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What You’ll Need:

  • Sketch pad or blank paper
  • Pencil
  • Base structure (empty plastic drink bottles work well, as do aluminum cans)
  • Cutting implements (scissors for plastic, metal shears for cans)
  • Natural materials (pebbles, bark, twigs, leaves, pine cones, acorns, etc.)
  • Adhesive (hot glue, double-sided tape, crazy glue, epoxy resin, and such)
  • Grout, if desired (can be regular grouting or a plaster like hydrocal or plaster of paris)
  • Paint, glitter, and accoutrements as desired

Step 1: Make Some Sketches

You don’t have to rival Da Vinci with excruciating detail, but just draw a guideline to work from. Take the general shape of the base structure you have and determine how you’re going to decorate it. Will your fairy house be covered in bark and twigs? Or will it be a stone structure with a little chimney on top? Will there be an elaborate patio and lovely little window-boxes filled with miniature flowers? Or will it be a simple cottage with dried straw thatching? Let your imagination guide you.

If you’re building a house (or houses) with children, give them a couple of different materials to work with, and let those determine the designs: you don’t want to break their hearts if they design a manor house that’s resplendent with acorns and glass pebbles, but all you have to work with are willow twigs and some dry leaves.

Base layer of stones

Step 2: Prepare the Structure

If your little house is going to have a door, you’ll probably want to cut one. An empty plastic bottle (or yogurt container, or what-have-you) can easily be cut with a pair of scissors, but if you’re using an aluminum can as your base, you’ll need metal cutting shears. Don’t hurt yourself: cut metal edges can be quite sharp, so you might want to cover the edges in masking tape to avoid hospital visits.

This is the point at which you’ll add in any windows or bits that jut out. You can make a simple chimney with an old plastic film case (remember those?) or empty pill container—just glue it to the top of your can/bottle. If you think that a frog or toad may make a home inside it, keep the entranceway nice and wide: they like to peek out while they’re at home.

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Step 3: Start Attaching Stuff

Since you’ve already decided what the outside of your fairy house is going to look like, you can start attaching things to it in order to bring it to life. The adhesive that you use will be determined by what it is you’re sticking on the structure: heavier items such as pebbles tend to stick best with hot glue or epoxy resin, but if little hands are sticking them down, you can also use a super-strong double-sided tape, such as the type used to lay carpets. It’s entirely up to you how closely you’d like to pack those pebbles, as the grouting you’ll use to finish the effect will fill in any gaps.

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Once the pebbles are in place, you’ll mix together a bit of grout/plaster, and once it’s the consistency of either thick whipping cream or thin mashed potato, you’ll slather it all over the surface with your fingers, making sure it’s mashed well into the little holes around the stones. You’ll then use a damp cloth or paper towel to wipe away the excess so that most of the stones are somewhat visible, with the grout forming a mortar in between them. This will have to cure for about 24 hours to get really solid.

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Note: if you’re using actual mortar/grout, you can add dry pigment powder to it in order to change its colour, while plaster or hydrocal can be tinted with a wash of watered-down acrylic paint after setting completely. Or, you could just leave the natural hues alone—it’s your call. It’s also usually a good idea to seal the piece with something like acrylic gloss gel medium to keep rain from attacking it.

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If you’re decorating your little house with bark or pine cone scales, you can use either carpet tape or glue, and if you’re using twigs, aim for epoxy resin. The long drippy threads left by hot glue can actually add a special shimmer to your piece, so feel free to leave them on.

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Step 4: Add Details

This is where you get to be creative with all kinds of fussy accoutrements. Will you be setting up your faerie house somewhere outside? You could prep the site by putting down moss and pressing in some shale stepping-stones leading up to it, and even plant some miniature flowers around it. Will you tuck it into the hollow of a tree? You could take some time to help it merge into its surroundings by adding similar materials to those you used to build it in and around the location. If you’ve created a low cottage, you could lash some twigs together to create a simple fence around it, or if it’s a tower, put a flag on top to flip around in the wind.

If you enjoy the process of creating your pixie home, you might branch out eventually and have an entire village arranged around your garden.

All images © Catherine Winter