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Las Vegas Miniature Enthusiasts

Black and white drawing of a dollhouse.
Las Vegas Miniature Club Articles

Monday, May 21, 2001 | 9:22 a.m., Las Vegas Sun Archives

Welcome to the dollhouse: Locals relish painstaking details of tiny abodes

Looking through the windows of the three-story Victorian home Charlotte Burr is restoring, you can almost imagine the voices that may have filled its now-silent hallways, stairways and rooms.

Its wallpaper is yellowing. Dust covers the wooden slats of the attic floor where an old photo album lies. A musty smell marks the decades that have passed.

Built in the 1940s by a husband-and-wife team, the house's nooks and crannies are hard to find in the homes of Las Vegas' master-planned communities.

"I kind of picture it on the ocean with a view," Burr said of the 12-room antique dollhouse sitting in her living room.

Burr, a local antique collector and dealer, bought the East Coast-style doll home (that has nearly 50 working windows and doors) from a friend, and put it on the market for $8,500-$9,000 before she decided to further restore it.

Like many custom-designed dollhouses, its detail is flawless.

Ornate white-lattice railings stretch across its front porch and balcony. A patio made of mortar and bricks surrounds its base, and detailed flooring (parquetry and terra cotta) fill its rooms.

Its cement basement comes with a wine rack, coal furnace and jarred goods on back shelves that haven't been touched for decades.

"Depending how they worked on it, it could have taken them years (to build it)," Burr said of the couple that she knows little about. "Somebody who made it with love and care would be thinking of these details."

Which is what it all comes down to when recreating the world in miniature -- details.

There is detailed wallpaper, tiling, cupboards with working hinges, furniture with working casters, miniature china and desks with writing paper inside. There are rooms that are exact replicas of larger rooms, and professional artisans handcraft expensive furniture to fill them.

And the houses are getting "grander and grander," said Candice St. Jacques, editor of Dollhouse Miniatures magazine, which has a readership of 40,000. "The structures are a work of art themselves."

Life is a dream

For some, creating a miniature house is their life's work, a fantasy world they delve into in order to escape the stress of everyday life.

For others, its about re-creating memorable scenes, such as their grandmother's house or the house they grew up in. Many are building their dream home -- a smaller version of a house they could never afford.

Local collector Mark Carter has put $25,000 into building and furnishing his seven-room Queen Anne-style home.

He bought the house as a kit from Michaels Arts and Crafts store 12 years ago and has since worked on it continually.

"I've remodeled it four times ... and I'm not stopping there," Carter said. "I'd love a (real) Victorian (home). But I can't afford one of that size."

So his remodeling, decorating and weekly cleaning take place in 48-inch-tall, 36-inch-wide reconstruction of the real thing.

The house is filled with antiques, marble and parquet flooring and themed rooms, including a "Gone With the Wind"-style dining room, complete with sterling-silver place settings, oriental and Victorian rooms and "Grandma's kitchen."

Its full-sized attic is "full of junk," he said. "Christmas decorations, everything."

Carter said the upkeep for the home can be just as demanding as the housework for his Las Vegas Valley town home. But the impeccably clean, richly designed house is a source of pride.

"When you know somebody is coming over you don't clean your (real) house, you clean your dollhouses."

Miniature sprawl

Carter is not alone in his fanciful hobby.

As a member of the Las Vegas Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, he belongs to a subculture of hobbyists who build, design, wheel, deal and trade in miniatures.

The club meets monthly at a local community center and has an active membership of 20 miniaturists, which is small compared to other areas where there are four or five clubs (including California and Arizona), Carter said. Local club members travel to shows throughout the country purchasing furniture for their homes, perusing eBay and other Internet sources to find the exact slice of nostalgia they need to accent their miniature houses.

The hobby has become a miniature industry.

"People pay several hundred to several thousands of dollars for a well-crafted, well-made piece of furniture," said Susan Sheridan, vice president and co-founder of the Las Vegas Miniature Enthusiasts. "It fascinates people that you can get so much detail in (miniature items)."

Sheridan has been collecting miniatures for more than 30 years and has three dollhouses, including one that her uncle made for her when she was 5, a house that she "scratch built" and a Christmas home.

Because of the space the houses demand, Sheridan has had to resort to creating room boxes (small enclosed recreations of rooms). She has so many that they're stacked up all over her house. She's gone so far as to create room boxes for her dollhouses.

"It's just like a little moment of time," she said referring to the room boxes.

"It's like a fever," said Dominique Lockwood, a miniaturist who casts her own miniature porcelain figurines.

"Once you get the bug, anything you see can be turned into miniatures for a dollhouse. Everything becomes a potential miniature. Earrings become pieces of chandeliers. Nothing goes to waste in the miniature world.

And, she added, "You look at everything from a different perspective. It's never-ending.

"Everyone who is into it collects. Those that collect, build also. If you can't find it, people will create it for you."

"Here in Las Vegas we're in a slump. There's no miniature store. A lot of us have had to go online."

Members of Las Vegas Miniature Enthusiasts build and trade among themselves. Members also have their own areas of expertise. One woman stitches miniature area rugs. Another creates 1-inch scale leather suitcases.

Local artisan Adrian Gray creates replica antique furniture pieces and kits that members can use to build their own French writing desks, chest of drawers and Victorian chairs. (Incidentally, Lockwood is creating a miniature recreation of Gray in his workshop creating his miniatures.)

The group also has members who are 1/2-inch scale modelers and 1/44 inch scale modelers, Lockwood said. Creating smaller-scale miniatures is a growing hobby, she said. The group even has a member they refer to as "queen everything's quarter-scale," she said.

"But most of our people are 1-inch scalers, do or die."

Home store

Dansey's Indoor R/C & Hobbies on North Nellis Boulevard is one of the few local stores that sells 1-inch scale furniture, lumber and dollhouse kits.

It's a one-stop shop for a beginner or anyone who is remodeling or redecorating a dollhouse.

"This is your lumberyard," said store owner Judy Lugo, pointing to shelves holding stacks of miniature lumber. "Here's your sidings, your trim."

Turning around, she points to kits for building entire homes.

"There're log cabins, Cape Cod (-style) houses, Victorian houses, seasonal houses," she said.

The market for miniatures is varied, she said. Some people will buy a kit and customize it. Some will build from scratch using blueprints.

"You have kids all the way to women who are building their dream house. We have a large base of men who come in because it's 'building.' We have quite a few architects," Lugo said.

"It's the house they may never live in. This way they can decorate it anyway they want. Anything you can put in your house you can put in your dollhouse."

House accessories include furniture sets, bricks (and mortar mix), wallpaper selections, toiletries, pianos that can be played and lighted fish aquariums. Picket fences, doors and staircases can also be purchased.

Others decorate their houses for the holidays, putting up Christmas trees, Halloween decorations and Thanksgiving meals on silver serving sets.

Lugo said she sees upward of 50 people who stroll into her store each week, many of whom are husband and wife.

"Saturday mornings they get up, have their coffee -- this is their mission for the day," Lugo said.

And as though they are making decisions about their real home, "They'll fight about the carpet here, just as they probably did in Carpet Barn."

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