I'm well aware that when I was a child, my feelings about Barbie were more intense than those of my friends. I thought about her all the time, wondering who her parents were, how she could afford all those great clothes she wore, and whether she was nice or mean. I can't say that I loved her, but I was definitely obsessed with her. If she had been a real person, I probably would have stalked her. But that was a long time ago. Still, old fixations tend to linger and express themselves in curious ways. My Barbie thing came out in a big way when I was decorating my last apartment.
This is the first Barbie Dream House. It was issued in 1963, and predates my introduction to the world of Barbie. Yet I was a kid with a strange streak of nostalgia, so I coerced my mother into calling a friend with a daughter older than myself. Mom successfully talked her friend into selling us her daughter's original Dream House. Made of cardboard, the "House" was really a studio apartment. Its compact floor plan captivated me—a sleeping area, sitting area, entertainment console, vanity, clothes closet, and bookshelf, all packed into one room. It had everything you need except for a kitchen, but that seemed unnecessary to the eight-year-old me.
The interior of the first Barbie Dream House The furniture (also made of cardboard) was mid-century Modern simplicity at its best. Wood frames (teak, by my guess) with what I imagine were meant to be upholstered cushions. None of the seating had arms, giving it a very sleek profile, and aside from a slightly incongruous grouping of "art" permanently printed on one wall, there were no frilly flourishes.
Decades went by, and I found myself craving a daybed. It didn't occur to me at the time, but the Peter Hvidt design I purchased bore a close resemblance to the piece in Barbie's first house. Certainly, the IKEA fiberboard bookshelves I chose to go with it were not that far a stretch from her cardboard furniture, either. My overall attitude about the space and how to use it was similar to her set-up, too—I viewed it as a place to hang out with friends, listen to music, and have fun, with prime real estate devoted to clothing and beauty.
Over the years, Barbie's living quarters have evolved. Her most recent Dream House is a three-foot-tall, three-story affair, with a living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and home office. It's at least three times larger than the original version, and the aesthetic is much more "princess" than "modern sophisticate"—walls are pale pink, and the furniture is mostly white with lots of curvy lines. On the top floor, there's an entertainment room with a plasma television. "Today's Barbie Dream House is based on a large traditional home with modern conveniences," says Jamie Wood, vice president of Barbie marketing for the doll's maker, Mattel. "It includes such realistic house sounds as a doorbell that rings, a stove that sizzles, and a toilet that makes a flushing noise!"
Like Barbie's, my home has evolved, too. I recently moved from a studio to a larger, multi-room apartment, but it's no McMansion. And although my toilet makes a flushing noise and my stove sizzles, I felt certain that Barbie was no longer working her subtle magic on my decorating decisions. I'm a high-functioning, highly psychoanalyzed woman, after all. I make my own decisions, unencumbered by the influence of Mommy, Daddy, or Barbie, thank you very much.
Or so I thought. While writing this, I had a conversation with Carolyn Weber, our senior building editor. I told her that I now realize that the décor and aesthetic of my last apartment was almost completely inspired by Barbie. "Your last apartment?" she laughed. "What about your new one? It's entirely pink!" I stared down at my feet, firmly planted in a pair of Barbie-worthy stilettos and reviewed the evidence. Yes, my apartment is pink; yes, the furniture is girly-curvy; and yes, instead of a sofa there is a princess-worthy pouf. Carolyn was right, and there was no use denying it.
What can I say? Once a Barbie girl, always a Barbie girl. —Carole Nicksin, senior decorating editor
Do you have a childhood influence that inspired your décor? Tell us about it, and show us pictures! Post comments below or e-mail us at [email protected].