Kate makes a midcentury modern “putz” style house — download her free pattern

mini-ranch-christmas-house-with-trees RetroCraftyArtsyFartsyIf you love making crafty holiday decorations — and also love mid century architecture — this Retro Crafty is for you. It is a take on the miniature, vintage dime store cardboard houses commonly used, back in the day, to decorate the window sills and mantels of many homes during the holiday season. In my family, we know these as ‘putz houses’ — I’m told it’s ‘putz’ as in ‘puttering’ around. My family has a small, treasured collection — all passed down from my grandmother. Traditionally, these miniature architectural studies have never included mid century houses — until now. Using materials that you probably already have around your house, a few small additions from the craft store and my free downloadable pattern — you can start building your own mini mid mod mad Christmas village.

christmas-house-on-mantleMaterials needed

  • Cereal box
  • Cardboard box
  • Tissue paper (Kleenex or toilet paper can also be used)
  • Paint (any kind you have around that can be used on cardboard)
  • Hot glue gun and glue sticks (can also use craft glue of any sort)
  • Felt squares (white for snow and grey for sidewalk)
  • Scissors, X-acto knife, ruler
  • Transfer paper or charcoal (to use for transferring design onto cardboard)
  • Glitter
  • Bottle brush trees (I got a bag of 8 small trees in three sizes from Michaels for $1.99)
  • Beads or other small objects to decorate trees
  • Flameless (battery operated) tea light to place inside house

Click here to download Kate’s free Putz house pattern

Step 1: Trace or glue pattern to cardboard

cereal-boxes-and-patternPrint out the downloadable pattern. Cut along the edge of a cereal box so that you can lay the box flat.

make-transfer-paperUse charcoal or pencil to color the back of the print out to make transfer paper (or use pre-made transfer paper).

trace-over-design-to-transferTrace over the print out pattern, pressing firmly. (You could also glue the pattern directly to the cardboard and cut it out directly.


Step 2: Cut out house pattern and lightly scour folds

Now that your image is transferred to the cereal box, you can cut out the pieces.

cut-out-housesI recommend using a ruler and x-acto knife to carefully cut out the patterns (including window openings).

lightly-scour-foldsPressing very lightly with the x-acto knife, score the parts of the house that will need to be folded (corners of house as well as tabs).

transfer-roof-and-cut-outUse the same method to transfer the roof template to a piece of cardboard box. (Note: you could also use cereal box, but I prefer the thicker box for the roof because it adds dimension to the roofline.)

scour-roof-lineLightly score roof where the bend is so that it is easy to fold — you may have to score both sides depending on the thickness of your cardboard.

Step 3: Paint the house

mix-paint-colorsNow it is time to paint the outsides of the house. I used acrylic paint that I had on hand, but you could use anything from spray paint to leftover wall paint for your house.


paint-trimI used one color for the main part of the house and a different color for the front door and some trim around the window openings.

make-door-knobIf you are painting with a brush that has a very fine end, you can make the doorknob by dipping the end of the paint brush in paint and stamping the door knob directly on the door.

paint-roof-let-dryMake sure to also paint the top of the roof (even though we will be covering some of it with “snow.” Then let everything dry before moving on to the next step.

Step 4: Assemble house on base

use-tissue-paper-for-windowsAdd window shades (or frosted windows) to your house by gluing on a piece of leftover white tissue paper. If you don’t have a tissue paper stash to work with, kleenex or toilet paper will also work.

felt-and-cardboardCut out a base for your house from a cardboard box. My base is 5.5 inches x 9 inches but you can make the lot your house is on any size you like.


glue-felt-to-boardCover your piece of cardboard with white felt and hot glue the edges. I trimmed the corners of my felt so that the base would be level and not lumpy on the edges.

felt-wrapped-cardboardNow it is time to build the house on your piece of real estate.

glue-house-to-boardDecide where you would like to position your house on the board. Make sure the tabs are folded cleanly and attach them to the board with hot glue.

glue-house-togetherDo the same with the back piece of the house, taking care to make sure the house lines up squarely in the corners. Glue the tabs on the corners to connect the house front and back securely.

glitter-on-roofTo add some snowy sparkle to the roof edges, run a bead of glue along the roof edge — one side at a time.

dip-roof-in-glitterWait a second or two for the glue to cool a bit and then dip it in the glitter. (You could also use craft glue if you have it handy)

glittered-roof-edgeRepeat this technique to all sides of the roof.

