- Place of origin:
Simmons, Laurie, born 1949 (designer)
Wheelwright, Peter (designer)
- Materials and Techniques:
- Credit Line:
Given by Bozart Toys Inc
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
On short term loan out for exhibition 
The Kaleidoscope House was designed by Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelwright. Peter Wheelwright, a New York architect, designed a number of homes for New York-based artists. Laurie Simmons is an internationally renowned artist and photographer who uses dolls' house imagery in her photographic work, addressing themes such as urban domesticity, entertainment and advertising.
The furniture for the house was also specially designed for the house. The dining room set was designed by furniture designer Dakota Jackson, the living room sofa was by Karim Rashid, the Big Heavy chair by Ron Arad. Peter Wheelwright and Laurie Simmons designed the Italian style bathroom set, and the bedroom was also designed by the latter. The family that comes with the house is based on the two designers and their children.
Larry Mangel, the founder of Bozart Toys, was a former private art dealer who decided to give good artists the chance to design better toys than those available on the market. Bozart Toys was established in 1996 to provide artists with an opportunity to design creative, educational, fun toys for children, but was taken over in about 2004 by another firm.
Brightly coloured plastic house on three levels with sliding transparent doors designed for creative interactive play. The structure is basically white with blue, pink, green, yellow sliding panels. The chimney stack is red. Half of the roof is an attic with a blue concave roof looking out on a flat white roof top. A floor to ceiling room occupies half the interior and serves as a dining and sitting area.
Place of Origin
Simmons, Laurie, born 1949 (designer)
Wheelwright, Peter (designer)
Materials and Techniques
Height: 61.5 cm, Width: 75.0 cm, Depth: 57.0 cm
Historical context note
“My real interest was in simply updating the conventional dollhouse to get beyond the Victorian model or the fifties suburban model. It seemed odd to Laurie and me that no one had ever thought to do this.” – Peter Wheelwright, 2014
The Kaleidoscope dolls’ house was a collaboration between photographer and conceptual artist Laurie Simmons and architect Peter Wheelwright. Already friends, who had previously collaborated on Laurie’s own home, Laurie and Peter both drew on themes of their professional practice to create a 21st century dolls’ house.
The dolls’ house was commissioned by Bozart Toys, a company established by Philadelphia gallerist Larry Mangel. He used his contacts in the art world to develop a series of toys by contemporary artists, which were high quality, non-violent and well designed.
Laurie Simmons’ photography had explored domestic interiors since the 1970s. Using dolls’ house furniture and dolls in her constructed scenes, Simmons created images of 1950s housewives, who seemed simultaneously mistresses and prisoners of their pop-coloured homes. With the Kaleidoscope House, Simmons was keen to break the nostalgia of dolls’ house design and create something new.
Two collections of contemporary art were produced with the Kaleidoscope Dolls’ house. Laurie contributed one of her early dolls’ house photographs, to display in the dolls’ house she created.
In her work Laurie has experimented with representations of herself, including a ventriloquist dummy made to look like her. The dolls for the Kaleidoscope House were modelled on Laurie Simmons, her daughter Grace, Peter Wheelwright and his son Matt. A further series of dolls introduced Laurie’s other daughter Lena and friends.
Peter Wheelwright is an architect and teacher, renowned for his residential projects. When Bozart asked Laurie Simmons to design a dolls’ house, she approached Peter, who had previously designed her New York apartment.
Peter has said, “one of the subtle ironies about the Kaleidoscope House is that it was not really ‘modern’ when it was designed in 2000. It was, however, ‘modernist’ in that it took its inspiration from early 20th century Modernism. The Rietveld Schroder House and the De Stijl group, in general, were the real sources of inspiration.” He also makes comparisons with the pavilion-style homes of Johnson’s Glass House or Mies’ Farnsworth House – both glass box-like buildings which sit in beautiful surroundings. The Kaleidoscope took from these inspirations a “transparent, flexible and minimal open plan”.
In other ways however, the Kaleidoscope House is very much of its time and ‘a response to the reality of life in 2000′. As well as the literal transparency of the see-through walls, the house also suggests the technological developments that were blurring the distinction between public and private – the internet, surveillance, and personal electronic devices.
Peter and Laurie also wanted the Kaleidoscope House to respond to changes in social and family life, Single parents, two working parents and same-sex couples adding to the kaleidoscopic range of family structures in the 21st century. Peter also mentioned “combining working and living in the home, open space domestic arrangements, shared parenting and domestic responsibilities, and the tendency not to overly infantilize children as was the case in Laurie and my parents’ generation.”
The Designer Furniture
Over the last decade, the Kaleidoscope House has become a coveted collector’s piece. Since it was produced in limited numbers, and broke the mould of dolls’ house design at the time, interest has only increased. The concept of collecting, though, was inherent in the house from the start, as a number of well-known artists and designers were commissioned to make artworks and furniture to complete the Kaleidoscope House.
Two art sets were produced for the house, giving children a selection of artworks from distinguished late-20th century artists to hang in the double height living room or along the mezzanine.
Cindy Sherman contributed a photograph from her Untitled Film Stills series, which she produced from 1977 to 1980. The photographs show Sherman dressed as different female clichés, printed as glossy black and white photographs in the style of promotional film stills. A contemporary and friend of Laurie Simmons, Sherman’s work explores female identity, performance and representation.
Carroll Dunham is a painter and printmaker, and also Laurie Simmons’ husband. A small version of his Untitled 1987-2000 was produced for the Kaleidoscope House.
Mel Kendrick is a New York sculptor who creates geometric forms using wood, metal, and more recently concrete. He made a wooden sculpture in 1:12 scale work specifically for the Kaleidoscope House.
Mel Bochner started his career in 1960s New York. As a conceptual artist, he works across media, including performance, photography and painting. Often his works concern words and letters. He created the painting 1=12 for the dolls’ house – a reference to the scale of the miniature.
Sarah Charlesworth created Red Mask in 1983 as part of a series called Objects of Desire I. She collected images from magazines and advertisements, cut them out from their contexts, and photographed them against richly coloured plain backgrounds.
Barbara Kruger has created some of the most recognisable and striking images of late 20th century art. Her black and white photographs combine with short, bright red slogans. 'I Shop Therefore I Am' was made in 1987, when Kruger’s works responded to, and participated in feminist campaigns.
Alan McCollum’s Perfect Vehicles series started in 1987. Taking the form of a Chinese ginger jar, these sealed vessels, painted with commercial paints, have taken many forms and sizes across three decades. The vehicle of the title suggests McCollum’s idea that an object can never just be itself, but carries meanings of other things and ideas we bring with us.
John Newman made Bubbles Burst in 1993, out of plastic and coated styrofoam balls on a limestone plinth. In an article in Bomb magazine, Laurie Simmons described John in his studio as “both bull in a china shop and kid in his own candy store… His realm of distinctive objects resemble nothing else being made today.”
Dolls' house in brightly coloured plastic designed by Laurie Simmons and Peter Wheelwright for Bozart Toys of Philadelphia, U.S.A.
Dolls & Toys; Children & Childhood; Architecture; Plastic; Dolls' houses
Museum of Childhood