The Green Dollhouse Project | Sustainable San Mateo County

The Green Dollhouse Project

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The Green Dollhouse Project was a collaborative effort of many organizations including our local players: Coyote Point Museum, Sustainable San Mateo County, Eco Design Resources and RecycleWorks. It won the 2006 EPA Environmental Achievement Award and was part of the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award that was awarded to RecycleWorks. The exhibit toured Sacramento and New York before closing at the Coyote Point Museum in 2006. Two of the dollhouses and the Build Your Own Green Dollhouse Play Area are installed permanently at the Coyote Point Museum.


The full story of the project can be found in the book, Green Dollhouse, available through Ecotone Publishing. The book also features photos of the dollhouses by Emily Hagopian, architects’ design statements, a section on how to build your own green dollhouse by Peter Whiteley, Senior Writer for Sunset Magazine and a section on building dollhouse furniture by Katrina Jones, curator for the museum exhibit.

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The Green Building Committee of Sustainable San Mateo County stumbled into the Green Dollhouse Project with creative minds and absolutely no experience in either running a competition or designing a museum exhibit.

We started with representatives from a small, green-visionary group in addition to Sustainable San Mateo County: San Mateo County RecycleWorks Green Building Program, Coyote Point Museum, Sunset Magazine, San Francisco Design Center and Jennifer Roberts (author of Good Green Homes). Then each of us recruited more team players who possessed the skills we lacked. The key to our success was our spirited team, our ability to think outside the box and our determination to have fun.

We were so excited when the dollhouses began to arrive; after a full year of planning, we were going to see the results of our efforts! The first dollhouse was hand delivered from Japan – Yasuo Tokuoko flew over with his wife and assembled his unique dollhouse in our warehouse. The dollhouse was all white with a natural wood floor made from chopsticks and he carefully unpacked trees that he’d carried from Japan for the roof. He explained the concept – this was one unit of a larger building that would have commercial businesses on the ground floor and gardens on the roofs.

The second dollhouse also arrived by plane with its designer, Tony Garza from Colorado. Tony had watched the luggage guys ignore the prominent signs that said “This Side Up!” and dump the crate on its side. After significant repair, the dollhouse was back together and able to be wheeled out of the crate. It was built in a red wagon, with lots of natural ventilation and daylighting.


The dollhouses came in steadily with many needing minor repairs, including the Tree Fort’s outhouse, which for some odd reason had been flattened while the whole tree structure remained intact.

One dollhouse sadly did not make it through in one piece. The dollhouse from the Boston firm, Goody, Clancy and Associates arrived in a crate which looked liked it had been thrown around in transit. The padlock remained intact but the hinges did not; unfortunately the dollhouse was a pile of boards when we unpacked it. The standing seam metal roof made from Minute Maid lemonade cans was the only piece that was recognizable. We could not fix it and the pieces were shipped back home to be reconstructed.

For several days, we eagerly took turns accepting dollhouses and unpacking them. What fun! After getting the warehouse set up, and the back wall painted a sky blue, we were ready for the jury. We paid our first bill for the Green Dollhouse Project – a porta potty for the jury! Up until then, everything done on the Green Dollhouse Project was donated service, including the warehouse space.

The 14 jurors came – seven adults each paired with a young partner. The warehouse was lively with lots of discussion, smiles and play. The dollhouses were judged on two criteria: “dishy doll dwellings” that hold up to active play and delight both children and adults and dollhouses that offer “great green guidance” about one or more aspects of sustainable home design. The creativity and artful use of green building materials and practices of all the dollhouses made choosing the winners a difficult task.


No matter how the scores were added up – and we tried several different approaches – the winner bounced back and forth between the Pre-Fab Modular and the Monopoly Manor – two very different entries. The Pre-Fab Modular consisted of different rooms, walls, roofs, landscaping and furniture, which could be built in a number of different designs. The pieces to the house were softly colored in light earth colors and very cleverly fit into the two boxes that held the base for the house. Monopoly Manor, on the other hand was a bright, colorful house made out of used materials – the base of the house was affixed to the inside of a recycling bin lid! The house was delightfully decorated with monopoly money siding, a Wonder Bread shower curtain and hand painted walls. As one juror said, “this one makes me smile!”

Eventually, the jury decided to present Honor Awards to both entries. During all the negotiations, the children kept gravitating to what we call the Elevator House (but which is officially called Rosaciea Sustainus) to play. So, we had an inkling of which one should win the Kids’ Choice Award. The children particularly loved the hand-cranked elevator in the middle of the house. This house was open, making the spaces easily accessible, and it also included a grey water system with shell sinks.

One of the best parts of managing the project was getting to know the architects and students who submitted dollhouses. We received many questions about our definition of a “design student.” Because we wanted the whole project to be educational, we allowed students to be self-designated and we received all kinds of entries in the student category, including one sixth-grade student. Her colorful house – bright turquoise with origami wall paper and foil solar panels – appealed to the children in the jury, many of whom thought that the overall colors of the other entries (lots of browns and natural colors) were a bit boring.

Another rewarding aspect of the project was the chance to work with two enthusiastic graduate students, Emily Hagopian and Katrina Jones. Emily was looking for green buildings to photograph and, after learning of our project, she quickly joined our team. The idea of little green homes seemed to fit into her desire for diversity. Emily is getting her Masters in Photography with a specialty in Architecture and she is developing a love for green building. Katrina was in the Museum Studies Program at San Francisco State University. Developing exhibit design for the Green Dollhouse Exhibit and being the curator made up her Masters Project. Katrina brought new ideas and energy to our museum exhibit design process, which helped energize all of us.


After the exhibit tour in 2006, the dollhouses were auctioned to support Sustainable San Mateo County’s local efforts to create a sustainable region. We hope that everyone who attends the exhibit or reads this book is inspired to do one thing differently in their next home project. If the Green Dollhouse Project introduced you to something new or made a difference for you, please let us know by sending an email to

Each and every member of our team has added something to the project. A very special thank you goes to Stephie of iKorb Inc. who put in numerous hours designing the website and then recreating portions of it as each phase of the project developed. Her skills and upbeat nature made her a pleasure to work with, even when we were on a grinding deadline.

The Green Dollhouse Book is a fitting tribute to all the people who have contributed to this project and to whom I am deeply grateful.


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