A customizable wonderland.

A customizable wonderland.

Winter and dioramas just go together. Think of all the elaborate displays you’ve seen decorating neighbors’ yards or windows. This diorama-in-a-box doesn’t have any particular holiday-related iconography—instead, it’s endlessly customizable and super easy to make with materials you already have lying around.

What you’ll need:


  • Some stiff cardboard. Empty cereal boxes are good for this. You can also use old holiday cards if you like! It should be thick enough to stand up on its own when folded.
  • Old magazines
  • A flat, shallow box. Deep boxes aren’t very good for displays. I’m using a tissue dispenser tin.
  • Glue that dries clear
  • A paintbrush or Q-tips
  • Scissors
  • An X-Acto knife (optional)
  • Old holiday decorations (optional)
  • Rolling pin (optional)

How to do it:

Step One

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Using the box as a guide, cut out pieces of cardboard to fit around all five sides. You’ll have to cut the pieces slightly smaller than the outer edges of the box, because these are going to go on the inside. It’s OK if the pieces end up being slightly smaller than the inside edges. They’re going to get covered with pictures anyway.

Step Two

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Cut out all the images you think you’ll need from the magazines. Individual objects are better suited to this diorama than entire images or textures.

Step Three

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Arrange the cutouts on top of the pieces of cardboard to create a tentative layout. The dotted lines denote the actual size of the cardboard pieces.

Step Four

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Brush the glue onto the cardboard with either the paintbrush or Q-tips and press the cutouts firmly on top. Trim off any overhang.

Step Five

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This is what the box looks like after I’ve (a) glued on the cutouts to the bits of cardboard and then (b) glued the pieces of cardboard to the insides of the box. I’ve used four of the five pieces of cardboard at this stage and left one of the long faces blank. I’m going to use that remaining piece of cardboard later for gluing on the layers that make up the diorama.

Step Six

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Repeat Steps Three and Four to make the layers of the diorama. (A rolling pin is the best implement for flattening the cutouts right after gluing.) I found a lovely photo of a gingerbread house that I’m using for layer one. For layer two, I’m using a photo of a sweater and some sweater textures. I’ve left the backdrop light and neutral so that the pop-up layers contrast all the more against it.

Be careful about the height of the two layers. Since layer one will be in front of layer two, it needs to be lower so that layer two is visible behind it.

Step Seven

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This is what the layers look like once I’ve trimmed them. The area under the dotted line is the only bit I needed the X-Acto knife for; you can easily avoid having to use one by choosing photos with smooth edges. The missing face that I’d left out earlier is now ready to go in as well.

Step Eight

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I’ve used hinges here to attach the layers to the bottom strip. To make your hinges, just cut some strips out from the card, fold them in half, and glue them on as shown. Once the glue has dried, bend the vertical layers forward or backward (depending on which way they’re leaning) to make them stand upright. It’s all coming together now!

Step Nine

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Take this entire bit and glue it onto the empty face of the box.

Step Ten

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And that’s it, you’re done!


I superglued some old holiday decorations onto the box to finish it off. I’ve also threaded some lights through the layers for displaying but this is totally optional. Without the time taken to photograph every step, I’d say that this took about eight hours to make. The smaller your box is, the less time you’ll need. And if you’re using one with a lid, it’s the easiest thing to just pop on the top and store it away after the holidays to use year after year! ♦