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Barbie History: The Development of the Barbie Dream House

Did you know Mattel wanted to sell more Barbie clothing than dolls? That's why her proportions were so wild—the clothes make her look human!

Barbie originally lived in a fold-away home made of cardboard.  Now that's green living, circa 1960! Original price, $8.00. (Slightly higher west of the Rockies.)

Barbie originally lived in a fold-away home made of cardboard. Now that's green living, circa 1960! Original price, $8.00. (Slightly higher west of the Rockies.)

After her debut in 1959, Barbie needed a place to live and hang her numerous hats and outfits. She also needed to store her accessories. So what's a girl to do? Buy a home, of course!

Barbie’s First Dream House

In 1960, Babs got a house.

Colorful and simply designed, it was a clear example of one of the principles of modern architecture: "Form follows function."

It was made of cardboard, and it folded up neatly into its own carrying case, handle included. One could put together the furniture that came standard with the home and set it up in different ways.

Outfitted with a closet and vanity, as well as lots of Scandinavian-style furniture including a bed, love seat and coffee table, chair and side table, record cabinet and more, it was a pretty good deal for a doll-like Barbie. She had numerous places to sit (too bad her legs didn't bend!), a bright and cheerful décor, and plenty of storage space.

"Barbie's New Dream House" in 1963 with easy-to-assemble furniture. Made of chipboard. Original price, also $8.00.

"Barbie's New Dream House" in 1963 with easy-to-assemble furniture. Made of chipboard. Original price, also $8.00.

Barbie's New Dream House

Always in search of the bigger, better deal, Barbie traded up in the early '60s.

She went for House #4092. This was a change from the original Dream House in several ways—not only was it significantly bigger, but one could set up the house itself in different ways, not just the furniture inside.

This house had plenty of built-ins, such as a closet, cupboard, range hood, and fireplace. Furniture included a bed with nightstand, four chairs, a chaise lounge, a television with three reversible pictures (high-definition has nothing on Barbie!), and more. It also featured a sliding door and an authentic metal rod in the closet.

Made of chipboard, this dream home could close up into a conveniently handled play set, in case young girls felt the need to bring everything to a friend's house or Grandma's.

Personally, I really like this one and would love to own it. There's something so "Frank Lloyd Wright" about the brick wall that I would enjoy it in my own home.

The furniture styles may not match each other, and the colors are awfully bright, but hey, It was the Sixties after all, and Barbie was right there in the swing of it.

By 1966, Mattel had switched to vinyl material for the houses as it was more durable than heavy card and could be cleaned. The Family House had molded plastic furniture, a real mirror, and lots more. It could also fold out for play and be re-bundled for travel.

In 1996 came Barbie Family House, The New World of Barbie Dream Houses!

In 1996 came Barbie Family House, The New World of Barbie Dream Houses!

1980 Barbie Dream House, well loved and still sturdy, 30 years later.

1980 Barbie Dream House, well loved and still sturdy, 30 years later.

Dream Houses in the 1970s and 1980s

Dream Houses fell out of style for a while and were replaced by Barbie Townhouses. But by 1980, the Dream House was back and in a big way. Barbie turned 21 and got a two-story A-frame McMansion!

From the outside, it looked to be modern-style and reminiscent of her beginnings in the sunny west. Certainly the colors were not traditional... yellow and white, with a rust-colored shingled roof, spoke to Northerners (I grew up in NY) as being the absolute essence of California—whether or not it was true.

Some of the original pink furniture from the 1980 Barbie Dream House is visible in this picture.

Some of the original pink furniture from the 1980 Barbie Dream House is visible in this picture.

This home was made of very solid plastic, and "parents had to put it together." Open-air skylights, a closet, a small deck, lots and lots of windows in a faux-jalousie style, two sets of swinging doors, and a double door at the main entrance offered a plethora of play opportunities. Later versions were pink and white, but in my opinion, the yellow and white one had much more style.

The house could be split into three parts and be set up in different ways, much like its predecessors, and it also came with a great deal of sturdy pink plastic furniture.

1990s and 2000s Barbie Dream Houses

By the 1990s Dream Houses were equipped with elevators, doorbells, flushing toilets, sizzling stoves, and other electronic goodies.

But in 2009, Jonathan Adler changed the whole game. He created a 3,500 square-foot life-sized Dream House to celebrate Barbie's 50th birthday. Garishly colored and over-the-top (ostrich feather furniture, anyone?), this creation is still lots of fun and plenty tongue-in-cheek.