Glue-on-roofAttach the roof to the tabs with hot glue — and your house is constructed.

Step 5: Landscape the yard

snow-on-roofNow is the time to add all the little finishing touches to the house and yard. You can add snow to the roof by cutting out some felt shapes and attaching them to the top of the roof.

glue-glitter-snow-on-roofI dipped my roof snow spots in glue and then in glitter for a sparkly effect. (You can also spread some glue on the front yard and shake glitter over it to make the “snow” on the base sparkle.

glue-on-felt-sidewalkNext I cut some small rectangles out of a piece of grey felt to act as sidewalk stones.

Bottle-brush-trees-miniI found this bag of mini bottle brush trees at Michael’s for $1.99. They are the perfect size for my mid century holiday house.

white-sisal-bottle-brush-treesI also purchased white mini trees (same price and size) to color myself.

dying-bottle-brush-tree-with-food-colorUsing food coloring and water, the mini bottle brush trees can be dyed any color you would like. (Note: using red food coloring will yield a pink tree — the food coloring is not strong enough to make dark colored trees.)


landscaping-with-bottle-brush-treeUsing hot glue, glue the trees to your base.

snowy-tree-skirtYou can make a snowy tree skirt for the tree with a circle of felt with a slit cut into the center.

tree-with-snowy-tree-skirtOnce the tree skirt is glued on, it looks like snow piled around the base of the bottle brush tree.

landscaped-yard-retro-christmas-house-modelUsing the same methods, attach as many other trees as you would like to your yard. (I rolled the pink tree in glue and glitter before “planting” it in the yard)

mini-christmas-decorationsIf you like, now is the time to decorate your mini trees. You can use beads from an old necklace or cut apart some holiday garland like I did to use for tree decorations. Use your hot glue gun to attach the decorations to the mini trees.

Mini-ranch-christmas-houseAll that’s left now is to put a flameless (battery operated) tea light into the back of the house and ta-da! Precautionary Pam reminds: Don’t overload this puppy with wattage and don’t leave it lighted unattended.

mini-ranch-house-light-up-christmasWouldn’t you like to live in this tiny holiday ranch home? It looks so warm and inviting. This would be a great retro crafty project for holiday get togethers: Using minimal money and resources you could easily host a holiday housebuilding party for friends and family — and create a whole new generation of putz houses for your kids and grandkids to enjoy!

Make a whole neighborhood of mid century “Putz” style houses:

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  1. Linda Blackmore says

    I have loved you since the first time I read your blog, but this is the capper on the cake!!! I have a collection of putz houses, and do a putz in my bookcase, but I don’t have a midcentury modern cardboard!! You are the queen!!

  2. Ima Pam says

    omyfreakingosh. That is so cute! Thank you for the detailed instructions! I’m thinking neighborhood for the electric train sets….

  3. kristen says

    This is awesome! I think this will be a MUCH more successful project than a gingerbread house – and way cooler too! Thank you!! :)

    • Kate says

      The print is a Shag (Josh Agle) print. The title is “Heavenly Hosts.” I got it at a gallery in Chicago a few years ago when Shag was there at an opening for a new body of work. I got to meet him (he’s my favorite living artist!) and he signed a bunch of my books and even took a picture with me front of my print. It was SUPER AWESOME.

  4. Rick S says

    I love your Putz house. I do see quite a few 50’s “Colonials” done up in glitter and snow. I was happy to see a source for the bottlebrush trees. I collect the Hallmark Nostalgic houses and need the trees for my display. The houses are from 1900-1930 or so. was happy to see a craftsman but need a split-level or ranch yet.


