How to Make a Shoebox Room

By Marie Mulrooney

Shoebox rooms — or shoebox dioramas — are tiny, self-contained glimpses into a still-life scene. Every once in a while, elaborate dioramas designed by professional artists crop up at a fundraising auction; but you’re much more likely to encounter this art form as part of a child’s homework assignment. Not only are shoebox rooms good art projects, they also give kids a way of visually expressing what they’ve learned in history class, depicting a scene from their favorite book or illustrating an English composition.

Sketch a rough design for your shoebox diorama. This doesn’t have to be elaborate; it’s just a plan to help you decide what goes into your diorama and where. You may need to do two sketches — one as seen from above, and another as seen from the front — or if you’re pretty good at drawing, you can combine the two views into a single sketch.

Gather any humanoid figures you need for your shoebox room. These could be anything from pocket-sized dolls to action figures or handmade “people” made of twisted pipe cleaners.

Assemble any furniture you need to create your diorama. You can use dollhouse furniture, or assemble your own furniture by cutting pieces of thick cardboard and hot-gluing them together, then painting over the “furniture” with acrylic paint. Pony beads, pipe cleaners and bits of yarn make good accents for details like trim, and door or cabinet handles.

Cut cloth remnants to make any soft goods you need for your diorama, then glue them into place. Examples include drapes, sheets, blankets, rugs and clothing for your “people.”

Assemble any remaining details you need. These include small plastic animals to represent pets, and twigs to represent indoor houseplants or trees seen through a window.

Position everything where you want it inside the shoebox diorama. Once you’re happy with the placements, hot-glue one item at a time into place. If you’d rather be able to move the items around or retrieve them later, use double-sided tape or hook-and-loop buttons to temporarily, but securely, fix them in place.

Place the shoebox cover over your room, then cut a peephole in the lid so people can still look through it. If you want to leave the shoebox room completely exposed, either place the lid over the diorama — without cutting a peephole — and remove the lid when you want to display the room inside the shoebox, or cover the front of the “room” with a tautly stretched piece of plastic wrap.