An Architectural Survey of the Barbie Dreamhouse: PIN-UP Magazine releases a tome celebrating the world’s best-selling dollhouse.
Barbie Barbie Barbie...the Mattel marketing machine has gone into overdrive with the highly anticipated release of the live action Barbie movie. And while much of the focus has been on Barbie & Ken's fashion moments for us it's obviously all about Barbie's dreamhouse.
First released in 1962 the Barbie Dreamhouse has remained the world's highest selling dollhouse since it's debut. To celebrate 60 years since it's release & the Barbie movie, PIN-UP Magazine have released a book, showcasing six exemplary Barbie houses and their furniture that encapsulate the periods’ domestic ideals, richly quoting architecture and design history of the 20th and early 21st century.
Barbie’s first Dreamhouse was a statement of independence. Foldable, portable, entirely in cardboard, here was a vision of a bachelorette pad for a liberated single woman — plenty of books on the shelves and no kitchen in sight. The clean lines of Barbie’s furniture reflect the period’s modernist ideals of social progress and mass production, as espoused by Charles and Ray Eames, Herman Miller and Florence Knoll. While the peekaboo, three-walled arrangement evokes the living room as seen on single-cam sitcoms like I Love Lucy, the gesture of Barbie opening up her private world came the same year Jackie Kennedy gave Americans an unprecedented TV tour of the White House.
In the early 1970s, Barbie’s architectural aspirations sky-rocketed, turning her modest ranch house into an imposing, 3.5-foot-tall mini-tower. Its slab-and-column structure is a near-perfect assimilation of Le Corbusier's Maison Dom-Ino, while the eclectic interior décor resembles the period’s so-called “fern bars,” full of potted plants and Tiffany lamps. The boho charm of Barbie’s new pad also smacks of the attic apartment on The Mary Tyler Moore Show which canonised single-girl cool in the early 1970s. The funky-folk references were balanced by groovy accents in high-tech plastics, like Barbie’s cantilevered chairs, which fuse Marcel Breuer's iconic Cesca chair with Verner Panton's classic chair.
With its pitched, tiled roof, Barbie’s late-70s Dreamhouse is as close as any in the series to a classic dollhouse, but its emphatic triangular form also reads as a timely take on Post-modernism, environmentalism, and the growing suburbanization of America. It bears more than a passing resemblance to Charles Moore's 1970s Sea Ranch development, promising a similar atmosphere of playfulness and ease. Even Barbie’s furniture puts the accent on flow and fun, with the slouchy sofa and chair recalling Michel Ducaroy's era defining Togo sofa. The home’s autumnal color palette indicates that Barbie’s tastes have mellowed and matured, the orange-red roof, harvest-gold floors, and avocado-green furnishings forming a sunny symphony of 70s hues, while the skylights, sliding doors, and cheery flower boxes provide a seamless blend of in- and outdoor living.
The 1990 Magical Mansion signals a shift in Barbie’s aesthetic sensibility from relatable, practical elegance toward an increasingly fanciful flourish. The pastel-hued home — dubbed “magical” because of its battery-powered ringing telephone and doorbell and light-up fireplace and lantern — was the biggest yet, 3 feet tall by 4 feet wide and equipped with more intricate detailing than any previous Barbie house. While there’s a resemblance to the classic Victorian dollhouse, it comes with a heavy overlay of truly 90s PoMo eclecticism: Doric columns, craftsman exterior details, and two window typologies (Venetian-Palladian and Tudor-style bay). Inside, the rose-patterned wallpaper is reminiscent of the period’s floral-heavy romanticists like Laura Ashley and Ralph Lauren Home.
Though being released on the cusp of the new millennium, the 2000 Dreamhouse is decidedly retro. While the furniture at first glance also seems olde worlde, upon closer inspection the all-plastic pieces — especially the white chaise lounge in the Second empire style — can also be read as very contemporary, similar to the translucent-polycarbonate chair line debuted by Philippe Starck in the late 90s. The 2000 Dreamhouse is the most conservative statement in Barbie’s real estate portfolio, yet it’s occasionally tempered by the era’s freewheeling, “girl power” sense of femininity.
In the early 2010s, Barbie became more inclusive and diverse, a shift reflected in her Dreamhouse, which focused on uncluttered space to allow for unbridled fun for Barbie and her friends. Partly inspired by the burgeoning realm of social media and the algorithmic trends that drive today’s digital platforms, Barbie’s sleek, airy new space offers a variety of photogenic backdrops perfect for Zoom and video storytelling. Versatility is key, with a moveable pool, a barbecue grill that reverses into a dessert buffet, and an entertainment center that reveals a pet play area. The three-story Dreamhouse is also the first to be fully wheel-chair accessible. With so much attention paid to fun, inclusivity, and the experience economy, no wonder the Dreamhouse remains the envy of the toy aisle as the world’s best-selling dolls’ home.