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  1. Hi All, Travelling all the way to Germany next week for work. I have one free day while I'm there and would like to hit a mini shop or two if anyone knows of any in Stuttgart or Frankfurt? I know it's a long shot, but there really aren't any shops where I live in Australia so I have to take any opportunity as it arises!
  2. Railroaded

    We returned from Europe with a new vice: vintage modern plastic HO-scale houses. The model railroaders who hang out on the Greenleaf forum will have a good laugh at me this time... although I had trains when I was a mid-sized child, I know nothing about this scale. Earlier in the spring, I'd impulsively bought the Plasticville contemporary house and a swimming pool at Bruce's Train Shop so that my plastic wedding party from Half Moon Bay could have somewhere to get married. This was supposed to be my Only HO Building. You can almost hear the ring of "famous last words," can't you? Here's what happened at Ingrid's Second Hand in Vienna... and at a second-hand shop on the Via del Ponto Sospeso in Florence. The house in the first two photos and the garden shed are from the German manufacturer Faller, which is probably better known for models of quaint European buildings. The garden shed really belongs in a community garden plot away from the houses. The twin houses are unmarked, though an afternoon's digging suggests Pola as the most likely manufacturer, simply because the company was in business in the 1960s and their products were widely distributed, sometimes boxed for other companies such as Jouef or Playcraft, making it advantageous not to mark the buildings. The orange Italian house was made by Lima, a once-major brand that may (or may not) be revived by Hornby. Although the streetcar -- a necessity for a European suburb -- advertises Viennese mega-brand Manner, it is made by German toy company Siku. It's new, thanks to a toy shop in a far suburb of Vienna that plied us with champagne for some reason we lacked the German to grasp. We had less trouble grasping the champagne flutes and the toys. One piece I fervently wanted but could not find on this trip was a suburban rail platform (no station, just a platform with a doner kebab stand). So when a vintage Pola kit showed up on eBay, I promptly bought it and will count the days until it arrives. (No Pola link, as its HO and N scale lines are now part of Faller.) And then the husband said it was a good idea to order a set of four Smart Cars... from Germany. Okay. At least it'll be an ecologically sound community. Although I never intend to run actual trains, I have to add this link to the site of a man who's building his own realistic fictional Austrian small town. I am hoping that if I stare at it long enough, I will not start buying HO scale OBB engines.
  3. Fluttering around Florence

