There’s a lot to love about Halloween, from watching scary movies (Ree Drummond definitely has her own list of scariest horror movies), to carving a pumpkin, dressing up, and hosting the perfect Halloween party. But maybe you want to celebrate this year’s scary season by going truly Big and they were thinking about the question How do we make a haunted house? Where do I start? or End, for that reason? How do you make it fun for all ages, without boring older kids to death? And do you have to spend a lot of money to build a wonderful haunted house?
It all might sound a little confusing, but we’ve checked in with a couple of designers who’ve been building haunted homes for years. Ahead, you’ll find their best ideas on how to design a haunted scene in your home and backyard – nothing very Explain, don’t worry – along with recommendations on where to find props and decorations. So whether you’ve been hosting your own haunted for ages and want to level up or are ready to give those trick-or-treaters a good first-time scare, this guide will help you design and build a neighborhood-hit haunted house!
Can you make your own haunted house?
The short answer is yes! However, it is useful to first determine how much money you want to spend as well as how large and detail you want to have before you start with the actual decorating. If you want to get your haunted house kids (and their parents) to talk about for years, start planning it early, road before Halloween.
“I think about it 24-7-365,” says Angela Colony, who has been an actress and stylist for professional events including Screams at the Beach, in Georgetown, Delaware, and 301 Devil’s Playground in Galena, Maryland. “I always look on the Facebook Marketplace to see if anyone is selling cheap props or throwaway stuff…I also look at yard sales and thrift stores. I always try to pick things up.”
Kate Pearce, an interior design blogger and content creator from Chicago, Illinois, who has long created spooky Halloween scenes based on thrift store finds, recommends researching second-hand stores. “My biggest tip is to go to the thrift store and explore everything, not just the Halloween aisle,” she says. “Saving is cheap, and therefore not a huge financial commitment, so you can really have fun and let your mind fly.”
Otherwise, you can cut costs by purchasing one professional prop and using it as a guide to make your own version of it. For example, when Kowloon was making a barn scene with a spider’s nest, she bought a spider and made the rest out of papier-mâché and spray paint, and hung them from the ceiling with fishing line and over a bag of Halloween cobwebs.
“It was really inexpensive,” Colony says. “Paper mache is very cute and disposable, so you don’t have to stick with it for next season if you don’t want to. And it’s the kind of craft you can make with your kids.”
How to turn the house into a haunted house?
Let’s start from the beginning. If you are building a haunted house and want to attract young children, don’t make the entrance too scary. You can set the mood with fog machines and cornstalk decor, but make sure the area around your door is open and inviting, rather than claustrophobic—it should be well lit too. You also want to keep the scenes you create inside your home lit, so the kids can see everything and the lights aren’t directly focused on something scary.
“With kids, it’s more about enabling them to look honestly at everything,” Colony says. “Usually for an adult chase, you want it to be very chaotic. You want to be afraid of who’s going to jump now and what’s coming in the next corner. But kids need to see everything and open up. You want to let in your scene. You don’t want to push the private scene.” You have them.”
Speaking of scenes, Colone has some ideas for sets and props kids will love:
Make a large hole in a refrigerator box to set up a ticket booth. Dress up one of your actors as a clown and put them away in the ticket window. Offer carnival games for the kids to try, such as bowling ball, mini bowling, pick a duck, etc. Bubbles drifting across the scene add a festive feel, especially if they’re scented like cotton candy!
Stock shelves with children’s books you find in secondhand stores. Dress up an actor as a wizard, who lets the kids choose a book to take home with them. You can also make simple sticks for homemade gifts. Tie twine on one end of the stick, and stick or tie the gem on the other end of the twine.
Buy a few bales of hay, pumpkins, and corn stalks, and decorate a room with them. Spread straw on the floor and add spider’s nests in the corners of the room. Dress up an actor like a scarecrow in simple makeup and costume. You can also take this idea outside and easily create a haunted patio.
What are some tips for a kid-friendly haunted house?
After all, the idea is not to give children nightmares, but to entertain them.
Use makeup instead of masks on the actors.
“Masks can be a little scary for some kids because they don’t see a human behind them,” Colony says. “If they don’t see a human face, it’s hard for them to get close to it.”
Speak in a normal voice.
“When we’re stalking an adult, we like to be creative with our sounds and tones, whereas a child might not like it,” Colony says. “Instead, we speak to them in our natural voice, letting them know they are welcome to come and have a look around.”
Give them something to take home.
According to Cologne, from stickers of stars or insects to cardboard cut-outs of tombstones that they can decorate at home, “Kids love to take something with them that isn’t just candy.”
Engaging in more than one sense.
“What I’ve noticed during my years doing this is that kids and adults like to smell, feel, and even taste,” Colony says. “For example, we used cake mix, so they could smell it which was sweet, but had an almost brain-like texture…obviously things like the dirty pudding cups had gummy worms inside.”
How do you make a creepy haunted house?
If you want the older kids to have as much fun chasing you as the little ones, you’ll have to give them a satisfying scary experience. Consider creating different paths in your home, and give your guests a choice of which ones they want to take: less intimidating or seriously intimidating. “Sometimes it’s nice to have multiple forks because kids can tell that wasn’t scary, I want to try a more terrifying fork,” Colony says. “So, that way, you break it down and let them choose what they want to see.”
If you don’t have enough rooms in your house to build many individual scenes, you can make walls with white panels and even sprinkle them with backdrops if you’re feeling arty. On the scary track, use more blood, full face Halloween masks and maybe even a ghoul or two from hidden places. Decorate entire rooms when you can, like this killer dining room idea from Pearce, which uses items you found at a thrift store.
Put a scary picture.
Buy an old board, make holes in it and draw fake blood dripping from the holes. Extra points if you use eyes for holes. “This same idea can be applied to a cheap portrait print that doesn’t feel bad if you punch a few holes in it,” says Pierce.
Hang some doll heads.
Buy some old scary dolls, go off their heads and hang them with fishing line from the ceiling at different heights.
Sit on a skeleton.
If you have a skeleton handy, sit it at the dining room table. Release a bunch of old Barbie doll heads and place them in the Halloween bowl with a spoon in front of the skeleton. It looks like the skeleton is eating a bowl of Barbie’s heads like cereal, says Pierce.
How do you make an outdoor haunted house?
Why finish your haunted house in your own home while you can continue in your own backyard? You can begin by preparing Halloween inflatables at the entrance, which will direct the guests to the outer space. From there, plenty of outdoor Halloween decorations can be made by hand! The cemetery is fun and easy to build: you can make crosses using sticks and string, and make tombstones out of cardboard and spray paint. Place an actor dressed as a ghost in your graveyard to indicate the next group.
Kowloon loves camping scenes, too. “Spray a sheet of Halloween scenes and throw it over an old tent,” she says. “Kids can crawl through the tent and you can have an actor tell the stories of the camp fire on the other side of it.” Instead of starting a real fire, keep it safe by using a fake campfire that you buy or make out of cardboard.
Colony says the most important thing to remember when creating a game that haunts you is to “let your imagination go and have fun.” “It’s all about how to do it You are You want to make your house haunted.”
Jill Gleeson is a travel journalist and memoirist based in the Appalachian Mountains of western Pennsylvania, and has written for sites and publications including Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, Country Living, Washingtonian, Gothamist, Canadian Traveler and EDGE Media Network. Jill is the travel editor at Enchanted Living. Learn more about her journey at gleesonreboots.com.