This townhouse apartment is home to a media-industry creative, as well as 10,000 Barbie dolls!

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

This townhouse apartment is home to a media-industry creative, as well as 10,000 Barbie dolls!

WHO A 37-year-old bachelor 

HOME Upper-floor townhouse unit in Serangoon 

SIZE 1,050sqf

My Reading Room

From the unassuming facade of the townhouse homeowner Jian Yang lives in, you wouldn’t expect to find a home with such unconventional interiors. It is only after ascending the staircase to get to his second-floor apartment that you are immersed in a world of dolls.

There are several floor-to-ceiling displays, with customised shelving specially designed to be doll-height, and a 12m run of wardrobes that are “six dolls-deep”. But stripped of the dolls – all 10,000 of them – the space is actually a blank canvas with a contemporary look, little ornamentation and a pared-down structure. It was what architect and designer Vincent Lim of Visual Text Architects (VTxT) knew was required, to allow the huge collection of dolls to be showcased in the best way possible.

“But it’s not just dolls, actually – I love toys!” says Jian, whose background is in advertising. The dolls, however, are his pride and joy. We find out more about his doll devotion, and how it fits into his home.

My Reading Room

Tell me about your passion for dolls.

I’ve been buying dolls since 1984, and it started with Barbie, as it was only thing in the market at the time. Later on, I began collecting Jem Dolls, Equestria Girls, Blythe, Pullip, Monster High, Disney Princess and more… I’m one of those guys who just likes to buy toys – it just happens that the focus is on dolls, possibly because of the fashion and pop-culture references related to them.

I also have toys from Star Wars, Transformers, Sky Commanders, Littlest Pet Shop, Baby Alive – all the Hasbro brands, here and in my office.

How did this interest begin and grow?

Back in 1984, under the Christmas tree, I opened a present that happened to be my sister’s – it was a doll. But your four-year-old mind doesn’t see it as a “girl’s toy” – it’s just a toy that you’d like. And in a child’s mind, everything merges – Barbie can be a girlfriend to He-Man, or a G.I. Joe giant. I just saw her as another toy – an action figure with brushable hair.

So, as with any other collection where you buy more pieces to complete it, I was buying new clothes, shoes, and cars.

My Reading Room

What do you like about these dolls, and collecting them?

There are so many facets, but here’s one thing: I have an obsession with faces — as with different facial features, you make sense of them in the world and are able to see them as cultural generalisations — so looking at a doll’s face is one of the reasons. Every doll has a different face, with different skin colours, eye colours and hair colours. I’m actually more of a fan of the brunette and African-American Barbies than I am of the blonde Barbie, as blonde is too generic! Can you imagine a blonde doll pulling off this look? (Refers to an African Barbie doll in eclectic fashion.) The detail is insane, with the feathers and everything and, using your imagination, you would think that this is a black girl who went to Scotland – this outfit can be pulled off only by this doll.

I also like that Barbie is just a very neutral figure, whoever the child wants her to be, unlike – for example – Disney characters with a fixed back-story that sets the play pattern. Also, I like the fact that all these items in my house are not objects, but actually subjects — they are a conversation in themselves. For example, a few of these dolls would remind me of a memorable first trip to New York.

Which is the most expensive doll you have?

The one I paid the most for was an auction piece at a charity event by Swarovski and Mattel. She’s a Silkstone Barbie with Swarovski crystals, exclusively designed by Singapore artist Dan Goh for the event. Silkstone is a vinyl and porcelain hybrid material created by Mattel, for a different skin texture, heavier weight and more collector value. I paid $3,600 for the doll.

How much do you think you’ve spent on the dolls?

My rough estimate is 10,000 dolls times an average of $20 each. But as some cost a lot more… it could work out to be about $500,000. The collection, however, is worth millions.

My Reading Room

When it came to designing the space, what was your main concern?

My brief was basically: I have a collection worth millions, so I would like to fully appreciate it. I didn’t have any taste formed, as it was my first home, so I was grateful that Vincent (the architect and designer) managed to find a voice for the space.

Because I know what an overpowering collection can look like – a lot of my friends are collectors of everything, from artist vinyl figures to Star Wars. When you see a Transformers collector’s house, it’s like a junkshop explosion. So I told myself, I need a space that enables me to live like a human being, which just happens to have a ridiculous collection of dolls.

How did your designer achieve that?

First, he knocked down the non-structural walls, and left just two support beams, to replace with shelving to display the dolls. Vincent knows that dolls generally come in 12- and 16-inch heights, so the whole space was created for the collection, to the point where I have only a bed, sofa and dining table as stand-alone pieces. Everything else was built in.

The place is also designed to have a flow that leads people all the way around to the private areas, where the display continues, and back out into the living area where they’ll spend the rest of the evening. You don’t understand how many people want to see this place! When people visit, there’s always a half-hour “holy s***” moment, before you can actually have a proper conversation.

My Reading Room

There’s even a feature wall created entirely out of dolls.

In fact, this feature wall (refers to the wall of boxed dolls behind the sofa in the living room) has no shelf, it’s just boxes stacked – this is an engineering feat in itself! But this is my Lego training in practice – yes, there is skill involved, not just random stacking. See how everything is anchored like in a Lego structure, arranged like bricks with alternate locking.

The boxes have been arranged such that from one angle you can see more of the dolls, and from another angle you can see more of the boxes. So depending on where you sit in the house, you can see different things. Here, there are some Barbies from the cultural series, (fashion designer) Tim Gunn ones, and also Star Trek, James Bond girls, Lord Of The Rings, and more.

How do you keep everything organised?

I have no choice but to be neat. If I’m messy, everything will fall and one day, I will die because I will get buried under the dolls. When it comes to organisation, I like to see only what I need to see, and have enough storage for the rest.

Display-wise, the favourites for the season are at the front – it’s nice because you don’t see everything at once, but you know that the rest are there, and once you push the seasonal favourites behind, new dolls are then displayed for a change. I know that I will never be able to see all of them at once, otherwise, I would need a 10-storey building with a single-layer glass display. 10,000 dolls is a lot.

Are you still buying more?


And how are you going to find the space?

Does it matter? But as an ambitious 30-something, I’d like to think that this isn’t my final property.

So with 1,050sqf, that’s a beginner’s step – but moving forward, I’d like a bigger place. And in the meantime, the dolls all find a place, somehow.


Visual Text Architects (VTxT), TEL: 6227-0208