Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How Did I End Up Here: The Barbie Factor

I think at some point everyone in this business of design gets asked how it came about. I was recently asked  by a new acquaintance and a few months ago by a college student studying design and required to interview someone in the design business. Of course in real life, I don't actually say my friend Barbie got me started, but I think my story may sound familiar, even if my point of view is different.

When I was a little girl, I thought I would grow up to be a house builder. At the time, I had never heard the term architect, decorator or interior designer. My mother had very good taste when it came to furniture and accessories and even though we lived in military base housing, I was quite aware our house was "different" than those of my friends and neighbors.
Last year when we re-did the storage room I found my Barbie trunk. Only recently
when I was stuck in the basement during the floor refinishing, did I actually take a peek
inside out of sheer boredom. I found lots of clothes, accessories, dolls, and doll heads.
 My older sister sent just about every Barbie we ever owned to the beauty shop.
Only some didn't come back beautiful. The only solution:  pull their heads off.
 I even found clumps of cut hair in the trunk. EW.

I was also one of those kids who did not dread cleaning my room every weekend. Every Saturday morning I had chores that I was expected to do. I would hurry through them as quickly as possible just to get to the part that involved my room. I enjoyed the domestic ritual of dusting and rearranging things, at least on my side of the small room I shared (with my older sister, who was a total slob) and dreaming about what my own home would look like one day.

In the meantime,  I focused my efforts into implementing all my great ideas into my BF, Barbie's needs. Specifically,  my vision for her dream house. Barbie shared our space and lived in a small, but groovy box that we called her apartment. The inside was void of any detail. No furniture or wallpaper. Clearly the only things a house needed in my emerging decorators mind.
One of the many pairs of Barbie and Ken still in the trunk. This one clearly went to the
"beauty" shop. At least she's wearing a fabulous dress. It was one of my favorites.
I spent hours working on her apartment every chance I could. Barbie had the most exquisitely firm mattress made by Reader's Digest. On it, was a glamorous white satin bedspread donated, without consent. She also had a custom pillow sham cut from the same fabric to make sure nothing happened to her perfectly coiffed head. Even though my creation resulted in extra chores being assigned and time away from BF, it was totally worth it! Oh, did I mention the mid-century modern chairs I designed? They were round and made from teak and cork. Sometimes they would vanish and I would find them during Saturday morning chores in the living room with half consumed drinks on them. It often required cleaning sticky residue from the seat bottoms, before placing them back Barbie's apartment.

My older sister, however, was far more concerned with what Barbie was wearing and making sure she was with Ken. I couldn't understand this.  So while my sister spent her time annoying me with this obsession of dating and wearing just the right outfit, I pondered the disarray of Barbie's wardrobe and lack of stylish furniture. I mean seriously who cares what she's wearing, if there is no where to hang the outfit up? And, more importantly how do you have friends over to your apartment without adequate seating and a pretty room?

I remember the Christmas I got the new "Barbie" version of the plastic hangers.
 Finally a way to hang all those outfits! Only 2 were found in the bottom of the trunk.

Unfortunately, before I ever finished the dream house that would clearly be my masterpiece, Barbie moved to Malibu, got a tan, a ton of flexibility and a pink car. And her parents, who I never met, produced a little sister named Skipper. Then as luck would have, the world's worst architect, named Mattel, beat me to it. He designed a pink and purple plastic nightmare and called it Barbie's Dream House. And of course, she loved it! It was the end of my friendship with Barbie.

We both moved on. I ended up in the corporate world, and eventually design. Barbie went on to live in the dream house with Ken. Although, I heard they broke up in 1999 amidst rumors he was spending too much time surfing and working on his tan.  It would seem the "dream house" did not yield a happily ever after since they never married or produced any little plastic kids. Ken turns 50 this year (according to a recent Parade magazine article) and Barbie is even older, but no doubt, as fashionable as ever. I honestly think it was the awful color palette of the dream house and so much emphasis on looking perfect that were the cause of their relationship woes.

