Home Haunting Ideas

Haunting your home often comes with a shocking price tag. With a little a TLC (terrifyingly loathsome conversion) and crafting know-how, you can take elevate those discount store props, and get more boo bang for your buck with small touches that yield big impressions. 

Tattered Cheesecloth

Cheesecloth is the most versatile decorating fabric. It's easy to color, rip, wrap, and shred. It also inexpensive and comes in various qualities from 10 grade to the premium 90 grade. The 10 grade is perfect and you can get a 100 yard box of 10-grade cheesecloth online for $45

To use cheesecloth, unfold the fabric and using scissors, jaggedly cut it into strips or sheets and drape over furniture, lamps (avoid contact with light bulbs), chandeliers, picture frames, mantles, and tables. You can also hang several layers as curtains, using the scissors to cut jagged holes or create snags. With scissors tear holes and stretch by hand to give it that tattered look. Rip the ends to create strands and then roll them between your palms to create defined tendrils. Layering a few pieces of fabric will yield better looking displays. 

 

You can also use diluted craft paints in browns and yellows in a spray bottle, mist the fabric, and let it dry thoroughly. (Some suggest using diluted coffee and tea which looks great but these can get a touch moldy and smelly if stored after the season.)

Plastic Pumpkins

Smiling or jeering pumpkins are available in most stores. Unlike real pumpkins, they don't rot, can be lit with electric lights, and can be stored for use year after year. Funkins are available at crafts stores in many shapes and sizes, have thin, sturdy walls for intricate carving, and can easily be embellished and painted. 

Plastic pumpkins look a little fake with their perfectly smooth orange skins. Roughen them up with a little sandpaper and paint a mottled texture using a sponge and dark orange or brown craft paints. You can also spray paint the pumpkins (black pumpkins with orange lights are great combination). Create elongated stems by wrapping foil around the existing stubs and shaping a longer stem. Wrap with green floral tape.

 

For the best impact, cluster several pumpkins together of varying sizes and expressions. Use bales of hay, books, or even furniture vary the heights, and accessorize with rats, snakes or a crows perched on top and light with a strand of cool burning LED bulbs.

Dark Silhouettes

Silhouettes are a super easy way to decorate a large window with maximum impact for people on the outside and inside. Crafts stores offer a great set of window clings. These are black ink printed on translucent plastic sheets. Spray a little window cleaner, position the sheet on top, and use squeegee to get out any air bubbles. That's it. While the solution is wet, you can easily reposition the window cling, and since it has no adhesive there is no residue – it peels right off.

If you are good crafter, you can create your own silhouettes using black construction paper or an enlarged printed image that is tiled and taped together, then taped to the window with transparent tape. You'll also need a light source in the room for the shadow to be seen from the outside. If you are an artist sketch out your own image, and if not, simply Google the words "creepy silhouettes" and you'll see a plethora of images to inspire you. There's no need for precision since these are diffused shadows meant to suggest eerie shapes. MAKE Magazine has an excellent tutorial and downloadable PDFs for this project: Haunted House Silhouettes.

Menacing Vines

Autumn leaves are a classic way to decorate for Halloween. If you don't happen to have an enormous oak or maple tree in your front lawn, craft stores like Michaels carry large strands of faux vines with colorful Autumn leaves in a variety of colors. These vines can cover a large area fairly quickly and give an overgrown and abandoned look. (Make sure to wait for a sale. I've never bought a vine at less than 50% off!)

With a hot glue gun, combine a few strands together joining end to end. Cut some of the vines to uneven lengths and glue them sporadically throughout the larger strand (as if branching out in different directions). Using a staple gun, tape, or non-wall damaging hooks adhere the vines starting from a ground up. Go up the wall, drape over furniture, banisters, and let some droop down from the ceiling. 

For a more gothic look, paint the vines with black spray paint prior to hanging for an unnatural and unsettling appearance.

Stretchy Webs

Inexpensive nylon spiderwebs are readily available, inexpensive, come in various colors, and perfect for decorating but they should be used correctly. The secret to making these webs look good is to stretch them beyond what you think is possible. 

 

Unfold the webs from the package, locate the corners (believe it or not the material has a basic rectangle shape), secure one corner to a stable anchor (using a staple gun or small nails), and slowly stretch the opposite corner until it won't stretch another inch. They will extend a good 12 to 18 feet! Continue stretching and anchoring in several directions and look for jagged edges, molding, furniture, branches or posts to catch the nylon webs. The more stretched out the better the final web will look.

 

Add a few spiders of various sizes throughout the web.  It's sometimes tricky getting these webs off trees and bushes so use with caution on prized plants.

Drugstore Tombstones

Tombstones are a great place to start your decorating. If you are crafty, they are fun to make using insulation foam but they can be time-consuming.

I found that drugstores (like Walgreens) carry ready-made tombstones (3 for $10) that you can embellish and repaint to your liking. Use the existing design and hot glue items like skulls, mini-pumpkins, leaves, spiders or bats, and carve out new lettering or jagged cracks with a craft knife. If it's too smooth, roughen up the some areas with sandpaper. You can even use paper mache or clay to augment the basic shapes.

