dollhouses

A Guide to the Most Delightful — and Sinister — Dollhouses in Pop Culture

Hereditary

Dollhouses — those handy miniature metaphors for either childhood wonder or the corruption of innocence — are having a big summer. The indie horror hit Hereditary revolves around an artist (Toni Collette) who uses dolls to work out her demons, placing them in tableaux both mundane and horrifying. On HBO’s southern Gothic miniseries Sharp Objects, Amy Adams’ childhood home is eerily echoed by her younger half-sister’s pristine lookalike dollhouse. And we may be in the dark dollhouse timeline right now, but looking ahead to December, Welcome to Marwen (an uplifting drama adapted from a complicated documentary) will introduce audiences to a doll village that saved a man’s life.

In honor of our current dollhouse-assainace, Vulture has created a guide to TV and film’s most notable dollhouses, organized by where they fall on the scale from delightful (the dollhouse Phoebe made on Friends) to downright sinister (the title toy of Amityville Dollhouse).

Delightful

The “Two Little Dolls” house on Sesame Street
The beautiful dollhouse in this 1970 Sesame Street segment was designed and built by Jim Henson for his daughters, modeled on their Greenwich, Connecticut home and sized for their Madame Alexander dolls. Show some respect, cats.

Ken’s Dream House in Toy Story 3
Reportedly modeled after the 1983 Barbie dream house (distinguishing feature: a hot-pink plastic elevator), Ken’s bachelor pad benefits from the addition of a walk-in closet with a disco ball.

Phoebe Buffay’s dollhouse from Friends
Phoebe’s custom-built home has a slide instead of stairs, a licorice room with a Tootsie roll-away bed, and a bubble chimney. It’s tragically flammable, but even in miniature, you can’t have everything.

The dollhouse in Beatrix Potter’s “Tale of Two Bad Mice”
Adapted for the 1992 animated BBC series The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, the story of house mice Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca sneaking into a turn-of-the-century dollhouse, then wreaking havoc when they realize the food isn’t real, is pure child wish-fulfillment. The Potter-rendered dollhouse (based on a real one constructed by her publisher fiancée) is a dream, and so detailed that every single kitchen canister is not only labeled, but filled with tiny colored beads.

The Browns’ attic dollhouse in Paddington
Paddington the Bear’s adoptive family have a Georgian townhouse modeled after their London home – which, in one of the film’s many inventive storytelling devices, becomes a window in the Browns’ private lives.

Photo: StudioCanal/Warner Bros.

Corky St. Clair’s My Dinner with Andre play set from Waiting for Guffman
A replica of the dining room from Louis Malle’s single-location film, this is not the most literal dollhouse, but it’s the best dollhouse. Little Wallace Shawn! Little Andre Gregory’s little sweater! To quote Corky (Christopher Guest), “You can make up your own dialogue!”

Shou’s mother’s dollhouse in The Secret World of Arrietty
Studio Ghibli’s animation is renowned for its attention to detail, and the dollhouse featured in this adaptation of The Borrowers is no exception. Built by 12-year-old Shou’s grandfather to be “a lovely home for the little people who live in the wall,” the intricate house (complete with a tiny library and fully stocked kitchen) was left unoccupied by the small scavengers, who fear living in sight of humans.

Photo: Gkids

Suitably Whimsical

The nursery dollhouse in Hooked
Tinkerbell fakes her death by falling down the tiny stairs of this dollhouse, which is a little grim. But it’s a covetable front-opening model, tastefully decorated in high early-’90s style (so many pastels!) with ceilings high enough for Barbie.

Monica Gellar’s dollhouse from Friends
The giant Victorian that Monica inherits from her bitchy Aunt Sylvia has hardwood floors and a china cabinet, but ranks below Phoebe’s version because no dinosaurs are allowed.

Jane’s dollhouse in Mary Poppins
A very large, no-frills townhouse that resembles the Banks’ home at 17 Cherry Tree Lane. Best feature: it’s a snap to clean.

Lorelei’s dollhouse on Gilmore Girls
Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) describes her best friend’s expensive Victorian dollhouse as “the only thing from Lorelei’s childhood that she actually liked.” Still, it’s an artifact of her privileged-yet-oppressive upbringing. When an accident leaves the house in pieces, Lorelei (Lauren Graham) realizes it’s one more thing she needs to let go.