  5. Adrienne says

    Love it. If you make a little church for your village, try crayon shavings between two pieces of waxed paper to make “stained glass” windows on the little house.

    • says

      Yes, and I would put a thin towel or a couple of paper towels between the iron and the wax paper, first, just to prevent the wax melting onto the iron.

  6. lynda says

    Very cute. You could probably market these somehow. In fact a tree with mid century house ornaments would be super cute.

  7. Wendy M. says

    This is so cute! Thanks for the detailed instructions. I am going to give this a go- I’m in need of decorations that are appropriate for our house. (Thanks, also, for waiting until closer to the holidays…I just can’t get excited about these things during the summer and early fall, when many other people start talking about Christmas crafts!)

  8. Michael says

    This is adorable— well done!

    I might consider using glassine for the windows instead of tissue paper for a little more shine and fewer wrinkles. It’s easy to work with and you can add colour to it if desired.

  9. says

    It turned out so cute! I’m really excited about trying this. A friend made a little midcentury house for me years ago and I always thought that it needed little neighbor houses. And I love the idea that these could be OUR beautiful passed down Christmas decorations for the next generation. And admittedly, the lights behind the windows….aww!

    Can’t wait to see what’s next.

  10. Kelly Wittenauer says

    Too cool. I can see a row of these growing across the mantle of that gorgeous fireplace. Perhaps a couple with a clear front window to show off a little aluminum tree inside. Maybe a few 1/43 scale diecast cars with tailfins along the curb.

    • Kate says

      This may be something that you build on a little every year…maybe a few more houses and props until the mantel is full! :)

  11. lynda says

    And….may I say there is always so much to learn on this site. I had never heard of the term putz houses. However, there is a lot of information about them on the net and lots of sites that sell them. Etsy has lots of handmade ones. Thank you for educating.

  12. Jay says

    Kate, you are one talented person! I think you have the beginnings of a cottage industry. Thanks for the lead on the bottle brush trees. Antique dealers want a kings ransom for the old ones and essentialy they were dime store material. Putz refers to the name of the village placed under the tree. It’s an old world custom, many of the German settlers to Pennsylvania continued the tradition. The modern post war version was the train layout under the tree with the Plasticville houses. Thanks for getting us on the path to holiday decorating.

    • Kate says

      Thanks for the bit of trivia Jay!

      I felt lucky to find those bottle brush trees! I was trying to make an inexpensive house and wasn’t about to pay big bucks for the landscaping. Luckily those trees are perfect!

  13. Diane in CO says

    Kate, OMG, that is the most adorable little house!!!!!! I can’t believe you made it and what a great step-by-step presentation. It is truly delightful.

    I read all the directions and wonder if where you wrote “SCOUR” (couple of times) you actually meant “SCORE” as in lightly cutting into the cardboard to allow it to bend? Wouldn’t want someone to actually “scour” their project which is “rubbing vigorously” like one does to clean a bathtub! Might want to change that to “score” the folds with the x-acto knife. :-)

    • Kate says

      Yes, you are right Diane, I just changed it to score. My mom emailed me and said the same thing…sometimes your mind thinks one thing and your hands type another! :)

  14. tammyCA says

    How sweet! I make “Putz” houses, too. Made some special ones last year for friends whose decor is black & white and they were excited & amazed. And, the other day in Joann’s (where I bought yet another tiny house on sale) I was just thinking about making modern designed ones! They are lots of fun to make..my own little community of colorful homes. We had the original Putz houses in the ’60s from the Ben Franklin Dime Store but they are long gone (plus, we rudely poked holes in the red cellophane windows..we, dopey kids!) I found only 2 or 3 at yard sales..hard to find out here.

  15. Libby says

    Kate, you are a genius! Would be super cute to make a pattern of my own little MCM house to add to the village =) They could be neighbors!

