Meet The Women Who Live In Real-Life Disney Houses

There are roughly 50 Mickey Mouses dotted around 34-year-old Cristie Anne’s Florida home. One is burned into the wood of a bunk bed, another is wrought in the railings at the top of the stairs. You’d be forgiven for mistaking one for a scratch on the floor but yet another is plain as day: Mickey’s head and ears made up of painted bubbles on the bathroom wall. 
For over half a century, Disney has snuck these so-called 'hidden Mickeys' around its theme parks – embossed on paving stones, woven into carpets, hammered onto drains – and incorporated them into their animated films. Now social media reveals that people are decorating their living spaces with a multitude of Mickeys, hidden or not. Cristie is far from the only person to bring the mouse into their house. 
On TikTok, the hashtag #disneyhouse currently has over 149 million views. Here, you can see everything from handles shaped like the talking doorknob in Alice In Wonderland to princess beds to Aladdin rugs to doors decal-ed to look like Boo’s from Monsters, Inc. In recent years, much has been made of 'Disney adults' – often childless millennials with an all-consuming love of Walt’s wares. Disney adults subtly dress like Disney characters, they holiday in the parks multiple times a year and they fill their homes with Disney décor. 
In Australia, Disney homeware is somewhat limited, and available mainly through the official Disney shop (though you could buy a Mickey alarm clock from Harvey Norman, or a Disney candle from David Jones). Should you desire it, everything in your house could be Disney (though you might have to pay exorbitant shipping costs), from the plates you eat off to the towels you dry yourself with to the cushions you rest on at the end of the day. If you don’t desire it, know that there are plenty of others who do. What compels people to Disney-ify their personal and private spaces? What do 'Disney homes' reveal about us? 
Photo courtesy of Cristie Anne
There are more than just hidden Mickeys in Cristie’s Disney-themed home. The full-time content creator and mum of one also designed a Bambi bedroom featuring fake foliage, Bambi cushions and framed Bambi art. There’s a quote from Beauty and the Beast above Cristie’s own bed but perhaps the most unique detail in the house is the spiral staircase leading to the third floor. Here, silhouettes of Mrs Potts (the teapot), Cogsworth (the clock) and Lumiere (the candlestick) are cut from metal and entwined with leaves and roses in the railing. "It is the most magical piece in the home," Cristie says. 
Cristie’s home is part of Disney’s Golden Oak – a decade-old residential community full of multimillion-dollar houses. While Disney has created similar communities before (the town of Celebration in Florida was developed by the company in the 1990s), Golden Oak is the first that sits within the Disney World Resort. These homes are so close to the Magic Kingdom that residents can watch the park’s nightly firework show through their windows. When they shop in the parks, a courier delivers their purchases to Golden Oak for no additional charge. 
Golden Oak has just under 300 homes but Cristie doesn’t live in her Disney house all year round. The five-bedroom property is a family vacation home used by her parents, herself, her husband and her daughter, as well as her brother and his child. As a holiday home, the Disney property perhaps makes more sense: it’s an extension of a trip to Disney World, a way to keep the Disney magic alive after a day in the parks. However, in Cristie’s main home – four hours away in Miami – Mickey is still present. "We have toys, cookware, etc.," she explains. "There’s definitely a lot of Disney." Still, overall, she says she prefers "subtle touches" when it comes to Disney décor. 
'Subtle' is not a word many people would use to describe Kelsey Hermanson’s home. In August 2020, videos and photos of Kelsey’s home went viral, and it’s not hard to see why. 
Every room has a theme: there’s a Little Mermaid bathroom, a Cinderella master bedroom, a Tangled entry room, a Beauty and the Beast dining room, a Lilo and Stitch living room and an Aladdin bathroom complete with a magic lamp-shaped tap. Speaking to BuzzFeed, Kelsey said: "I love all the magical details that the imagineers [Disney designers] create at Disneyland, and we have tried to re-create our own magic in our home." 
'Magic' is a word that many Disney homeowners use to describe their homes. I put to Cristie that some people might find it unusual to have what is essentially a corporation plastered all around their house. "To each their own," she says. "Disney is more than a corporation. Disney is magical and it brings happiness." 
How exactly did Disney come to be "more than a corporation"? Janet Wasko is a media professor at the University of Oregon and author of Understanding Disney: The Manufacture of Fantasy. She says that contrary to popular belief, 'Disney adults' are nothing new (it’s likely they’re just more visible now thanks to social media). 