After your design is complete, paint the whole thing thing using grey acrylic craft paint (spray paint will melt foam). You can then repaint lettering, and add drips of watered down brown and green paint to age the tombstone. Add drips of blood if you like things gory, and hot glue some Spanish moss for extra eeriness. Maybe even hot glue a raven standing on top.

Colored Light Bulbs

Quickly transform any space with a few carefully placed colored CFL or LED lights. These are available at home improvement stores. The LED bulbs have rich colors, burn cool (and safe), and use less energy so you can leave the lights on all season long.

 

Avoid the standard incandescent light bulbs that burn hot and often burn out very fast. For black lights, CFL and LED versions are the only safe alternative – incandescent black light bulbs can cause fires and can give you third degree burns in seconds. 

Also use special lighting throughout your haunted house like battery powered candles or faux lit pumpkins (live flames are never recommended in costume party settings). Ambience is key but safety should be first. 

Mantle Madness

Start your haunted home with a mantle vignette. This can include some sort of wreath, spooky pictures, faux candles, skulls, ravens, and moss.

Wreaths are easy to find, and even easier to make. To create a wreath, find a grapevine wreath at craft store as your base – they come in many sizes. Spray paint it black, orange, purple or any other Halloween color and let it dry. Using a glue gun you can add rubber bugs, snakes, spiders, bones or skulls, filling in areas with clumps of Spanish moss. Secure heavier objects with black wire from the craft jewelry department. 

Bloody Options

You can suggest blood by using fabric cut into thin strips. I use red lining fabric that is opaque and silky feeling. In the light it shimmers like blood. This fabric cuts easily so you can even cut drips and tape along the edge of the mirrors, windows, picture frames or even the ceiling.

 

If you want to use liquid blood, bypass the bottles of fake blood. Those are expensive, sticky, and don’t ever dry! Use high gloss latex house paint since the color is rich, flexible once dry, and it can be diluted with water to make it runny. Get sample jars at the home improvement stores for about $3. Note that  latex paint will look darker after it dries. Use the paint to drip onto props, tombstones, or buy inexpensive towels or curtains and splatter them with a paintbrush. Coat your hands with the paint and stamp handprints on towels. 

 

You can also use blood red colored glue sticks to decorate props that are fairly heat resistant. These high-temp glue sticks melt and drip perfectly and don't stain after they dry (but its permanent). You can also create drips and blobs directly onto a silicone glue pad, let cool, peel off and place on furniture, sinks, etc.

Apothecary

Counter space in kitchens are premium during parties, but open shelving and bars are a good place to create an apothecary of jars and bottles with questionable contents.  

Creating a good apothecary requires scouting for bottles and jars in home goods stores, garage sales or flee markets. Liquor, fancy water and vinegar bottles can be quite ornate. 

Once you find a good variety of bottles, clean them well and remove existing labels with GooGone (some bottles are imprinted so you’ll need to cover those with paint or labels). Add Halloween labels from the crafts stores or online at Etsy. You can also drip vivid colors of paint along the outside or stipple paint them with a rough sponge. Clear bottles could be filled with rubber bugs, black candy, or other odds and ends. Dark iodine from the drugstore either dripped or dabbed on will give clear bottles an aged look. Filling jars with strangely colored liquids and inserting things like cauliflower “brains” looks great but remember food can rot easily and smell.

Hellish Dinner Party

Many Halloween addicts have an assortment of seasonal plates and drinkware collected over many seasons. (If you don’t, turn to the person on your left and them if they have any you can borrow.) If you love throwing parties, a great way to display this dinnerware is to set up a never-ending dinner party in your dining room.

Start by finding a great tablecloth. Stores like TJ Maxx Home Goods, Target, and big department stores often have seasonal linens, but you can also start with a solid colored tablecloth and layer a few yards of sheer fabric on top. Fabric stores carry many seasonal fabrics, and they’re often on sale. You can also add a decorative runner and chargers if you want to be fancy. A few battery powered candles, a candelabra, some pumpkins, a spider or two, a severed hand, some bowls with bugs, and you’ve got a wicked tablescape. As a final touch, you can add a few placecards with ghastly names. 

When it’s time for your real Halloween party, you are set to host.

Rickety Fence

Halloween stores carry ornate plastic fences that are really expensive and sort of short. For under $15 you can build this rickety fence using wood lath bundles from the home improvement store, a heavy duty staple gun (or wood glue), and some craft paint.

Wood lathes are lightweight wood strips 48" in lengths and sold in bundles. Simply layout a series of strips, run another piece in a perpendicular position and staple, nail or wood glue into position. You want to have irregular spacing with a few leaning or missing boards. Also, snap a few strips and position on top or bottom to look like broken boards.

Dilute brown, black and green craft paints with water until very thin and using a foam brush, drip paint on the wood strips to give them a weathered look. 

Stand them up using lawn stakes driven into the ground, then wrap wire to secure the fence onto the stake. It's not a real fence and won't be super sturdy, but it will stand up to wind, rain, and less raucous youths.