1) Learn from other people's mistakes
The first mistake I made was believing my husband when he said Bournemouth was only 1 and 1/2 hours from here and it was OK to bid on a house on eBay. The house cost £6.00 but the petrol was £49.00 because he was wrong and it took 3 hours there and 3 back. So do your homework!
2) Job lots are a good way to start off as they can be very cheap and contain a lot of useful bits and bobs and often some gems. I got a Twiggs bedside unit and a Twiggs dressing table, recently, for £3.20 plus £2.48 P&P along with a lot of filthy plastic items that once they were washed were not too bad. The plastic items I will put back on eBay.
3) Do it yourself. You might think making it yourself is a cheaper option and it is, provided you have all the ingredients. I have probably spent so much on bits of broken jewellery, buttons, beads etc. that I could have bought a Pit-a-Pat suite outright!
Above and below: legless sideboard with replacement legs made from chess piece bases (the back legs will be painted to match)
One of the most useful items I did buy was a cheap chess set. These have lots of uses: I cut the tops off the Bishops to make legs for a handsome sideboard that was cheap because it was legless; a pawn with its top cut off, turned upside down and stuck into the top of a Castle makes a good plant stand; or, with a large button or Tiddlywink stuck on the top of the Castle, you have a small table for a lamp.
Chess piece pedestals
Clocks made from buttons, with clock faces cut from a catalogue and stuck on thin card; and hobby horse with chess piece head
If you want to have a go at DIY dolls house style I recommend the books by Patricia King which are my constant companions as I strive to keep my spending under control.
They are: Making Victorian Dolls’ House Furniture
Making Dolls’ House Furniture
Dolls’ House Fireplaces and Stoves
Dolls’ House Bathrooms Lots of Little Loos
Creations inspired by Patricia King:
Lamp with pink shade, and oriental lamp as a work in progress
Two oil lamps and two trays
It's always nice to try and buy the real deal for your dollshouse but
after wanting Richard Stacey slate flooring for some of the rooms in my
castle decided it was far too much money for what it was and made my own.
Grey board (available from any art shops)
Various shades of grey acrylic
Grout (preferably grey)
Very sharp craft knife
Piece of card or I use a piece of lining wallpaper
Firstly cut out a template of the room with the piece of card or
wallpaper. Then start cutting out your pieces of slate from the grey
board. I cut out random size pieces to start and then cut out pieces to
fit, using a sharp craft knife and ruler. Then I sand down the edges to give
an uneven edge to them.
Once you have filled up your sheet of paper then check to see if the
whole thing fits into the room, you need to do this before you start to
grout. You will need to keep the whole thing flat after the grout stage,
if you bend it you may break the grout.
Flagstone floor in the kitchen of Claire's castle
After cutting out the floor you can then start to add the paint. I had
various dishes with all the different colour greys I was going to use. Use a stipple brush with small amounts of paint, start building up your colours until you achieve the colour that you think looks best. Once the paint is dry it needs to be given a coat of PVA. Once this is dry you can start to grout the flags. I used a cocktail stick, use very small amounts and with your finger spread along the crack, once all done wipe away any excess grout. It's very essential to PVA before you grout or you will wipe away paint. Once this is dry apply a second coat of PVA and voila, flagstone floors.
Flagstone floor in the dining hall of Claire's castle