Photo: The WB Television Network

The proposal dollhouse from The Wedding Planner
Handsome dolt Massimo (Justin Chambers) proposes to wedding planner Mary (Jennifer Lopez) with this dollhouse, custom-built with a fireplace and a diamond ring. She says yes but ends up ditching him for Matthew McConaughey, so maybe Massimo should have added turrets or something.

Vague Unsettling

Super Star Sissy dollhouse from The Incredible Shrinking Woman
When chemically-poisoned housewife Pat Kramer (Lily Tomlin) shrinks to the size of her daughter’s favorite doll, she moves into Super Star Sissy’s inhospitable plastic house. And she brings along her tape recorder, roughly the equivalent size of a grand piano.

Photo: Universal Pictures

The museum dollhouse in The Twilight Zone
In the Season 4 episode “Miniature,” introvert Charley Parkes (young Robert Duvall) becomes smitten with a beautiful doll in a museum display. After hours of gazing at the antique dollhouse, Charley discovers that his beloved is in an abusive relationship, and he breaks the glass on the display to stop a mustachioed male doll from raping her. It’s The Twilight Zone, so you know where this is going, but the attempted doll-rape definitely sours the happy ending.

Photo: CBS

Marwencol
Photographer Mark Hogencamp’s Barbie-inhabited World War II-era town (as seen in the 2010 documentary Marwencol and fictionalized in Robert Zemeckis’ Welcome to Marwen) has a lot of layers: it’s art, therapy, masturbatory fantasy, gender exploration, and history project. It’s also beautiful – but spying on Hogencamp’s private world can’t help but feel intrusive.

Definitely Creepy

The soul-sucking dollhouse in Doctor Who
The rare fictional dollhouse to belong to a boy (or more precisely, an alien in a boy suit), the 18th century dollhouse in 2011’s ‘Night Terrors’ traps anyone who frightens little George and transforms him or her into a blank-faced wooden doll. Lovely light fixtures though.

Amma’s dollhouse in Sharp Objects
There’s something a little too obsessive about Amma’s exact replica of her mother’s New Orleans mansion. The real house is clearly full of secrets, and the miniature one has already revealed one hidden message – so who knows what else lurks beneath the tiny floorboards?

Photo: HBO

Mr. Harvey’s dollhouses in The Lovely Bones
Stanley Tucci’s character crafts gorgeous wooden dollhouses with an obsessive attention to detail… the same obsessiveness that enables his lifestyle as a serial child-killer. (Incidentally, if you want to upgrade your own dollhouse to Mr. Harvey’s standards, it will set you back $5,000.)

Photo: Paramount Pictures

The Pierpoint Inn dollhouse in Supernatural
In the 2007 episode “Playthings,” the demon-hunting Winchester brothers (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) discover that someone is using the dolls in this Tudor-style house to work hoodoo on the inn’s visitors. Even more shocking: look at the size of that thing! It could fetch $2K a month in New York City, easy.

Photo: Warner Bros. Television

Downright Sinister

Bee’s dollhouse in Annabelle: Creation
Annabelle doesn’t live in this ginormous Victorian dollhouse, modeled on the film’s location. But it does literally hold the key to the closet where cinema’s scariest piece of porcelain is hiding.

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

The Amityville dollhouse
In the direct-to-video Amityville Dollhouse (the last gasp of the original Amityville Horror franchise), viewers learn that you don’t have to live at 112 Ocean Avenue to experience its demonic charms; you just have to have a dollhouse replica in your shed. It’s like the Jeopardy home game, but with immolation and zombies instead of the Daily Double.

The doll maker’s house from Are you Afraid of the Dark?
Girls who have the misfortune of entering this Plantation-style dollhouse are slowly turned into breakable porcelain dolls, hands first. Fortunately, the latest victim discovers that there’s a way out: hurling yourself from the second story to the ground below. Kids’ programming was different in the ‘90s!

Photo: Viacom

Annie’s “miniature worlds” in Hereditary
The increasingly ghastly dollhouse scenarios sculpted by Toni Collette’s character include “that time her creepy mother tried to breastfeed Annie’s newborn son” and “that time [redacted] was decapitated in a moving car.” If you’re looking for the polar opposite of that Jim Henson dollhouse, it’s this.

Photo: A24
A Guide to Delightful (and Sinister) Pop Culture Dollhouses