Barbie Malibu Dream House Design Makeover

The Malibu house has a fashion runway, a revolving closet, accomodations for a hot pink motor scooter and space for a pet giraffe. It’s a dream house all right, for who else but Barbie.

Mattel’s most popular toy is starting her 125th career, this time as an architect. (Man, she holds up well. I’m only on my third career, and I look like the underside of a tire.) To help her get started, architects from across the country have been working to build a better dollhouse. They’ve entered their efforts in the American Institute of Architects’ contest to design Barbie’s dream home. Presumably because, when she has clients over, she needs to look like she knows what she’s doing.

Judges have narrowed the 30 submissions down to five finalists. Now the public gets to vote. (Go to The winner will be announced Tuesday.

I won’t be spoiling anything if I tell you, I voted for the house that came with its own carrying case. As the architects noted (with probably unintentional irony), “the packaging is as important as the interactive fun inside.”

Since I’ve written a book about designing your dream house, albeit on a budget, I couldn’t wait to see what the pros did, given their client’s unique specs:

With more than125 careers, Barbie needs a home office that will accommodate her high-tech meetings. (And her high heels.)

A top fashionista, Barbie has exceptional wardrobe needs. (Geesh, with every new career, she gets a new wardrobe and accessories, times 125, plus there’s casual, formal and sportswear.)

Because she has as many as five pets living with her at one time, including her giraffe, the place needs to accommodate furry friends.

Oh, and as a California girl, she wants fabulous ocean views. (Hey, with 125 careers and no kids, she can afford whatever she wants.)

The architects’ offerings did not disappoint. The closets — really wardrobe management systems — featured revolving clothes racks (like at the dry cleaners but spiffier), halls of mirrors and catwalks. One runway extended into the living room through a set of heavy curtains, which doubled as a movie screen.

One architect treated the closet as a core spiraling down the center of the four-level house. All rooms can access the closet, presumably because as Barbie goes from the kitchen to the library to the office, she needs to change outfits.

And while some floor plans had huge garages for her fleet, one architect emphatically excluded a garage, observing that Barbie’s pink scooter is her vehicle of choice. “If she needs to haul her shopping bags,” the architect reasoned, “Ken is never far behind in his convertible.”

Regardless of your views on Barbie, what was cool about the exercise was seeing how clever trained architects can be when designing for a unique, high-maintenance client. Few homes get designed with their inhabitants’ lives in mind; more often inhabitants design their lives to fit their homes. A custom home may be a luxury, but as long as we’re dreaming, here’s what to shoot for and what the architects got right.

•They played to her priorities. In Barbie’s case, it’s clothes and entertaining. But if gardening is your passion, be sure your home has a great yard. If you’re a cook, splurge on the kitchen.

•They considered those she lives with. Designers planned for her pets, as you should factor who lives with you — and who might — into the design. If you work at home, you need to create a space that respects that. If you have kids, everyone will be happier if the child has his own space to sleep, study, play and get away from you. If you need a cave, whether for reading or movies, make one.

•Be sustainable. The finalists blended a “dream pink, live green” mentality. Each used a pink color scheme and many green features, including a water-collecting roof, Energy Star appliances, zero VOC paints, low-flow toilets and sink fixtures, energy-saving light fixtures, bamboo flooring, solar roof panels for heating water, window shading devices that automatically adjust to the light, locally sourced and manufactured materials and furnishings, composting bins (Can you see Barbie composting?), low e-glass windows and salvaged finishes.

•They added her signature. The designs had many Barbie moments, including this one: mobile window shades with chevron patterns mimicking the pattern on the swimsuit Barbie wore for her 1959 debut. It can be subtle, but your home should have something that’s uniquely you.


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