Tiny Tales on Lexington: It’s a Doll’s Life

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

the street.

“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

dollars.

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

apartment.

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

like that.

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

for it.”

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

said.

“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

pool house.

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

house.”

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.