"Historically, Disney cartoons and feature films were popular with adults as well as children," Wasko explains, adding that the theme parks were designed to appeal to all ages (with adult workshops, dining options and, later, alcohol). Naturally, many adults love Disney because of their fond childhood memories of "stories, characters, values and ideals". "But," Wasko notes, "this is not accidental." 
"The company has deliberately and consistently emphasised the theme of 'memories' in promotional appeals, as well as through specific products," she explains (people are currently trying to sell an official collection of 90th anniversary teddies called 'Mickey Mouse Memories' for up to $950 on eBay). Wasko adds that an emphasis on "the child in everyone" and "family values" has attracted adult consumers. 
"Meanwhile, Disney has developed as almost sacred in the lives of many Americans, as well as fans around the world, and often is not viewed as just another corporation," she says. Disney homeowners don’t see their décor as "a corporate takeover of their homes or their lives but a way of being identified as a fun-loving, youthful, lively individual." 
If Disney symbolises fun, then Mickey symbolises Disney. Mickey décor is intriguing because as a character, the mouse has never seemed as popular as the princesses. Cristie admits that hidden Mickeys aren’t necessarily about Mickey himself, saying: "For me, Mickey represents the Disney magic." Wasko concurs. "Mickey has evolved to mean something far beyond the role that an animated mouse plays in cartoons produced by the Walt Disney company." He is "an immediately recognisable, and possibly the most widely recognised, cultural icon in the world." 
Photo courtesy of Devon Jagger
Photo courtesy of Devon Jagger
No wonder, then, that you can buy a Mickey kettle, Mickey tea towels, a Mickey spoon rest, a Mickey colander and a Mickey Instant Pot. No wonder that 30-year-old Devon Jagger from Colorado has. Devon has all of the above in her Disney kitchen, alongside Ratatouille artwork, a mounted frying pan that’s a nod to Tangled, and a soap dispenser that produces soap in the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head. 
"It definitely always gives me Disney magic, especially after I clean it really well and then it comes out perfectly, that gives me so much joy," says Devon of the dispenser. "I love being reminded of the magic whenever I reach for something in my house." Elsewhere in her home, Devon has framed Disney postcards, popcorn buckets from the parks, and Disney backpacks and pins on display. She estimates that she’s spent "at least a couple thousand" dollars on her collection. 
Are there downsides to Disney-ification? Cristie and Devon both deal well with online hate – Cristie ignores negative messages and Devon notes that everyone should be able to enjoy their passions without judgement: "I like what I like and that’s not affecting anybody." One concern for Devon, however, is how potential partners will react to her home. "It’s definitely a little bit harder to tell people that you’re obsessed with Disney… It’s definitely a little bit nerve-wracking to tell them the level you’re on," she says.
This isn’t a problem faced by 33-year-old content creator Angie Bellemare, who also has a vacation home in Disney’s Golden Oak. "Contrary to popular belief, [my husband] was actually the one who encouraged my love and passion for Disney, not the other way around," Angie explains. As the couple purchased the home before it was constructed, they were able to customise the plans and choose the finishing touches. There is a Mickey-shaped topiary by Angie’s pool, hidden Mickeys on her shower floor and a giant etched Mickey on her husband’s glass office door.
"We fell in love with the idea of being residents of this Disney owned and operated neighbourhood," says Angie of the decision to purchase the property. Perhaps the most interesting feature in Angie’s home is a scent machine just like those used in Disney parks – it pumps out the same green clover and aloe smell as Disney’s Yacht Club hotel. "I create a strong association with smells and experiences. The scent machine just makes me feel like I’m walking through the Yacht Club lobby," Angie explains. 
Angie doesn’t think Disney homes are all that unusual. "Much like people have an affinity for branded goods –  say Lululemon, Apple or Rae Dunn – I have an affinity for Disney branded homeware," she says. Asked about having a corporation take over her home, she says that assumption is "the equivalent of saying music is merely a bunch of noises strung together. There’s so much more to it than that. I love Disney World and I admire Disney as a company’s commitment to excellence." 
Disney homes – whether on Disney property or lovingly DIYed elsewhere – are not going to disappear any time soon. Wasko says we’re currently living in the era of the Disney multiverse – the company is not only continually expanding its product offerings, it has also bought companies such as Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Fox. The Disney multiverse contains everything from movies to books to parks to theatrical shows. It just so happens to contain people’s homes, too.
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Living