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July 30, 2010

New Toys: MoMA Modern Playhouse

Playhouses come in many styles and formats these days. There’s the colorful plastic Fisher-Price ones that haven’t changed all that much since my own childhood; there’s the many fabulously details options from Playmobil; there are even a few high-end ones made from recycled materials or lovely wood.

What I hadn’t seen till now is a design-oriented playhouse at a modest price point—but that’s precisely what the MoMA Modern Playhouse is. For $20, you get a smartly designed box that holds all an kid-aesthete needs to create his or her own modernist pad. The box itself, and a few smaller ones inside, serve as walls in various colors and simulated textures (brick, stone, a few different painted plaster options). Also inside are three reversible floors and floor coverings (rugs, wood flooring, and even grass or a small pool if your child is designing the patio); a set of punch-out cards of hip furniture (older kids can put it together themselves; younger ones will need a more dextrous parent’s assistance with the folding and inserting); and a panel of endlessly reusable plastic-decal home accessories (lamps, plants, clocks, etc.) that can be attached to the walls anywhere that seems pleasing. 

Considering how compact the outer box is—about half the size of a standard lunchbox—the variety inside is remarkable: The possible permutations are nearly endless. (For the slightly less minimalist child who wants his playhouse inhabited, there’s even an add-on Modern Play Family kit of press-out people with vinyl clothes; it is, in the age-old phrase, “sold separately.”)

Now, many design-y toys are great if you’re, say, Frank Gehry, but can be disappointing to less precocious children, who get frustrated at their failure to approach the gorgeousness on the front of the box. That’s not a problem here—it’s incredibly simple to put together something that looks pretty great. (Since my own design skills are only barely at the pre-K level, the proof is in the photos below. As I always say, if I can do it, a six-year-old can, too. I did need to adjust that lamp a bit, though, I now see....) It does, however, probably take a child with at least occasional tendencies toward stillness to really enjoy this product, and not to accidentally destroy it: While the whole thing is remarkably sturdy given the materials, we’re still talking about cardboard and thick glossy paper here.

Kids with an eye for design, a decent imagination, and some semblance of motor control will get a lot of enjoyment out of the MoMA Modern Playhouse. It’s pretty dreamy for parents, too—one of those toys that actually looks good when a kid forgets to put it away when she’s done. And when she remembers to tidy it up (or you just do it—let’s be realistic here), everything fits nicely back inside the small box—so the playhouse is also perfect for travel, though I’d probably avoid the beach given the materials it’s made from. So the playhouse hits the parent trifecta: Nice to look at, versatile, and reasonably priced. (Seems like a pretty good gift option as well!)

[Box image courtesy of Chronicle Books]


  1. Very interesting post, I almost thought it was a real full sized playhouse for a second!


  2. Yes, it is a bit of a misleading term, I suppose..."dollhouse" is more the traditional one for what this is, but it's also not really an accurate description of products like this! We need to invent a new term, clearly. :)

  3. I thought the same simon, dollhouse is possibly the right word myles but it is a playhouse in a way.