This holiday season, signs that all is well with the
world-or at least that charmed swatch of it that extends from approximately
59th to 96th streets and from Fifth Avenue to Sutton Place-include the party
rental trucks that relentlessly ply Park Avenue, the armies of contractors and
construction workers sipping coffee and patiently awaiting admission each
morning to townhouses and duplexes undergoing multimillion-dollar face lifts
and (perhaps most significant of all) the fact that the Tiny Doll House store
on Lexington Avenue and 81st Street recently moved to larger quarters across
“People keep bringing their doll houses in for
electrification, wallpapering and wiring,” explained Leslie Edelman, the
store’s cordial owner.
Sales of doll houses are
not included in the federal government’s list of leading economic indicators.
But maybe they should be. The home-renovation frenzy that for the last few
years has engulfed the Upper East Side, where side streets have become
virtually impassable because of all the double- and triple-parked commercial vehicles,
is echoed in miniature at Tiny Doll House, where you can buy such trappings of
the good life as tiny Coalport cabbage-pattern serving bowls, Georgian knife
boxes, a $2,200 six-inch-high breakfront, even tiny Manolo Blahnik–like sling
backs, jacuzzis and topiary.
I first made the store’s, and Mr. Edelman’s, acquaintance a
couple of years ago, when Santa decided to bring my daughters a doll house for Christmas. Even though it was one of the
boutique’s more modest residences, after adding a veranda and furniture
we were in the hole to the American Express company for several hundred
Electrification and wallpapering still await the day when
some publisher has the perspicacity to offer me a multi-book contract. “I’m
thinking of buying the kit,” my wife told me the other day. She meant to wire
the house herself, a chore roughly equivalent to doing so in a life-size
My spouse was the motivating force behind the acquisition of
our doll house-a handsome three-story white farmhouse with green trim. I was
one of four brothers growing up. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t own a doll house,
and I wasn’t fully cognizant of its centrality to female development until my
mate informed me that, were we to deny our daughters the toy, they might suffer
from feelings of deprivation and inferiority for years to come, or something
I’m not big on Freudian
interpretation, but as a boy I was always into skyscrapers. The only thing I
ever built with my Lego bricks was the Empire State Building. I’d pile one
block on top of the next until it reached a precarious height and toppled over,
often with the help of one of my younger brothers, whom I’d beat up before
starting all over again.
I memorized the height of the world’s tallest structures.
The Empire State Building was 1,472 feet, the Chrysler Building 1,046, the
Eiffel Tower 1,051 (used to be 984) and so forth. Doll houses (how tall can a
doll house be?) never much ignited my imagination.
In fact, it came as a surprise to me to learn that our doll
house wasn’t electrified or wallpapered. I’d always assumed it was. Who can
live in a home without electricity? “I’ve been thinking about it since Santa
delivered the doll house,” my wife explained remorsefully. “I go in and look at
it and ask questions about it, and basically I’m hoping someone will volunteer
Perhaps she considers Mr. Edelman among the candidates. The
doll-store owner-who worked as an interior decorator until he purchased the
place six years ago-displays the same detached civility whether he’s dealing
with a misguided mom who has decided to serve as her own general contractor, or
the occasional European tourist who’ll sweep in and spend thousands of dollars
without breaking a sweat.
Most important of all, the merchant seems to possess almost
supernatural patience in the face of sticky-fingered children, even though he
has thus far deflected all attempts by parents to have him rent out his space
for birthday parties.
I dropped by the store
recently in search of stocking stuffers when a woman much like my wife, and
apparently working within a similar budget, accosted Mr. Edelman. “I bought a
kit a long time ago to put the lights in,” she said. “I’m scared to do it. If
you could just explain it to me.”
“I have a house we’re doing right now right downstairs,” he
“Heather, he’s going to take me downstairs,” the woman
informed the child she had in tow.
I decided to tag along to see if I could pick up a few
pointers-not that I was planning to risk electrocution by doing the job myself.
“It’s not difficult, but people are scared,” Mr. Edelman
told me as he led the way. “We try to walk them through it.”
Despite the Christmas
crowds, the real action at Tiny Doll House is in the basement. Just as in the
real world (where people who can afford to aren’t only renovating their old
apartments but also buying brownstones, gutting them, adding stories and
burrowing underground to build their squash courts), the carriage trade of the
doll-house world are having their children’s mansions custom-made, electrified,
wallpapered and furnished. Some of the structures are scale models of the
townhouses their Goldman Sachs and Salomon Brothers bonuses have allowed them
to buy in real life.
“We have customers who
have a more townhouse-like doll house in the city and one in the country that’s
more of a country house,” explained Mr. Edelman, who even does the occasional
The properties under construction below stairs included a
handmade English Tudor house complete with a first-floor antique shop (for what Mr. Edelman describes as a “mature”
collector); a handsome replica of an actual Connecticut country day
school with a circle-light window and a cupola that an involved parent is
presenting to the institution; and a majestic five-story, 15-room Georgian townhouse
for an investment banker who, Mr. Edelman said, recently moved into a similar
one himself. (Furnished, it will cost around $9,000.)
A private elevator is one of the quiet thrills of brownstone
ownership, but curiously, Mr. Edelman says he’s never been enlisted to install
one in a doll house. “I was asked about running water,” he reported. “I advised
against it. When the children let the water run, you’d have a sopping wet doll
But back to our tutorial
on electrification: “You start at the bottom and end up at the top,” the store
owner told us. “We use the doorways to go from room to room and the stairwell
opening to go from floor to floor.”
Meanwhile, Heather had meandered into the adjoining room, as
kids will do, and was starting to play house with a sprawling beachfront
Hamptons estate. “Sweetheart, don’t touch that please,” Mr. Edelman said,
firmly but not unpleasantly. Heather desisted.
“This will take me days,” the mother moaned.
I’ve already decided to throw in the towel and have Tiny Doll
House do the job-my mounting credit-card debt be damned.
As it turned out, on
this trip I made only one purchase-a Lilliputian $2.50 toilet plunger. I like
the way it looks on top of the toilet in our bathroom, but my wife keeps
stealing it and putting it in the doll house.