Artist Turns An Abandoned Home Into Life-Sized Dollhouse

Meet Heather Benning, the Gordon Matta-Clark of the dolly world.

I doubt I’m alone when I say that at 8 years old, I fantasized about growing up to live in a home just like the one my dolls had–a three-story confection, complete with a pink canopy bed, a pink kitchen island, and Ken parked in a convertible Corvette outside, with a pair of pink tennis racquets in the backseat. This isn’t Barbie’s Dream House, exactly, but I suppose it’s the next best thing: a life-sized dollhouse built in an abandoned barn in rural Manitoba.


I can guess what you’re thinking. A life-sized dollhouse is, well… a house. Yes, but no. No one lives here. Nothing works–there is no plumbing, no electricity, and no heat. And the backside is covered in Plexiglas, giving the place the “don’t touch” preciousness of something you might find in an expensive toy store.

The dollhouse was created by Canadian artist Heather Benning, who will henceforth be known as the Gordon Matta-Clark of the dolly world. Driving to the closest city to pick up art supplies one day several years ago, she spotted the house: a gorgeous ruin, with boarded-up windows, shingles falling off the gabled roof, and rusty mattress springs inside. Deserted since 1968, the house was hers for the taking, so she grabbed a toolbelt and some sherbet-colored paint and, after 18 months, transformed it into the giant dollhouse you see here.

Much of Benning’s work is about exploring “issues of identity, rural displacement and/ or reclamation, heritage, and nostalgia,” she says on her website. And you get a whole rusty syringe full of of it here. “I did not model it on any dollhouse, but rather restored the evidence of life that existed in the house prior,” Benning tells Co.Design in an email. Which explains why it looks like the set of a poor man’s Mad Men. I think I’ll stick to my cramped little apartment.

Photographs of the dollhouse were on display at The Telephonebooth Gallery, in Toronto, this spring. More images here.

[Images courtesy of Heather Benning]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.