AIA Barbie Dream House Contest in 2011

Mattel continued to improve the Dream House and stay relevant. In 2011, they teamed with the respected AIA (American Institute of Architects) to challenge architects to create a home for the newest dream doll at the time, Architect Barbie.

Her specifications included open dining and living spaces for her many guests; organized closet space for her unlimited clothing and accessories; an office for her 125+ careers; and rooms for her five pets, including a giraffe. Designers were told, “just think pink, and you’ll do fine.”

Although the winning design was manufactured by Mattel, donations were made in the designers’ names to CHAD, a charter high school in Philadelphia that emphasizes architecture and design.

We hope to encourage more young female architects to flex their design muscles and just to have fun with architecture

— Ting Li, Assoc. AIA LEED AP, and Maja Paklar Assoc. AIA, AIA Barbie Dream House Challenge winners

The Malibu Dream House: Not Pinktastic for Much Longer

It seemed that Barbie would never leave Malibu. But in February of 2013, Mattel dropped a bombshell: Barbie would be leaving the area (it was a seller's market, after all) and moving to a new location! The Malibu Dream House would be discontinued and a new advertising campaign would kick off.

Despite still being the number one doll fashion doll worldwide, sales of the beauty fell three fiscal quarters in a row during 2012. What better time to turn the beat around?

A faux home listing was placed in Trulia describing the sale of Barbie's "pinktastic" home with the sale price at a cool $25 million. The "crystal" chandeliers and self-flushing toilet are worth at least half that on their own, don't you think?

Dream House Poll

Sources

"Barbie Turns 21" [Magazine Article], in Children and Youth in History, Item #310, (accessed March 28, 2012). Annotated by Miriam Forman-Brunell

The Jonathan Adler Designed Barbie Dream House

Barbie Selling 'Pinktastic' Malibu Dream House For $25 Million

All-TIME 100 Greatest Toys

Comments

Robin Carretti from Hightstown on December 12, 2017:

I love dolls I also designed them with wigs and makeup but Barbie touches me so much deeper my childhood I love everything about Barbie the different looks and styles through the years the dollhouses just take me back so many brilliant doll artistry and collectors. I enjoyed the dollie read

todden on July 26, 2016:

I just retrieved this (the first house mentioned for $8) from my mom's attic -- lots of memories

Schoolmom24 from Oregon on September 30, 2013:

Fun to read the different kinds of Barbie houses over the years. I had one of the versions in vinyl that opened up to a groovy dining room, bedroom and livingroom. Made around '69 or '70. I have that stored somewhere, along with a Barbie pop out tent. In fact, I just wrote a hub on my childhood toys so I'd love it if you dropped over to take a peek. (I'm fairly new to Hubpages) This was so fun, voted up!

Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on April 06, 2012:

Sure sure no problem it is really my petname used by my parents, relatives & friends. Take care.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on April 06, 2012:

Thanks, Ish! (May I call you Ish?)

Thanks do much for stopping by! I totally enjoy your comments! And how sweet of you to donate. I bet those kids had a good time with them.

Ishwaryaa Dhandapani from Chennai, India on April 06, 2012:

Once again an enrapturing hub from your Barbie hub series! Though I don't have a Barbie dream house, I had Barbie bath-tub and Barbie's whole kitchen and I had complete fun with them! As I grew up, I donated them to the local school for the disabled.

Thanks for SHARING. Interesting. Voted up.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on April 01, 2012:

Hi, Silverlily555 - thanks for commenting! :^)

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on April 01, 2012:

Thanks, Biter! I love it too. :^)

Silverlily555 on April 01, 2012:

Just oh too much. Loved it.

Biter on March 30, 2012:

I love, love, love this hub! Thanks for all the great info about Barbie. Voted up, awesome, beautiful!

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on March 29, 2012:

I agree! And then owners can craft Barbie furniture to match their own, and it can be a scene within a scene. Ooh, meta! :^)

I don't have any displayed in my living room, but I do think that as a conversation piece, it can't be beat. Thanks for stopping by!

flashmakeit from usa on March 29, 2012:

Now I know that here are so many people who love Barbie dolls. Barbie furniture would be an interesting conversation piece to have in a living room.

Rachel Vega (author) from Massachusetts on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, Brainy! This hub touches home for me too.

I would love to have all of these... they all have something charming about them. Thanks so much for commenting. It's always great to see you! :^)

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on March 28, 2012:

Wow. All I can say is wow. This is a fantastic hub, and brings back great memories. I had a friend in high school who had the original dream house (the cardboard one), so even though my house was bigger, she had me beat.