  16. MsKittyMuses says

    This is absolutely adorable! I know what I’ll be doing this weekend! I’m thinking I need a whole street…

  17. says

    Kate, just perfect!!! And I love your wooden ranch houses. I may attempt one of these myself … BTW, what is the name of your Etsy shop??? I want to make sure I don’t miss anything!!! Thanks for your wonderful tutorial… :)

  18. hannah says

    UBER CUTE, Kate!!

    I only discovered Putz houses on Etsy when I was doing an early Christmas treasury album. Love that you chose an MCM style for yours.

    You know what this reminds me of? Something sorta off topic, must’ve been 1962-63 that Mom and I made three ‘choir boys’ by folding different size magazines, spray painting, using foam balls for the heads, felt for eyes and mouths. I’m searching Google images but can’t find anything close except for this tree (I have an old pic somewhere of them, but gawd knows where it is)

    Anyway Kate, you just brought back memories of making our own Christmas decorations. Thanks. :)

  19. Chris says

    Kate — since you are our crafty Queen, I have to ask you to pleeeze do a feature on the yarn and coat hanger poodles that ladies made in the early 70s. (I think that’s the right date.) My Mom went through a little short term crafty seizure and made several of these when I was little. I LOOOOVED them — especially the rhinestone button eyes!

    Does anyone else remember these? I know the bent coat hanger served as an armature.

    I am drooling over your sweet little winter-y house! I hope you make more and show us pictures!

  20. Scott says

    Charming is a word I use about once every five to ten years, but there’s absolutely no other word to describe your incredibly endearing MCM Putz house.

    Thanks for sharing all your how-tos which could also be used to save a vintage house that is missing a piece or two or that has suffered damage over the years.

  21. Tessy says

    I will definitely make one of these today, allready getting ready to go to my local craftstore. i love crafting, i think it’s really awesome that you postet this idea.

  22. Lynne says

    Okay, we all need to make one of these, and then have the download picture thing where we all show them off. It would be fun to see how different they all are!

  23. Ruth says

    Love this. I really love the little bottle brush trees. I remember big versions of those being the first non-aluminum fake Christmas trees. Remember my grandmother replacing her sliver aluminum tree with a green bottle brush tree.

  24. says

    I just made mine! They are so cute! (I glued my roof on wrong, before I knew it, darn it! So, I may have to make another:o)) But they are so fun! Took about 6 hours, though, and the hubby made one too! We drank wine and made an evening of it. Good date night project, and we can’t wait for upcoming patterns to add to our MCM Putz house Christmas Village! :o) Thanks again for another inspirational project! LOVE you guys!

  25. says

    I’m making one of these right now! Love at first sight! Mine will be a bit smaller. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your pattern and ideas!


  26. Bea says

    Hi Pam and Kate, I have not done a craft project in lots and lots of years,
    but still had glue gun, x-acto knives, metal rulers and cutting mats. I have forgotten how messy the glue gun is! Found I had a cereal box and cardboard – and tissue paper. Then I was off to the local Michael’s with a friend (spent an hour looking for paint, glue sticks, glitter, etc). I have the house assembled and it is great!!! I found that for snow – scraps of cotton quilt batting also worked in addition on felt. (I use to sew and was a quilter). Off to Michael’s again to look for trees so I can start landscaping! Thanks for the inspiration and the pattern. How do I attach a jpg photo (after I complete?) I always wanted a village!! (but was too “cheap” to buy one!)

  27. kimberlee chamberlin says

    Hi Kate, Had soooo much fun making an ultra-glam sparkly version of the putz house! I just sent you pictures of it as well as one of our 1957 ranch house lit up for the holidays. I modified your pattern a wee bit by flipping it adding double front doors to more give the feel of our house (we just WISH we had clerestory windows–former owner took ’em out in the 80’s…)

    Thanks again!!!

  28. Mary Dailey says

    I am so thrilled to find your blog and these patterns. I can’t wait to try my hand at making these since I’ve noticed how much they cost ready made. Thank you so much for posting these!

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