A shoebox. Ideally, it should be sturdy-sided and about the size you want the house to be
  2. Corrugated cardboard: a box you'd otherwise throw out
  3. Construction paper: 1-2 sheets of black, 1 sheet of orange (you'll only need a little orange)
  4. A paper bag: rough/fuzzy is better than smooth/slick
  5. Markers, e.g. sharpies, both thin and thick (not extra fine point)
  6. White glue
  7. Scissors, Box cutter
  8. Pencil and Ruler
  9. Coffee (optional)
  10. Something to make the chimney, ideally a narrow box with a closable end
Toothbrush box

The chimney is likely to be a tricky part.  What my mom used, and what I was lucky enough to have, were those boxes that toothbrushes used to come in.  Toothbrushes don't seem to come in boxes any more, and that's too bad for this project, because they make perfect chimneys.  They're about the right size and shape, and you can glue the end to the roof so it folds down for storage.  When I made my first recreated house in 2005, the boxes could still be found; when I noticed they weren't available any more, I hoarded the one we still had and saved it until I made the second house in 2015.  Anyway, maybe you can find a small box with an end lid that will allow it to fold down--that's a really handy feature.  It makes the whole thing slightly less bulky, and helps keep the chimney from getting broken off in storage.

Instructions

Step 1 - Cut off the End

First thing to do is cut one end off the shoebox, at an angle.  As you can see, you want to cut off just a little bit of the box sides, cutting further in toward the box bottom.  You want this angle so that the roof will slant toward the front of the house.  Set aside the end you cut off--that will become the porch roof.

Step 2 - Cover the Shoebox

Open up the paper bag and cover the sides of the box with it, securing it with white glue.  Ideally, the ends should wrap around the insides of the box walls so there isn't a visible seam from outside.  Don't cover the uncut end of the box (on the left in this photo), since you'll be gluing that to something else later.

Step 3 - Door & Windows

Cut out the door, then cut out the windows: one next to the door, two on the second story above, and one each on the top and bottom story on either side.  Once you've cut the first window, you can use the cutout to trace the others, which will help keep them a consistent size.  Make sure you leave space on either side of each window for shutters.  You might want to cut all these out from behind using the box cutter (against a disposable surface!).  Mark up the door so it kinda looks like an old door, and mark up the walls all over to sort of look like an old wooden house.  You'll probably want to blacken the door and window sills with a marker, like I did here.

Step 4 - The Roof

Trace and cut out part of the box lid to make the roof.  It will go on a little like in the picture on the left.  Then cover its sides, or top and sides, with paper bag.  Trace and cut a piece of corrugated carboard and glue on top, with the corrugation running front to back, not side to side.  Decorate it to look vaguely like shingles, then tear off some of the top layer in strips to expose the corrugation in places to make it look rundown.  Be sure to leave an untorn area where you want the chimney to go.

Step 5 - The Chimney

Cut the box (or whatever) you're going to use for the chimney, so that one end has a part to glue down and the other end is open like the top of a chimney.  It's hard to give specific advice on this since you're unlikely to have a toothbrush box to work with.  Now cover the sides (but not the end) with paper bag and decorate to look like old brick.  Blacken the top like the door and window edges, if desired.  Glue the end onto the roof; if yours is going to fold down for storage, and be sure to put it far enough back that the whole thing will lie flat on the roof.  Now glue the roof to the top of the house.

Step 6 - Making it look dark inside

Cut out a piece of black construction paper and glue it on as the floor.  Cut out squares of black paper, taller and wider than the windows, and glue them on from the back.

Optionally, and if you have enough black paper to spare (which would probably mean using a second sheet), you can cut out a piece and glue it on the back of the door with the other side glued to the back of the house, such that it will let you open the door (see my older reproduction, at right).  The idea is to make it look like it's dark inside when you peek through the door.  The paper should be taller than the door, and have plenty of slack to let it open a ways.

Step 7 - The Base

Place the floor of the house (the uncut end of the shoebox) on the remainder of the box top.  Figure out how deep you want the porch to be (I'd say no more than ¼ the height of the house), and trim off the excess from the cut side of the box top.  This makes your base: the subfloor of the house and porch.  Cover the sides of the base with paper bag.  The paper bag should wrap around the back sides just like it did on the main body of the house.  Glue the bottom of the house to the base.  Now trace and cut a piece of corrugated cardboard to be the porch floor, with the corrugations running front to back rather than side to side.  Decorate it to look like it's made of planks, and tear off strips like you did for the roof.  Glue the porch floor onto the base in front of the house.

