Q&A with Kate Taylor Boehm of Studio BOCA

/ Exhibitions - Interviews

Kirby Caldwell and Kate Taylor Boehm, founders of Studio BOCA. Photo by Sara-Anne Waggoner.

Thousands of Museum visitors have experienced Barbie: Dreaming of a Female Future since the exhibition opened on August 10. It offers a reimagined, modern dream house in a 740-square-foot gallery, complete with colorful furniture and whimsical wallpaper in picture-perfect shades of pink. By taking the place of Barbie in her home, visitors can consider their own relationship with the doll and the ways in which she may have impacted their perceptions of self.

To bring the space to life, Curator of Contemporary Art Hallie Ringle partnered with architect Kate Taylor Boehm and interior designer Kirby Caldwell, cofounders of Studio BOCA. They furnished the dream house with objects created by women artists and makers, honoring the process of female creativity and imagination.

Barbie: Dreaming of a Female Future is on view through January 26, 2020, so if you haven’t yet seen it, don’t worry. There’s plenty of time to plan your visit. In the meantime, check out our list of things to know before you go and our interview with Kate Taylor Boehm below to learn more.

BMA: Tell us about Studio BOCA and how you came to be. 

Kate Taylor Boehm: Studio BOCA is a team of two sisters. To be honest we had a dream of owning our own business together since we were little girls. We were always operating in the realm of design in the sense that we were always operating in a world that we elaborately constructed with our imaginations. Also, our parents renovated numerous houses throughout our childhood and did a lot of the work themselves, so we had tons of exposure to the power of transforming our physical environment through design. We would always be running around on job sites getting super dirty. Our mom was a really fearless decorator, too. Hello pedestal sinks shaped like seashells! So I eventually went to architecture school, and then worked as a residential architect for a while, and Kirby worked as a designer in New York and ended up as an interior designer at the Soho House. By the time we had gained that level of experience, we were ready to start our own business. We really wanted to craft a perspective and use it to gather our own unique client base. We wanted to be able to say no to certain things, and we also wanted to say a lot of ‘yes, and …..’. It’s been an amazing experience. We work a lot. We may need a vacation.

Kirby Caldwell and Kate Taylor Boehm, founders of Studio BOCA. Photo by Sara-Anne Waggoner.

BMA: What was your relationship to Barbie growing up?

KTB: Our grandmother had the original Barbie and some really cool vintage items for her. Then of course we had Barbies, too, but we never had a dream house. I wonder if you will be able to recognize that when you see the exhibition? Anyway, we really just used Barbie as a vehicle for role playing our fantasies of what we wanted to be when we ascended from girls to WOMEN. Barbie was just this exemplar of the unfettered career woman and in that sense she was super appealing to us. There was this rush you got when you picked up a Barbie and the fantasies just started rolling in. She was going to grab her purse, head out the door, make a few dozen phone calls on the way to work, boss some men around, and generally get things done. Whip the corporate world into shape! Then she was going to head to the beach and have a party with her girlfriends. I mean, in many ways I still strive for that life!

BMA: Did you feel a connection to this project that compelled you to participate?

KTB: Absolutely. Just the mention of Barbie takes me back to sitting on our bedroom floor with our pencils and paper, our fake phones and our cats, pretending to have our own design firm. This project brought everything full circle in the most powerful and rewarding way. It makes me so happy.

Photo by Sara-Anne Waggoner.

BMA: Barbie has been around for 60 years now, but this is definitely a modern interpretation of a dream house. Why was it important to make it so?

KTB: Well, the Barbie Dreamhouse has been through a lot of iterations. It’s always been a product marketed primarily to females, so in designing this dream house we wanted to create a space that’s not just meant to spark the interest of females, but that was actually created by females. One hundred percent of the design elements in this space were created by women designers from women owned businesses. Design culture is awesome because most of the time the work is allowed to speak for itself. This really minimizes opportunities for sexism to creep in. We love being a part of this world because there are so many women who are seen as total titans, just idols. We thought what better way to build a dream house than to bring in the work of these women.

Photo by Sara-Anne Waggoner.

BMA: You worked with all women designers, makers, and business owners to furnish the dream house. Tell us about the experience of bringing all of these talents into one space.

KTB: Oh my gosh, it’s been incredible. We basically started the design process by making a list of all our favorite designers and then began reaching out to them. We explained that we were doing a modern take of a Barbie dream house and we wanted it to be 100% women designed, and it was really fun to see who the project struck a chord with and who came on board. There is some incredible work in this exhibition. To me, these pieces of design work are a literal representation of these designers’ dreams – their ideas and hard work – coming true.

BMA: What can people expect when they walk through the dream house?

KTB: Well, first of all there is a lot going on. There are seven different scenes or spaces from Barbie’s life. We have a dining room, living room, dressing room, library, and sunroom, plus a really incredible piece located outside the gallery that is totally mind blowing. The space has been designed for visitors to interact with, sit on all the furniture, and imagine themselves as their version of Barbie.

BMA: What do you hope visitors will take away from their dream house experience?

KTB: We really hope that people experience that same jolt of imagination, empowerment, and freedom to dream that Barbie gives to so many kids. We hope they pose in the dream house and get someone to snap a picture of them looking incredibly fabulous, surrounded by the work of talented women. We hope they take that photo and look at it every day and feel inspired and empowered to follow their dreams.

Kirby Caldwell and Kate Taylor Boehm, founders of Studio BOCA. Photo by Sara-Anne Waggoner.

BMA: When you dream about a female future, what do you envision?

KTB: I want to see a world where femininity is not just something that fuels economies but that is honored on an individual basis. I want to see reproductive freedom in the sense that we as a culture honor the fact that women, beyond a shadow of a doubt, know what is best for the creation of future generations. I want that more than anything. Too, as a working mother, I was so lucky to have my own business and be able to say hey, I’m bringing my tiny baby to work, to a meeting, to site visits. I’ve breastfed in so many offices I can’t even tell you. All my clients have watched my kids grow up. I want to make a bumper sticker that says ‘A baby in every meeting.’ But I want that freedom and confidence for everyone. I really hope that workplaces become more flexible so that the world doesn’t miss out on the contributions of mothers. I also hope that the pressure for every woman to have kids lifts, too. I am so grateful for the women in my life who don’t have kids. I could go on and on, but I think the primary qualities I want to see more of are space and respect. A female future is one where every woman is given the space and respect to plan her own life, her own schedule, her own appearance, and her own contribution, and then the culture can just sit back and watch the beauty and progress unfold.