At age six, Jonathan Adler ripped the heads off his sister’s Barbie dolls. So when Mattel approached the New York designer about creating a life-size Malibu Barbie dream house to celebrate the doll’s 50th birthday, the project took on deep personal meaning. “It was my way of making amends,” he says.
Anyone who knows Adler’s tongue-in-cheek aesthetic—he calls tassels “earrings for the home”—understands why the designer was the toy company’s top choice to transform a four-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot private residence overlooking the Pacific into a home fit for Barbie.
From start to finish, the house took six months and dozens of workers to assemble. Adler used pieces from his main furniture line and designed one-of-a-kind items—among them a Barbie mirror, four corset-back chairs, and a chandelier made from blonde Barbie wigs—to outfit the rooms. The kitchen remained untouched (with the exception of cupcake-making ingredients in the pantry) but served as ground zero for the birthday party held on-site, an invitation-only celebration for Barbie on March 9, planned by Colin Cowie.
And though the whole thing, including the fuchsia velvet bedroom curtains, came down after the event, Adler’s Barbie dream will live on, just in a capsulized version. Appropriately called JONATHAN ADLER LOVES BARBIE, the collection hits stores in September, with pieces first featured in the real Malibu house, including hot-pink lacquered trays ($150–$225) and a bright pink baby-alpaca throw ($295). And parents who want to re-create the entire dream house for their little girls can do so: Most everything, from the bespoke furniture to the custom rugs and wallcoverings, can be special-ordered through Adler’s studio. (Some of the items are on view starting May 25 at the Palms Casino Resort & Hotel’s Barbie Suite in Las Vegas, which is available for overnight stays for fans of all ages.)
First, a bit of history: This is not Barbie’s first home. Mattel introduced the dream-house toy in 1960, just a year after debuting the first Barbie doll at the New York Toy Fair. It was a 26 by 14 1/2 by 3–inch dollhouse made entirely of cardboard—save for the pink plastic hangers in her closet.
Adler and his colleague Charlotte Hillman started planning last summer, with a crash course in all things Barbie at the Mattel headquarters in El Segundo, California. “Jonathan naturally gravitates toward ornate fabrics, wallpaper, and texture, which have always been a big part of the design of the dream house,” says Mattel’s Evelyn Viohl. “The original version served as a blueprint, but we wanted Jonathan to take the visual identity of Barbie and add his own twist.” By fall the walls of Adler’s Manhattan studio were covered with inspiration boards of plastic dolls and pink poodles and color swatches of pink, orange, and three shades of green for a palette called Talitha Duquette, after boho-chic icon Talitha Getty and the king of over-the-top decor, Tony Duquette. “Barbie would never shy away from color or drama,” says Adler. With this in mind, he traveled to Malibu in February to spend two weeks transforming the house’s existing blue-and-gray living room, a sitting area, a master bedroom, and, yes, a shoe closet.
Those who attended the March event walked from the pool area into the main living room. On a mirrored wall at the entrance was the original Andy Warhol portrait of Barbie from 1985, now owned by Mattel. “It’s the ta-da moment,” says Adler.
Another highlight was the chandelier made entirely of 30 blonde Barbie wigs. “From the moment Jonathan walked into this room, he fixated on the idea of this chandelier,” says Hillman. Adler enlisted Project Runway finalist Chris March to execute the design, which took more than 60 hours to create.
Four Drysdale chairs from Adler’s furniture line received makeovers with corseted backing, tulle trains, and a fabric printed with composites of nostalgic Barbie images from the last 50 years. To keep the focus on the custom chairs and the Warhol, Adler took his streamlined Lampert sofas and upholstered them in black patent leather.
In the informal sitting room, Adler paid tribute to Barbie at her birth with a custom sunburst mirror that hung over the fireplace. A closer look revealed 64 identical dolls from 1959 dressed in black-and-white maillot. Flanking the mirror were three-foot-high bright pink Styrofoam poodles that Hillman and Adler first spotted on a trip to the Mattel headquarters. “Poodles have always been Barbie’s idea of a guard dog,” says Mattel’s Viohl. In the far corner were two sateen screens that Adler created based on a vintage doll-carrying case also from the Mattel archives. He replaced the very seventies green, orange, and brown color scheme with black, white, and Barbie pink. The boudoir was set behind draped fuchsia velvet, and Barbie’s bed was made with crisp, monogrammed black-and-white bedding from Restoration Hardware. The black-and-white hexagonal “B” pattern that carpeted the bedroom floor echoed the custom silver-and-hot-pink foil wallpaper found in Barbie’s shoe closet. Inside, no less than 50 identical pairs of peep-toe Christian Louboutin heels lined the shelves—perhaps further proof that no girl, real-life or doll, can have too many.
“Barbie isn’t just for little girls,” says Adler, who has created a collection called Jonathan Adler Loves Barbie, available in September. It will include black-and-white ceramic canisters ($30–$135) and the needlepoint throw pillows below ($100–$180). “Barbie’s aesthetic is really about glamour,” Adler says. “So a sleek tray or bright throw is an easy way to add a pop of color to a room.” 800-963-0891; jonathanadler.com
“Barbie wouldn’t dare walk on cold floors,” says Adler, who used rugs throughout the house to add warmth. In the sitting room a pink circular rug similar to styles from the designer’s main line was personalized with Barbie’s initial and is available at Adler’s stores (from $25 per square foot; 800-963-0891; jonathanadler.com). The black-and-white hexagonal “B” pattern in the hallway and master bedroom was created by New Jersey–based Innovative Carpets (about $60 per square foot; 201-894-1008; innovativecarpets.com), while the white shag rug in the living room was purchased from Rug Rats ($50 per square yard; 434-392-7068; rugratsva.com).
Made to Measure
The corset-back chair (an adaptation of Adler’s Drysdale chair) is accented with hot-pink satin ribbon and a tulle skirt. The graphic print was custom-screened by First2Print and is available through Jonathan Adler’s retail stores. By special order; 800-963-0891; jonathanadler.com
Off the Wall
The silver foil wallcovering in Barbie’s closet was done by Los Angeles–based Astek Wallcovering. The company will take any print you bring and turn it into custom-printed wallpaper in a matter of weeks. 800-432-7930; astekwallcovering.com
Mattel enlisted none other than Christian Louboutin to design the perfect stiletto in Barbie Pantone 219 pink, and it debuted during New York Fashion Week this past February for the Barbie runway show. The five-inch heels will be available at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Louboutin boutiques worldwide in July. Price upon request
All Dolled Up
Every three seconds a Barbie is sold somewhere in the world. This June, Mattel debuts its Generation of Dreams doll, whose dress is crafted from fabric that mimics the pattern on Adler’s corseted Drysdale chair ($50; mattel.com). Collectors can phone in to California-based Sandi Holder’s May 9 auction, which is expected to have some 400 dolls from 1959 to 1972 (dollattic.com).