A Six-Decade Tour of Barbie’s Dreamhouses

In 1962, three years after Barbie was born, Mattel introduced Barbie’s Dreamhouse: a folding ranch house that was the first of many domiciles that evolved with the times.

After beginning modestly in cardboard, the Dreamhouses became plastic, pastel, palatial and electrified, often all at once. They acquired elevators, sun decks, modern European furniture, recycling bins and multiple bedrooms — though Barbie remained perennially single and holding the lease (or mortgage).

To honor this 60-year milestone, Mattel collaborated with the design magazine PIN-UP on a limited-edition art book, “Barbie Dreamhouse: An Architectural Survey.” The 151-page monograph tracks the evolution of Dreamhouses through six examples, shown with their original furnishings and architectural blueprints.

What readers will not see is Barbie herself, or any of her friends or family. With Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” movie opening in July and the doll’s hyper-pink aesthetic hitting Instagram like a strawberry milkshake tsunami, feminist revulsion toward the doll is taking a back seat to ironic celebration.

“Camp has become the white noise of our culture,” said Whitney Mallett, a contributing editor of PIN-UP, who edited the book with Felix Burrichter, the magazine’s founder.

The book examines the cultural and architectural forces that shaped the Dreamhouses over the decades, including Queen Anne Victorianism, midcentury modernism and back-to-the-land granola-ism.

It also quotes writers, artists and architects on how Barbitecture shaped their own psyches. “Barbie’s house is infinitely more exciting than Barbie herself,” writes Elvia Wilk, a cultural critic. “The structures we live within — fantasize about living within — say more about our lives and dreams than plastic bodies ever will.”


Cardboard Fantasy

Barbie’s first home, a cardboard ranch house that unfolded from a case, is strikingly masculine, with its bold plaids and midcentury wood grains. Was this the only acceptable aesthetic for a young woman embarking on a single life in 1962? Yes, if she is a college student, Mr. Burrichter said, pointing out the varsity pennants and lack of a kitchen. “I think it’s a coded dorm room,” he said.

The narrow bed assures that Ken isn’t spending nights here. He was and remains “an accessory,” Ms. Mallett said.Credit…Evelyn Pustka

The clean-lined midcentury furniture was designed to be punched out and assembled, accounting for some of its chunkiness. Record albums showed popular singers. “Today we would have to get past rights and licensing,” said Kim Culmone, Mattel’s senior vice president of design. Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Is that a picture of Barbie’s childhood home in Wisconsin? Oddly, the Queen Anne style comes to life as a Dreamhouse in 2000. Credit…Evelyn Pustka


Bohemian Townhouse

The three-story townhouse features a mod palette and Victoriana touches. Mr. Burrichter and Ms. Mallett associate the clubby bohemian décor (Tiffany lamps, greenery) with the era’s singles bars.

Printed backdrops allow for detailed décor but not much modification. Future houses will have many more movable pieces.Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Cantilevered chairs evoke modern seating by Marcel Breuer and Verner Panton. A swimming pool is de rigueur in Barbie’s Malibu, though the building style hints at Haight-Ashbury.Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Barbie’s first elevator becomes a signature Dreamhouse feature that by 2021 will be large enough to accommodate a wheelchair.Credit…Evelyn Pustka


Progressive Cabin

Call it early cabin porn. This A-frame was constructed in three sections that could be pulled apart and reconfigured. Doing so reminded Mr. Burrichter of the houses built by Charles Moore and other progressive architects at Sea Ranch, the Northern California development.

Open walls and trellises reflect the era’s budding environmental awareness and embrace of indoor-outdoor living. The sunny colors are variations of Harvest Gold, the hot color of the time. (Two years later, the same Dreamhouse will be pink.)Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Slouchy seating hints at real-life furnishings, like Michel Ducaroy’s Toga sofa for Ligne Roset. The kitchen is gone, but so are other traditional rooms. It’s all about modular and multifunctional spaces.Credit…Evelyn Pustka


Bubble Gum Mansion

Barbie went full bubble-gum pink and dreamy in the 1990s, and “really leaned into hyperfemininity,” Ms. Culmone said. The Doric columns, Palladian windows and rooftop sun deck are also a natural companion to the McMansions sprouting in American suburbs.

In a nod to realism, this is the first Barbie house to have a ringing doorbell and phone. The fireplace and bathroom mirror lights are battery-powered, too.Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Floral wallpaper is not just girlie, but reminiscent of Laura Ashley.Credit…Evelyn Pustka
The interior’s pale walls and fluffy sofas remind Mr. Burrichter of the affluent suburban house depicted in the 1987 thriller “Fatal Attraction.”Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Transformable furniture — the fireplace flips around to become a kitchen counter — becomes a hallmark of Barbie’s world.Credit…Evelyn Pustka


Future Victorian

This lavender Queen Anne Victorian-style mansion seemed like a throwback when it was released before the new millennium. But it bore an unmistakable resemblance to the house featured in a painting that hung in the original Dreamhouse — as if Barbie “manifested” it, Ms. Mallett said.

Though it references hulking Victorian styles, this Dreamhouse is actually trimmer than earlier models and is hinged to open much like the original 1962 version. Credit…Evelyn Pustka
Tiny houses have not yet peaked, but there are echoes of them in the nooks and built-ins here.Credit…Evelyn Pustka
The Second Empire-style chaise hints at the molded plastic furnishings that Philippe Starck designed at the time. The crib is not for Barbie’s progeny, heaven forbid, but for her baby sister, Krissy. Credit…Evelyn Pustka


Content House

While the first Dreamhouse unfolded like a sitcom set for a single camera, the most recent iteration is a TikTok-ready tower that can be filmed from infinite angles — not unlike the real-life collab houses where influencers create content.

Slides are not new to Barbie’s world, but here one functions as Instagram bait. The party room has a karaoke machine and disco ball.Credit…Evelyn Pustka
The rooms are less formal than interiors from the 1980s and 1990s, but still have plenty of tchotchkes. Credit…Evelyn Pustka
A bourgeois canopy bed has been replaced by bunk beds — so Barbie’s influencer friends can sleep over.Credit…Evelyn Pustka

Related Articles

Back to top button