On a quiet block on the Upper East Side, there are elaborate houses and grandiose rooms. However, these stately dwellings are not townhouses, but instead the kind that live inside them, filled with miniature plates, plants, and pets. If you haven’t guessed, we’re talking about dollhouses, and they can be found at Tiny Doll House, a store devoted to dollhouses and all things miniature.
For almost 25 years, Leslie Edelman has owned and run the store. With a background in interior design for full-scale homes and humans, he has miniaturized his skill set and passion at Tiny Doll House, where New Yorkers of all ages can fulfill their architecture and interior design fantasies for much less than the price of a Park Avenue townhouse.
6sqft recently spoke with Leslie to learn more about his store, and the care and attention to detail New Yorkers bring to their dollhouses.
How did you become interested in dollhouses and miniatures?
Leslie: When one of my nieces was born, on a whim, I decided to build a dollhouse for her. It just became a hobby of mine, and then the hobby became my business.
Why did you decide to work in this industry?
Leslie: I fell in love with it. I’m fascinated and intrigued by its many different aspects and the fact that people are that creative and talented to actually reproduce miniatures in such detail.
You have a background in interior design. Was this a natural transition for you?
Leslie: Absolutely, but it’s a lot easier to move these sofas and chairs than the full-scale ones. The elements of design are pretty much the same. There is scale, proportion, balance, and so forth. People can enjoy this because they can attain a room or a look that they can’t have in full size.
Do you find that there are endless design possibilities with dollhouses?
Leslie: The good majority of the houses themselves tend to be more traditional and Victorian in design and style. I have seen people do absolutely everything from ultra contemporary to pure period and every fantasy in between.
Do New Yorkers take decorating their dollhouses as seriously as their homes?
Leslie: Some do. On two particular occasions, I have had a customer come in with their interior designer to select wallpapers and floor coverings for the dollhouse they were ordering. I’ve also had customers who were trying to reproduce their own homes in miniature, bringing in their full-scale wall coverings to see what we had that would resemble it. Customers will bring in a picture of their own dining room or living room, for example, and look for the same table or wing chair that they have in their real house.
Are there individuals who just collect miniatures?
Leslie: Yes, we have customers who put them into a vitrine, display cabinet, or vignette. In Manhattan, not everyone has room for a dollhouse.
Do designers working on models come to the store for items?
Leslie: We work with interior designers, architects, set designers, and pretty much the whole gamut of people who have to visually show something. Television shows and stop motion films have used our items as props. Very often they will send me a photograph or a link to see what they have done. It’s fun. I’m always fascinated by what they do.
Why do you think the store is a fit on the Upper East Side?
Leslie: I think the shop represents a family-oriented type of business, and the Upper East Side is very family-oriented with lots of young families and schools. It’s a good fit.
When customers wander in off the street, what are their reactions?
Leslie: They say, “Wow. I can’t believe this. This is amazing.”
Do you design any of the dollhouses in the store?
Leslie: I’ll work on the design of some of the houses. I have commissioned certain miniatures. I have artisans if I have a thought or idea. The sofa this customer is purchasing, I had it commissioned. It was influenced by Ralph Lauren’s collection.
How do you select the store’s inventory?
Leslie: I go on a lot of what I personally love. The majority of what you see is my taste. I also try to think of what a child would like.
What is the smallest object you sell?
Leslie: We have little fruits, broken eggs, and mice. These are pretty tiny.
Do you receive interesting customer requests?
Leslie: We have heard it all. I have had customers who come in requesting everything from teeny-weeny garlic presses to caskets and everything in between.
When it comes to dollhouses and miniatures, what do people find surprising?
Leslie: People will wonder why it’s so expensive when you can buy the big one for less. They don’t understand that it’s sometimes more difficult to make the item in miniature than in full size.
How extensive is your personal collection?
Leslie: It’s pretty extensive. Like everybody else, I don’t have a lot of space in Manhattan. I have one majorly large dollhouse and then I have another large structure, which is sort of a conservatory.
Why do you think people of all ages are passionate about dollhouses and miniatures?
Leslie: There is a wonder to things that are small. People are attracted to them. There is also the recognition of a large item and then there is the same thing you have owned and it’s this big. To me, it’s fascinating.
I always find that everyone that walks in here smiles. It’s a very friendly, fun type of a thing. Our clientele goes from 2-92. It’s not just for children. It’s a happy environment and that’s why I love it.
Tiny Doll House
314 East 78th Street
New York, NY 10075
[This interview has been edited]
Images by Tiny Doll House and 6sqft
Neighborhoods : Upper East Side