Step 8 - The Porch Roof

Take the box end that was set aside back in Step 1.  You want it to be a bit deeper than the porch (roughly 18% deeper, so if the porch is 6cm deep, its roof would be about 7cm) because it will be at an angle and also should jut out just a little further than the porch floor.  Don't cut straight across the back--you want to leave a tab sticking out the back of the porch roof to secure it in place.  Trace, cut out, decorate, and tear a piece of corrugated cardboard like you did for the roof and porch floor, and glue onto the porch roof.  Don't forget to paper the outside edges like you did with the roof and base (and decorate, if desired).  Cut a slot in the front of the house and push the tab through, bend it up or down and glue it against the back side (see the folded-over tab in the above right picture).  This will keep the porch roof from falling off.  Next cut pillars of corrugated cardboard, with the corrugations going up and down, to hold up the front of the porch roof.  Ideally they should be just long enough that the porch roof slants at about the same angle as the house roof.  Glue them behind the front side of the porch roof.  Decorate the pillars if desired.

Step 9 - The Shutters

The house still looks a little plain; we need something to give it texture.  First we'll make shutters for the windows--not two for every window; we need a few missing to show the house is abandoned.  I made a dozen (i.e., two missing).  Glue one to the roof of the porch as if it fell off one of the second-story windows, and be sure not to put one right above it.  Put up the others, leaving a couple missing entirely, and do two or three at an angle, as if they're hanging by one hinge.

Step 10 - Final Decorations

A bat looks awesome flying past the chimney!  Glue it partly on, partly off the chimney to make it more visible and dramatic.  If your chimney folds down, glue it to the side that folds down so it will lie flat on the roof for storage.

A ghost and/or jack-o-lantern makes a great decoration for the porch.  I'd put a jack-o-lantern next to the door or below the front window; you could also put a ghost on the door itself, maybe beckoning people inside.  The house I had as a kid had a ghost doing just that, with a wide-open mouth as if giving a hollow "oooohhh!" in invitation.  I tried to duplicate that from memory, but couldn't: my ghost just looked surprised, and that really didn't work.  The jack-o-lantern can be given more depth by gluing it to a piece of corrugated cardboard cut to fit it, if you want to go that extra step.  Lastly, a haunted house isn't really complete without a black cat on the porch.  You can glue it partly on, partly off the front of one of the pillars.  Sorry if mine looks like a dog...have I mentioned I'm a lousy artist?

Congratulations!

Your haunted house is complete.

Now, many of the shoebox haunted houses on the Internet seem to be intended for a one-time display.  However I'd recommend this type be used anually, as part of your regular Halloween decorations.  It takes about a day to make one of these, but they store well (especially if the chimney folds down), and they take up fairly little space while they're out, since they stand upright.

When we were kids, Winchell's Donuts used to stick on little decorations around Halloween: plastic jack-o'-lanterns that were less than about 1½" (4cm) wide, hollow, with a little handle arcing across the top like a trick-or-treat pail, and a spike off the bottom for sticking into the donut.  They also we had these pumpkinhead men, cats, and witches, also with spikes for sticking into the donuts.  We had a bunch of all these and they lived with our haunted houses, and we used to play with them for hours with my brother's haunted house.  Also we had these tiny plastic skeletons about 2½" (6cm) long which I think also came from Winchell's but I'm not certain; they were surprisingly detailed--they even had individual ribs, including one or two broken ones, forming a hollow rib cage.  I think the skeletons were the best of the bunch.

In November 2015 I stumbled on some of these old figures on eBay, identified as vintage cupcake picks.  In fact I found one auction that included not only the pumpkins and the pumpkinheads, cats, and witches (which I'd forgotten about), but even the skeletons.  The skeletons seem to be really hard to find; several auction items had the other decorations, but this was the only one I found that included the skeletons.  They were the items I remembered most, and most fondly, so I had to have them.  And, at $10 plus shipping, the price was right.  So I ordered them to go with the recreated haunted houses.  Here they are, frolicking (well, leaning) on my older house from 2005.

 

Please email me with questions and comments.  I love sharing this stuff.