Designing Your Buildings & Layout

March 25, 2022

Designing Your Buildings & Layout

Designing model train buildings with the perfect layout requires a good amount of materials, time, and planning. If you take time to envision your goals — and the necessary steps to reach them — the result will be worth it.

Because model train pieces come in varying degrees of difficulty and detail, it’s critical for you to know how much work you can handle. In this blog, we’ll go over some basic steps of designing your buildings and layout, as well as some tips for planning if you haven’t decided what you want. Let’s get started!


The Importance of Planning Ahead

A little girl painting a mountain model on a table with trees and rock climbers, with a window in the background

One of the worst feelings for a modeler is to start designing a set, only to discover you don’t have the resources or space to design what you want. Before beginning your model, find out which materials and tools you need, how much space your model will fill, and how you want the layout of your model to look.

Space management is an essential part of designing your model railway buildings. Tightly-packed buildings work for a busy city setting, but not so much for a quiet neighborhood or farm town. If you want to add water features or mountains, give yourself space to do so. It’s a lot to think about, but you can make it easier with an effective layout design. 


Designing Your Layout

A model set with trains, mountains, highways, cars, and model train buildings

Your layout design begins with a baseboard, the first step of building your model. The baseboard is the foundation of your model, which will determine the length and width of your design. Plywood is the most common baseboard material. Some railway modelers build a raised bench or table as their base, so the model is off the ground. 

Foam board is another option for the base and is easier to cut or mold after it has been laid down. Regardless of what baseboard you use, ensure you have enough space to design the layout and buildings you planned for. 


Start from the Bottom and Work Up

Once you start your layout, take care of the lower design before building upward. Shaper sheets give texture to your base, but they must be placed early in the design process. If you use ballast on your railway, it has to be laid before the track. 

Starting from the bottom will help you avoid having to tear up material to build underneath, which can save you time and money. Make sure you have a good understanding of which pieces you will be using, and how they fit together so you can plan accordingly.


Look at Different Model Train Layout Ideas

Don’t feel overwhelmed by all the different model pieces and accessories. Looking at other model train sets will help you decide which pieces you need for your layout, and can also help you decide how you want your layout to look. If you find it hard to create a plan from scratch, looking at pictures of models can help you decide what you do or don’t like.


Work With What You Have

If you have already started your model, continue with your current theme or style — especially if space is limited. Adding new track, plants, or buildings that fit your theme can expand your model without needing a total overhaul of your layout. 

If you have enough space, you could add a different environment to your layout. You could bring your track from a city to a mountain, or from a small town to a river. If you decide to use multiple settings, ensure you gradually blend the environments so that the transitions look natural.


Designing Your Model Train Buildings

Model railroad buildings in a rural setting next to a track, with miniature trees

Model buildings are perfect for adding detail and character to your set. Buildings can be purchased as assembled structures, snap-together kits, or scratch building supplies

Assembled structures and snap-together kits are great for newer modelers, or anyone without the time or tools to design buildings from scratch. Whichever method you choose, here are some tips that will help you with your design.


Set Your Priorities

Lots of pieces go into model railway homes and accessories, so it’s critical that you prioritize which pieces are most important to you. Determine the order in which you will construct and accessorize buildings. Do you prefer to finish one building and all its details before moving on to the next? Or would you rather add several homes at a time before working on fences, landscaping, and other details?

Staying focused on one task at a time will help you maximize the detail of your buildings and keep you from getting overwhelmed.


Match Your Buildings to Your Layout

The size of your model will limit the spread of buildings, and the style of your landscape should determine the style of your buildings. Match the size and type of buildings to your layout. City offices and hotels, neighborhood homes, or a crossing tower next to an empty part of track are examples of matching buildings to the setting. 

Pictures are a useful tool for matching buildings to the right setting. Look at a few examples of buildings in various settings, and then replicate that in your model. Pictures will also give you an idea of what smaller details would fit in the scenario. 


Shop Model Railroad Equipment at TrainLife

A model train on a mountain with figures, cars in a parking lot, trees, and power lines

Model railroads require a lot of equipment, and it can be difficult to shop around for everything you need. Whether you’re looking for HO scale model buildings, scratch pieces, or model train accessories, TrainLife is the one-stop shop for you. 

Our product line has something for modelers at every skill level, from already assembled buildings to customizable kits. Feel free to check out our blogs, which are perfect for anyone wanting to learn more about model railroads. To find products that can take your model to the next level, click here!

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