reconsidering greenleaf kits: a conditional thumbs up

As I mentioned last week, I’m in the midst of my Westville remodel.* At the risk of repeating myself, the finished house was a disappointment. Part of the disappointment was due to my wallpaper and furniture choices, along with both interior and exterior paint and decor colors. But the other part was the product itself. From the start, I found I was not a fan of Greenleaf kits. But I’m reevaluating my opinion. I don’t love them. But I like them. A little.

For those who are not dollhousers, or who are dollhousers but have never built a Greenleaf kit, they have three really attractive features. First, they have really attractive features, as in, beautiful architectural details and interesting spaces. Second, they’re relatively inexpensive,** and third, they’re made here in the USA.

Now, the negatives. They’re inexpensive because you’ve got an extra step or two compared to other kits. The house pieces come in multiple numbered flat wood sheets with partially-cut house elements (walls, window frames, stair parts, etc). Picture a rectangle of dough with shapes pressed into the dough, but not cut all the way through. You detach the parts as needed per the instruction sheet.

When you pop them out, the edges are really crumbly. The wood is scrap at best and given to splintering. Some of those beautiful architectural details break off and can’t be recovered. Then, you’ve got to sand all of the edges and use wood filler, but even that isn’t a guarantee of success.

( I need to add here that Greenleaf also stocks laser-cut kits. Laser-cut pieces have smooth edges, so you won’t encounter this problems. I’ve only purchased laser-cut trim pieces, and I don’t know the pros and cons of a whole laser-cut house, so I’ll let you know if I ever take one on.)

The house body attaches via slot and tab, which is fine when it works but aggravating when it doesn’t. I found myself using my box cutter to widen slots and shave tabs more often than not. I keep a tube of spackling paste to fill in long gaps where pieces are supposed to connect, but don’t. There is also the issue of warpage, which affects the larger floor/ceiling pieces. Some are warped. Some are really warped.

I can’t explain why I had so much trouble electrifying this house–more so than any of my other three projects. I wondered if the porosity of the boards prevented strong connections between the electrical wires, eyelets, and tapewire, but maybe it was just my poor technique. Several of my individual lights failed during and after the build. Ultimately, the entire system went dark. In their defense, I have seen quite a few successfully electrified Greenleaf homes on the Internet, For the remodel, I pulled all of the tapewire and fixtures. I could add battery operated LED lights, but I haven’t found any that are made in the USA.

So, why did I previously lean toward “no,” but now, maybe a qualified “yes”?

I think Greenleaf kits are good for beginners largely because of their price point. Also, they have a wide variety of sizes and styles, so you can find something small and get your feet wet, and then step up gradually to more complicated builds.

For the advanced hobbyist, Greenleaf houses offer a solid base from which to go nuts–“kit-bashing,” as dollhousers call it–cutting extra windows, doors, adding walls, unique spaces, architectural features, and trims and the finished product is your own creation.

As I rearrange spaces to find room for my finished projects, I also find myself appreciating the Westville’s weight. As mentioned, the boards are super thin and porous compared to other kits. This reduces the finished weight, so even larger houses can be picked up and moved with minimal effort.

After the Westville, I swore I wouldn’t do another Greenleaf kit, but then I wanted an inexpensive shell for the “Trash House.” It went well-ish. Now, that I’m remodeling the original Westville and liking the new design, I’m warming up to Greenleaf homes. They’re fun little projects; they’re reasonably priced; and they have delicious details. Still, they don’t hold a candle to my Earth and Tree homes. If Greenleaf ever moved production out of the United States, it would be an easy “no.” But the fact they are US-made earns them bonus points, which puts them just over the finish line.

In all fairness, Greenleaf should have a chance for a rebuttal and here’s their best defense: I’m really old, yet the company has a history that predates my time on this planet. My grandmother, who was born in 1899, was 11 when the company was founded. I might not love their kits, but a lot of other people do. If I were you, I’d do my own research on this one.

*Here are a few photos from the remodel-in-progress. They mostly show stairs and woodwork going from dark stain to white paint. Since the primary goal was to brighten up the place, this seemed like a good start.

**They are inexpensive, initially, but for some kits, you’ve got to buy shingles, siding, and better quality doors, stairs, trim, and other parts. It adds up. (FYI, for the Orchid, the shingles were included. They looked super cheap and paper thin, but after I dyed and applied them, they looked great!)

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