I found several outfit catalogues in the trunk. I wish I could remember why it was decided #1907 was not a contender
 for the birthday or Christmas wish list? It has a purse afterall. I used to hate that shoes shown weren't included!
I also heard those elusive parents of hers had another kid, named Kelly. We lost touch so long ago, I couldn't remember the names of all her old friends and relatives, let alone the numerous new ones, so thankfully someone put it all here. But does it really matter, I am sure she is on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Rebecca, I loved this post!! I never played with Barbie, but I did decorate my room and played house on a blanket outside on the lawn and each corner was a room. Picked flowers and put in jars, made a bed , you name it I think I came into the world after decorating the womb!! KS

  2. What a great post! I remember those Barbie days well. I've got to go look in the basement and dig mine out. Can I interest you in a brand new, never been opened Dawn doll, in it's original box too? I have it for sale in my Etsy shop. It was a double, of a gift from long ago that was never exchanged. Yes, I save almost everything! Ha, Ha.

  3. KS,
    Thanks! My own daughter had no interest in Barbie either.

    Not a chance! I need to put an ad on Craig's List or something. I am ready to send Barbie her friends and all the amazing outfits on their way.

  4. R, like everyone else has said I loved this post! I never had the Barbie dream house, but I did have a rockin Barbie shoe box! This brought back so many great memories for me, and I laughed out loud! Thank you!

    Kat :)

  5. I had a few Barbies and played with them a little; mostly I changed their clothes and admired them. It was very important to me where and how they lived, so I spent a lot of time decorating their home which was set up on big shelves in my bedroom. I grew up to be an architect. I still have my Barbies from the 60's---in mint condition. :o)

  6. I love hearing more about your childhood inspiration! It is funny how our relationship with our childhood bedrooms really have an impact on us - or rather, our relationship with our bedrooms. As a child my bedroom was quite messy, but I remember the sense of satisfaction I would get from cleaning it up and moving things around - and the feeling that it was so bare and hard to make into a cozy space. Now I realize it is because I had one twin bed (two would have been so much better, or a queen bed) and no rug.

    Enjoyed this post!

  7. What great memories. I agree with you about the dream house. I thought the furniture was stupid and sometimes made my own. As an only child, I was able to keep all hair intact with no beheadings. My dollhouse (not Barbie's) was the home I fretted about most. It was Victorian and I insisted that every detail be authentic, absolutely no TV.

  8. This is a fabulous post. So many great memories and written beautifully!

  9. This cracks me up as I too spent lot's of time with my Barbies, but was mainly obsessed with decorating and designing her home. I remember using a silk scarf for one wall underneath a dining room chair and then working on the floor plan. Glad to see I was not alone in this Barbie thing!

  10. Ahhh! Blast from the past...I remember skipper and tutti and Chris. My Mom wouldn't let me have a barbie 'cause they were not anatomically accurate...and not a good role model. Ha! Mother's!

  11. So crazy that you still have these! Ahhh, child hood memories (sigh).

  12. So fun!! My sister still has her black patent Barbie with everything perfectly intact. She has all the dolls, the clothes, the shoes - everything. I will have to forward this post to her - she will so relate!!

  13. Rebecca, This was wonderful. I did play with Barbie, so I can relate. I even had a Midge. You are a great talent and I enjoy your insight and following your blog. It's almost the weekend. Yeah!!! enjoy! Mona

  14. I think it is great that you still have your Barbies! I gave my daughter all my Barbies from my childhood about 1 1/2 years ago. It made me smile and tear up as I showed her all the outfits my grandmother had sewn, all the little hangers for hanging the ensembles...well, I remember being a happy kid and the hours I'd play with my Barbies and their belongings. What did you decide to do with yours?

  15. Rebecca I Love this post! This was so much fun to read and remember my Barbie and Ken, although I didn't play with Ken much, he had attitude! Nice remembering, your sister sounded like my sister and I can't believe you still have your dolls. Enjoy your weekendd!


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment!