Introduction: Addams Family Spooky Mansion Cardboard Model - With Lights and Sound!
My inspiration for this model was the 1991 Addams Family movie house. The set designers drew their inspiration from Charles Addams’ original Addams Family cartoons, bringing the mansion to life in all its imposing and slightly derelict glory. To me it is iconic.
This model is made mostly from cardboard boxes and hot glue and decorated with acrylic paints. The lighting and sound effects are supplied by an Arduino-compatiable chip, programmable LEDs, and a small speaker.
For the model: corrugated cardboard, cereal boxes, paper, hot glue, Tacky Glue, PVA glue, acrylic paint, Mod-Podge, spray primer, milk cartons, laser butter (optional), XPS foam, Woodland Scenics ground cover supplies, sticks.
For the lights and sound: individually addressable RGB LEDs (we used a strip of WS2801 RGB LEDs), DFRobot mini MP3 player, SD Card, ESP-12F wifi-enabled arduino-compatible module, 5v/3v charging module, 18650 batteries.
Step 1: Hoard Cardboard Boxes
I'll start off by saying that this build took way more cardboard than I had expected. Not so much the structural, corrugated kind, but the cereal boxes I used for details. We were eating a lot of cereal in our house for a few weeks to make sure we had enough. I also used kitchen roll tubes, milk cartons (for the window panes), and a few other bits and bobs from the craft kit.
Step 2: Start Building the Structure
I did this totally by eye with no measurements whatsoever, but you may want to be a little more precise. If so, this 3D model by finfito is a great resource, and much easier to use than scanning through the movie on Netflix. But I did that as well because it's a great movie.
I started cutting wall shapes from the corrugated boxes and hot glueing them together to form the main structure. For my model, I wanted it to have quirky angles rather than be straight, so I went a bit nutty with the shapes.
Cutting the windows out was far easier with the walls in place than flat on a cutting mat, so I recommend that. The curved mansard roof was a little bit of a nightmare. I cut a bunch of supports with a curve in them, glued them along the top, and then laid over some thin cardstock in the nice curve you see in the images. Trimming the corners accurately was also a nightmare, but this area will be covered with shingles later, so it didn't have to be perfect.
The small curved roof areas over the bay windows and conservatory were sections of kitchen roll tubes, which was a lot easier to do!
I only made three sides of the house. This is partly because you never see the back of the house in the movie, and the jury seems to be out on how that is laid out, but also partly because I wanted to leave the back as an access panel for the electronics inside.
Step 3: Adding the Details
Once you have your basic shape, it's time to start on the weatherboard cladding, roofing, and other details.
For the weatherboards, I cut cereal boxes into strips about 1.5 cm wide and then hot glued them to the walls, starting at the bottom, and overlapping them by a few mm. It's a long process but satisfying to slowly cover the random mix of colours and branding of the structural card, plus it has the great benefit of covering up nasty edges. Cut the boards to the width needed, and don't worry about the small gaps at corners - once the walls are all covered with boards, you can hide the corners with trim. I cut 4 mm strips of card and tacky glued them along the corner edges, holding them in place for a few seconds to ensure a nice clean edge.
For areas where the corrugated card would still show (i.e. along the roof edges), I cut more 4 mm strips of cereal boxes, and carefully glued them along the ugly corrugated edges with tacky glue.
The two most complicated details of the house are the roof windows and the front door entryway. For the windows, I constructed little roofs and pillars out of some thicker card I had in my box graveyard, then cut into the curved roof where they needed to be, and glued them in place.
For the entryway, I build the steps with the corrugated card, edged with more 4 mm strips, and built up the stone wall in the same way. For the columns by the door, I used a chunky paper straw, tapered it slightly with a small cut, and then carefully attached thin paper strips with PVA glue along the length for some texture. I didn't do the neatest job here, and you could probably skip this detail, to be honest.
I was lucky to be able to use a small home laser cutting machine for some of the more intricate shapes, so around the door, I cut some very thin geometric panels which I affixed with some PVA.
Also using the laser cutter I made two coal chutes with Wednesday and Pugsley lettering. I attached these to the side of the house, but I'm sure on the real thing they were around the back.
Not knowing what the top of the mansion looks like, I just added a flat roof with some panelling, and built a couple of brick chimneys from small foam blocks.
The next big section of work was to add shingles to the roof. Using the laser cutter in order to achieve uniform shapes, I cut strips of curved shingles. I hot glued these to the roof in a similar way to the waterboarding. It was a little tricky around the windows but worth the effort to do neatly.
The finishing touches are laser-cut window frames from the cereal box card (laser cut because I find it really hard to free-hand nice curves), and the tiny detailing under the roof edge, which I added by glueing small lengths of match sticks at regular intervals. Under the corners of the roof, I added small L-shaped supports which were also laser-cut.
Step 4: Mod-Podge to Seal
Once all your details are added, sealing the whole model is a really great idea. I mixed some black acrylic paint into matt Mod-Podge and started applying it all over the model. This will dry pretty hard, protecting your hard work from watery paints etc. Adding the black paint helps you make sure you have good coverage all over.
Mod-Podge is a little on the thick side, so once you have spread on a layer, it's a good idea to go over the area with some torn kitchen roll or a rag, to remove any obvious brush strokes.
If you are planning on adding lighting to the house, now would be the time to check that you don't have any holes in the construction that will let light bleed out of the wrong places. To do this, pop a bright torch inside the house, turn off your lights, and see where light is escaping.
I had some big gaps around window frames and in the roof, so I was able to fill them with some fine filler - the sort you fix walls with - wiping away excess with a cloth.
Once dry, I applied a couple of coats of light grey spray primer (this model used one whole can), to give a good quality, uniform base coat for paint.
Step 5: Painting and Weathering
Most people remember the Addams Family house as a very sinister and dark building. In the daylight shots in the movie, however, you can tell that the house would once have been mainly white, with dark green woodwork and a slate grey roof. So go for that colour scheme for your first round of painting. I used inexpensive acrylic paints and applied a couple of coats for good coverage. Once dry, you can admire what the Addams Family mansion may have looked like when the family first moved in!
Once this is completely dry, you can move on to weathering. The area that needs the most work with weathering is the white. To achieve the level of grime that I wanted, I used a small brush to add some grey/brown areas of dirt before applying a grey/brown wash over the whole area, concentrating on areas where dirt would naturally accumulate.
For my wash, I mixed grey and brown to make a dirty colour I was happy with and added this to a small jar of water. I applied it with a paintbrush, letting it pool a little in crevices. Although be careful how much you put on and soak up any big puddles with some kitchen paper.
Your wash will always dry a lot lighter than you think, so be prepared to repeat this step a couple of times before you are happy. But also remember that less is more - you don't want to end up with a house that looks like it's been visited by an out-of-control muck spreader.
For the grey and green areas, a dark wash isn't going to add much. But adding some watered-down lighter greys and greens can help add a level of grime. One technique I found that worked really well was to apply the colour to the top edge of the roof, then grab an old makeup brush to sort of pull the colour downwards, as if the rain has made it run.
Step 6: Windows
I had not added the window panes until now, as I didn't want to have to mask them off for painting, and I knew I wouldn't be neat enough not to get paint on them. But it was a very tricky job indeed, to get them into place.
I cleaned and cut up a number of the 4-litre milk cartons, as the plastic would be a great diffuse material for the light to show through. I taped these into place inside the house. When planning your build, please be smarter about access than I was. In some areas of the building, I had to do some pretty impressive hand yoga to get the little suckers to where they needed to be.
Once in place, I cut some window frames from some black card, and carefully glued them to the front of each window in a cross shape.
The conservatory windows were a little different. I laser cut some delicate window detailing from more thin card and glued it to the panes before putting them into place. I also used some coloured Sharpies to draw on the stained glass dots which are visible in the movie.
In order to add a little more life to the conservatory, I also added some paper foliage I had laying around from another project inside the conservatory, so the silhouette of plants would be seen from the outside once the lighting was in place.
Step 7: Lighting
With the outside of the mansion pretty much done, it was time to work on the guts, i.e. the lights and sound.
First off, it was necessary to build little rooms on the inside of the house, so that each window could be lit separately with no light bleed from neighbouring LEDs. So with more corrugated card and the hot glue gun, I built little lightboxes with an LED in the middle of each.
We then wired them all up, and stuck them into place, testing them out with a beautiful rainbow test pattern.
