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Stuff We Like: Dollhouses for Open-Ended Play

When I was little, my dad built my sister and me a dollhouse. I remember waiting rather impatiently as the three-floor structure slowly, slowly came together, and I can easily recall how my anticipation built higher and higher as my dad carefully glued on each tiny roof tile. I remember I thought it was beautiful, and I wished our real house looked exactly like it (now that I think about it, they were almost identical except that our real house was white and the dollhouse was blue--I guess that made all the difference in my 7-year-old mind).

What I can't recall exactly is what I did with the dollhouse once it was finished. I know I played with it constantly, but the clearest memory I have of that play is my sister and I pretending that a huge flood was coming and moving everything--every piece of furniture, every last doll and bear--out of the dollhouse and up to a safe place (the top of the piano, I believe). Then, of course, the "flood waters" receded, and everything had to be moved back into the house, preferably to the same exact position.

While this ritual now seems incredibly strange to me, I clearly remember having a blast while doing it--and that's what counts, right? Dollhouses are open-ended toys that encourage imaginary play, something that's important to development for all children and especially important for children on the autism spectrum, as it helps them develop language skills as well as a healthy imagination. (Read about one local mom's joy when her son finally began engaging in imaginative play, and get tips on how to help children with special needs develop imaginary play.)

If you're not one to build your own dollhouse (your kids' patience will thank you not to), check out some of our favorites that are available now:  

Soho Townhouse Dollhouse

Big City Dreams

If you’re lucky enough to live with your family in a downtown space with your own elevator and garage (is it possible that this Brooklynite is jealous over a pretend parking space?), then playing with this Soho Townhouse from KidKraftwon’t be much of a stretch for your child. For everyone else, enter an imaginary world furnished with a disco ball chandelier, treadmill, 2 outdoor patio areas, and a piano that plays music at the touch of a button. (Ages 3 and older; accommodates fashion dolls up to 12 inches tall; $224.99;  

Everything but the Dalmatian Firehouse Dollhouse

To the Rescue

Fire! This red-hot set includes a fully equipped fire station (with gear lockers, control console, swivel chair, satellite dish, bunk bed, and, of course, a fire pole), a team of four firefighters, plus the engine (with an extending swivel ladder). Pieces of the Everything but the Dalmation Firehouse Collectionare also sold separately. (Ages 3 and older; $169 for complete set;    

Lillie City dollhouses


Home Improvement

Before he puts his dolls to bed, your little man gets to paint their houses! The tiny Lille City modular playhouse kitis meant to be decorated, and comes with a hand-painted family of four simple wooden dolls. Made from recycled paper with soy-based ink and front panels of Baltic birch, each house (there are four designs included) is recyclable and packs flat for storage. ($58;  

Custom Cottage from Once Upon a Treehouse

Once Upon a Treehouse

Founded by a pair of sisters who once “fought over trivial things, as sisters often do” but who bonded over creative play with toys lovingly hand-crafted by their grandfather, Once Upon a Treehouse offers an array of whimsical dollhouses that encourage pretend play the way they fondly remember it. This Custom Cottage—open on all four sides so more children can engage—can be customized with many different color schemes, like all the company’s products. Dolls are sold individually (some are pictured at left) so you can make selections that reflect your own family’s makeup, and all the handmade clothes feature Velcro closures. The website offers stories, step-by-step craft ideas, printable accessories, and more to further stimulate kids’ imaginations. ($325 for dollhouse; $16.50 per doll;      

Creative Kidstuff furnished all-season dollhouse

Change and Rearrange

With this multi-level, six-room, Educo Furnished All Season Dollhousefrom Creative Kidstuff, kids can do more than rearrange the furniture. They also can move the stairways and even flip over the roof to match the seasons. Like the Custom Cottage above, this is an open-concept dollhouse that makes it easy for multiple kids to play at the same time. The wood used to build the dollhouse comes from sustainable forests, and it’s finished Furniture included; dolls sold separately. (Ages 3 and older; $199;      

Terrace dollhouse and playground by PlanToys

Room with a View

From PlanToys, a toy company with a mission to cultivate creative minds and bring children closer to nature, we love this Parent’s Choice Award-winning Terrace Dollhouse(pictured left; $169.99; recommended for ages 3 and older). It features three levels, moveable windows and door, and a second-floor terrace. Pair it with PlanToys’ wooden Playground, where the dolls can play on the tiny swing and slide and in the sandbox (pictured right; $25.99; for ages 3 and older). Both are available on Amazon.  


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Kaitlin Ahern

Author: Kaitlin Ahern has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. See More

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