Built-Rite Cardboard Houses
by Susan Hale
Built-Rite structures were made by Warren Paper Products Company, founded in 1921 by Donald M. Warren. They started out manufacturing paper boxes for producers of candy, apparel, jewelry, and other small items.
In the early 1930's the company began producing dollhouses, puzzles, paper forts, castles, gas stations and other paperboard toys.
The architectural details and room furnishings reflected the styles of the time. The buildings were designed to be easily assembled and disassembled by children.
I have read that many of these houses were built as replicas of actual homes and were marketed though Life Magazine in the 1930s as a selling tool for the magazine's house plans.
In the mid to late 1930s the dollhouses, with dozens of pieces of furniture could be purchased for a dollar or two. This would have made them attractive to Depression era parents, who could no longer afford expensive toys.
I was lucky enough to acquire three of these lovely houses recently. They come in small flat boxes. The bottom of the box is the base for the house. The smaller one-room houses have printed carpets on the box bottom surrounded by a flower strewn lawn. The large houses have the floors, lawn, driveway, etc. printed on the box bottom.
The two smaller houses have one room only. The stucco one is complete except for one piece of the chimney. I love the Spanish style of this house.
Each of the houses has movable shrubs and pets that fit into slots in the base.
The inside of the Spanish house has plain cardboard walls. The windows and door are cut in the cardboard and scored so that they open.
Mr. Man-About-Town is lounging on the Tootsietoy sofa while he chats with his cloche-hatted hostess. He is painted bisque in a felt tuxedo, and she is an all bisque doll with a molded, glazed hat. She is wearing her original dress and still has her wrist tag that says "Made in Germany".
I love the daffodils on the base of the box.
The red brick house appears to have a tile roof. The box top shows a wire haired terrier on the lawn, but it is missing. I borrowed this cat from the big house next door.
I used Tootsietoy kitchen furniture and a couple of 1930s dolls to furnish the inside of this house.
It looks like it has marigolds on the base.
The houses are 1/2 inch scale. The large house has two stories with a garage. I have seen pictures of this house with a back-opening kitchen where the garage is, advertised as having five rooms.
This house has only three rooms as the upper floor is not divided and is one big room.
A cardboard car was included with this model. The couple by the front door were made in England by Grecon and, although tiny, are still a little large for the house.
The box of the large house tells us that the house comes with 27 large furniture pieces, and there is a picture of the furnished house in the top right and a picture of the actual size of the furniture in the bottom left corner.
The bedroom, living room and kitchen furniture came with the house on flat, pre-punched, pre-scored card stock. The furniture is punched out and assembled with slots and tabs.
Here is the furniture in the house. I think it is slightly too large for the house, but I am sure a child wouldn't mind.
The living room is a little small for all the pieces, so I put the living room desk and chair as well as the kitchen ironing board in the garage.
All the pieces were included except one - the back of the couch. I have used the piece it was punched out of to set up the couch. I will eventually find or make a replacement. The living room set includes a couch, two end tables with side shelves, a radio, a magazine stand with magazines, a coffee table, a desk with matching chair, a feminine arm chair with matching ottoman, and a more masculine green chair with studs on its sides.
The yellow and red kitchen has a sink cabinet, a stove, a fridge, a hoosier cabinet, an ironing board complete with iron and shirt on it and a table with two chairs.
The bedroom has twin beds with blue bed coverings. The design of the room is Art Deco.
The other bedroom furnishings include an arm chair, a vanity with stool, a dresser and bed table and a large wardrobe with a mirror on it.
There are all sorts of extra accent pieces included - mirrors, placemats, a radio, rugs, pictures, magazines, and more. Some of these were perforated and could be punched out, but others needed to be cut out.
This lovely big house included a car and baby carriage. Larger houses also included sheets of dining room furniture and bathroom furniture.
Paper dollhouses continued to be popular into the 1940s when traditional materials were hard to find due to the war effort. The 1940 Montgomery Ward catalog offered a 'Country Estate' Built-Rite house with a complete set of Strombecker wooden furniture in the 3/4 inch scale. The cost was $1.98. The ad copy said that wallpaper, carpets, blinds, and other graphics were printed on the inside of the house for the first time.
I feel fortunate to have these three houses in my collection and I hope to add a few more. They are ideal for a space-challenged dollhouse collection like mine as they fold flat and can be stored in their original boxes. Plus, I love the graphics and architectural styles. They offer a wonderful glimpse into the past.