Full disclosure: Hubby did the programming for the lighting and sound. Here's what he has to say about it:
“Each room of the house had to be lit separately, and this was done with a strip of WS2801 RGB LEDs. The WS2801 chip allows each RGB LED to be individually controlled for colour and brightness, via the FastLED library.
“Audio samples are played by a DFRobot mini MP3 player, which takes an SD Card loaded with short MP3 files.
“A teeny tiny warm-white LED dangles on its wires, glued into a 3d printed translucent sphere, to create the porch light. This single LED is wired to a PWM pin, so we can control the brightness.
“These are all centrally controlled by a single ESP-12F wifi-enabled Arduino-compatible module, and powered by a pair of 18650 batteries in a 5v/3v charging module.
“You could stop here and play some sounds and randomly light some rooms, but where’s the fun in that?
“To take this to the next level, I wrote a custom animation system to run on the ESP, which allows you to control all the elements in the house with a “Sequence” – a JSON payload of tracks and keyframes.
“Each track represents a series of LEDs, or the Audio module, or anything you care to program a track-handler for, and the keyframes provide the values-over-time.
“Each Sequence can be uploaded to the ESP over WiFi with a simple HTTP API, and the Sequences can be stored to and recalled from the ESP’s built-in filesystem. This allows you to have multiple sequences and switch between them, and lets you iterate _really quickly_ when writing and testing your sequences. Adjust a value here, a timing there, it’s a super-fast way to build complex animations and avoid hard-coding them into the firmware.
Step 8: Gardening
You may have noticed in some of the images that, at some point in the build, I decided that I wanted my house to be on a nice chunky base. Previously it had about a 2 cm "floor" all the way around which was just cardboard, which wasn't very spectacular.
I cut a big chunk of XPS foam which I picked up from the DIY and hardware store and glued the house down. Fun fact: hot glue melts foam, so don't use that. I had a bit of a lip up to the cardboard floor, so I added some more filler, and let her dry overnight.
Sealing the foam was another task for the Mod-Podge, but this time I mixed it up with some grey paint, as the driveway looks to be mostly grey gravel. A nice layer of grey Mod-Podge and another 24 hours later, and I had a really solid base to decorate.
Fo the gravel and lawn I used Woodland Scenics' fine grey talus, green turf, and yellow turf. I applied a generous coat of PVA glue to the base and sprinkled the turf and talus where I wanted it with a spoon. To set it into place, I mixed up a batch of very watery PVA glue and generously dripped it on top of all the loose stuff with a pipette. It's quite satisfying to watch it soak through all of the particles. Things got very wet though, so I put it aside for another day to harden.
The next day it was still a little wet, but it was dry enough for me to start adding some more details. I used a couple of forked sticks to represent dead trees, which I pushed into the base and glued into place. I also added some general debris in the form of tiny twigs all around, and a little extra green turf around the stairs and in the corners to look like moss.
The trickiest part was adding vines to the outside of the conservatory. I bought a vine kit from a model shop, but when it arrived it had too many leaves on it and looked too alive for my model, so I pulled most of them off to reveal the dead wood underneath. Then with tacky glue and more patience than I have ever had in my life, I positioned the little sticks around the conservatory, weaving them together to make them look like they had been growing there for years. More sticks and turf were used to obscure the base of the plants, and once again it was time to leave it to dry overnight.
Step 9: Finishing Touches
I had been saving my favourite bit until last, mostly because it is a detail which would be easy to destroy by accident.
On the movie Addams Family mansion, the top of the roof and the conservatory have spooky pointy railings all the way around. I considered just using matchsticks for this, but that didn't quite cut it in my mind. So I designed a simplified railing pattern on the computer, and we laser cut it from more cereal boxes. This was a little on the flimsy side, so I doubled up on them to make them twice the thickness, and that seemed to do the trick. With a layer of black Mod-Podge, they actually got quite stiff.
The final touch was to glue them all into place with tacky glue, and then hope you don't bop them by accident, breaking off the tiny spikes (which I did once, but it's ok: the damage looks authentic).
Step 10: Be Incredibly Pleased With Yourself
And that's it! This model took me about 7 weeks, using evenings after dinner and big chunks of time at weekends. I am thrilled with how it turned out, especially as this is the first time I have ever made a model of this scale, or with this level of detail.
I hope you like my Addams Family Mansion and have enjoyed reading.
First Prize in the