Designer dollhouses offer miniature life of luxury
Malibu Barbie never had it so good.
A Paul Smith rug, curtains sewn from Missoni fabric, LED sconces strung with Swarovski crystals, even a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona daybed cluttered with Rodeo Drive shopping bags — all small enough to fit in your pocket. These are but a few of the over-the-top luxuries decorating 10 couture play pads created for the 2013 Designer Dollhouse Showcase.
The Los Angeles firm Richard Manion Architecture has constructed scale-model dream houses — Italianate, brownstone, beach house contemporary and other styles — that will be auctioned April 17 to benefit the UCLA Children’s Discovery and Innovation Institute, part of Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA.
“After searching for pre-built dollhouses, we decided that we wanted to do something more innovative,” said Amanda Brown-Chang, author of the novel “Legally Blonde” and co-chair of the fundraiser. After drafting Manion, she called Los Angeles designer Tim Campbell, who wrangled 20 of Los Angeles’ best known interior designers to fill rooms.
“There is a rather insane little world of people who make the most amazing replicas of real furniture,” said Campbell, who decorated a Georgian house with shrinky-dink versions of classic furniture made in London as well as his own designs. The standard 1:12 scale for dollhouses, he added, means a 4-foot coffee table would be reduced to just 4 inches. “Our desk even has working drawers.”
On a recent tour of his workshop in Los Angeles, where the dollhouses were built, Bespoke Furniture Chief Executive Doron Silverman pointed out a red tile-roofed Italianate villa so lavishly detailed, it would sell for upward of $20,000 unfurnished.
“This one has 5,000 faux ceramic pieces attached to the roof,” he said.
The villa is painted a vivid pink with green trim, explaining why designer Mark Cutler called it “our homage to the Beverly Hills Hotel.” Cutler scanned and reduced the hotel’s famous Martinique banana leaf wallpaper to 1:12 scale for the dollhouse atrium, and over a custom-carved limestone fireplace in the living room, he hung a Warhol-style portrait of his muse, Barbie, on a wall lined with gift wrap. Cutler found dollhouse furniture makers on Etsy and used oversized sequins as tabletops.
“Thank God for the bead store,” said Cari Berg, who designed the top floor of the pink villa and crafted beads into perfume bottles for a vanity. “The detail I put in here was what I would put in a real house, and I used the same craftsmen I would for a regular project.”
Many of the participants decorated in their signature style. Jeffrey Alan Marks created a relaxed couple’s massage room on the ground floor of the three-story beach house he decorated with Elizabeth Dinkel. Replicas of his new furniture collection for California manufacturer Palecek furnish his dollhouse living room.
Though designers could cut corners, using fabric samples for curtains and carpet swatches for area rugs, few expenses were spared. Designers Adam Hunter and Lonni Paul estimated they spent $10,000 and more than two months on their dollhouse, which includes handcrafted walnut parquet floors in a gunmetal finish, wallpaper from Holly Hunt and original furniture designs by the two decorators. Hunter envisioned his floor “for a single mom with a teenage daughter who’s obsessed with Lena Dunham.”
Paul spent an entire day stringing Swarovski crystals on miniature lighting fixtures, which are illuminated by LEDs. “My 7-year-old would go crazy over this,” she said.
Chris Barrett said the project was challenging because dollhouse furniture is mostly traditional. Less is made for the Modern doll, apparently. For her beach house — complete with an air plant and succulent landscape design by the luxury design firm Inner Gardens — Barrett relied on Paris Renfroe, a furniture designer with a collection of miniatures, and Bespoke, which made custom kitchen cabinetry. She scored a mini-Mies Barcelona daybed for about $25 online.
“We even have food for the refrigerator,” she said, referring to the lifelike jug of milk, oranges in a netted bag, meat in butcher’s wrap, eggs and Evian. “I never had a dollhouse, and I am really getting my fix now.”
Natasha Baradaran took on a classic International Style dollhouse with Modernist restraint, adding a geometric pendant light from her forthcoming collection and midcentury pieces from Minimodernistas.com.
“I wanted to stay true to the architecture but make it warmer,” she said of her teak deck and coral decorative accents throughout the first level. On the top floor, designer Waldo Fernandez added bachelor pad luxury with a free-standing bathtub and a peekaboo glass-walled shower.
“This,” Baradaran concluded, “is more of the metrosexual Malibu Ken dream house.”
The 10 designer dollhouses, including a brownstone created by fashion designer Monique Lhuillier, will be sold at a silent auction April 17 at the Kaleidoscope Ball. Bidding is expected to start at $20,000 for each house. Unsold houses and duplicate furnishings will be sold on One Kings Lane in mid-May, with all proceeds pledged to the UCLA Children’s Discovery and Innovation Institute.
Updated: This post was updated April 10 to add information on the dollhouse silent auction and to clarify the estimated retail price of the Italiate villa.