    On our last trip to Italy in 1998, we had accumulated a number of sort-of-dollhouse-sized tchotchkes at rest stops along the Autostrade, so I was looking forward to exciting finds on our visit to Florence and Milan. No such luck. These are better cities for visuals than for loot. Important vocabulary --Case della bambolini: dollhouses --Modellisti ferroviari: model railroads --Giocattoli: toys Shopping Though we wandered all of central Florence, plus beyond the city walls into the wilds of San Frediano, we found little in the way of miniatures. The city's big toy store on Via Cavour, Dreoni Giocattoli, carries no dollhouse miniatures, and their model railroading buildings are imported from Germany. On our last afternoon, following lunch on the Piazza della Signoria, we wandered into a toy-ish gift shop on Via Calimaruzza, but the Reutter Porzellan was double the price it had been in Vienna, and the model cars were not my scale. Florence seems to simply be too tourist-focused to be a good source of miniatures, though every now and again you may stumble over something small in a shop -- and if you want marblized paper or postcards of architectural drawings, it's hog heaven. The parts of Milan that we visited -- largely the area around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, as it was Saturday night and Sunday -- were devoid of miniatures, alas. What gives with Italian miniatures, you ask? We did some research before getting to Florence and discovered that dollhouse shops seem to end up in the smaller cities like Bologna or Cretona. My sense from browsing a few Web sites was that there isn't an indigenous dollhouse industry. Stock seemed to be familliar U.S. brands, the UK's Dolls House Emporium, and Spain's Artesania Latina. I'm shameless about buying Artesania Latina when I come across it, but use caution: some of their items are identical to Town Square. Visuals in Florence Florence is another city where just wandering around is entertainment in itself, and of course there are so many historic churches and major museums that you will not run out of things to see. Should you have a model church that you want to decorate, I'd stock up on postcards of frescos and have some fun. For historic interior design overload, there are two Museum Must-Sees. One is the Palazzo Pitti, where you want to see the Royal Apartments of de Medici family. These go for Baroque in a big way. Should you try to reproduce the look with plaster of Paris and cake-decorating columns, be prepared to clean out the supply of gold leaf at your local craft store. Order your gilding wholesale: it's the de Medici way. The Palazzo Vecchio captures the de Medici style in an earlier, though hardly more restrained, mood. This is more a fresco experience than a furniture experience, though no Italian museum is complete without a couple of marble inlaid tables. As you stagger to the end of the tour, you can be routed through a little museum of the city of Florence that shows much plainer rooms, also with some furniture. You will think you want to go to the Museo Davanzati, which purports to show how people really lived, but it has been closed for restoration since 1995. Anyone who has ever fixed up an old house will be panting to know the story behind these delays. Visuals in Milan Unlike the typical Italian tourist city, Milan contains a lot of modernist architecture, all of it covered in graffiti. If you take the bus from the airport to a more central area of the city, you will be startled by how every quaint neighborhood square and historic building is covered with spray paint. The Axis of Eye Candy is defined by the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and the Milan Duomo at one end and the Castello Sforzesco at the other. It is vital to the Milan experience that you explore this area twice: once in daylight, when things are open, and once at twilight, for the atmosphere. Fortunately, the area is small, and Milan also has generous public transportation, including both orange streetcars and an efficient subway system. The Castello includes a collection of antique furniture that, while not huge, is interesting. And it's a castle, which is hard to argue with. While I think I've given the right link, the castle's brochures about its collections are confusing. If you wander pretty much the entire place, you'll see everything you could want to see and a few things you don't, and that kills a Sunday afternoon when nothing else is open anyway. You will want gelato after this exertion, so fortunately there's a lot of it on the piazzas outside the castello. We went to a heavily tourist-visited gelato cafe nearby and did not regret it, so that we got to sit down while consuming our mega-whompus parfaits. The Galleria is the most beautiful shopping mall in the world, and if you say otherwise, them's fightin' words. It is surrounded by buildings in various stages of oldness, so you should definitely wander generously. The Galleria itself runs to Italian designer clothing at full price (not my style of shopping), but if you walk all the way to the back (the side nearer La Scala), there is a restaurant called Il Salotto that serves extraordinarily exciting Lombardy cooking at a price that, while not super-cheap, is lower than what's charged by the restaurants nearer the front end, the ones catching the tourists who couldn't stagger another step without sustenance. Our first meal there was fabulous, and our second was the best we had in Italy and rivaled the drop-dead marvelous meal from Paris a couple years ago. Emerge from the Galleria, well-fed, at sunset so you can stroll around the piazza, then follow the street that runs from the Galleria to the Castello. Walk slowly. You won't regret it.
  4. The Siege of Vienna

    To plan our next trip, I'm thinking of designing my own color-coded map. There would be a color for countries known to have great art, a color for countries known to have great food, and a color for countries known to have great access to dollhouse miniatures or compatible items. By that logic, we might never get further than France, but... for people determined to frustrate themselves by trying to find dollhouses in, say, Vienna, here is my first installment of our European adventure. Important vocabulary --Puppenhaus (pl. puppenhausen): dollhouse --Modellbahn: model railroad --Modellbau: model building supplies in general --Spielwaren: toy store --Kunst: art, sometimes used in the name of craft stores --Papier: paper, sometimes an indication that the store also sells craft supplies Shopping So far as we can determine, there is no bricks-and-mortar dollhouse shop in the entire country of Austria. Given the local obsessions with Mozart, Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), and the Baroque, there would seem to be unexploited opportunities here for roomboxes of palace interiors. Reutter Porzellan (made in Germany) is widely sold at gift shops, typically at prices 50% lower than it can be found in the United States. Unless you desperately need a 1:12 commemorative plate of Sisi, don't hit the higher-priced souvenir shops between the Hofburg and Spanish Riding School until you've been to a little shop in the MuseumsQuartier at the corner of Mariahilferstrasse and Konigskloster gasse. (If I could find a name, I would, but we seem to have paid cash.) The selection is the best we saw in Vienna, and small dish sets were running about 4 Euros cheaper than in the palace-area gift shops. Paper stores that sell craft supplies can be widely found outside the downtown ring. We stayed in the Neubau district and found tons of shops just by wandering around, interspersed with hopping on a streetcar and hopping off whenever a store looked interesting. Also thick upon the ground in this area are model railroad shops. It's very easy to drop a euro here and a euro there, here a euro, there a euro, everywhere a euro. Less exciting for minis are the public markets, where dollar-store furniture tends to show up at a shocking 9 Euros (though the weekend flea market at the bottom of the Naschmarkt gives a great view of Otto Wagner's famed Majolica House). A special caution for anyone without a very accurate eye for scale: historic Austrian dollhouse furniture was typically not 1:12, but something along the lines of 1:10 or even 1:8. The larger scale is great if you have Vogue Ginnys looking for housewares, but it won't work in your Greenleaf house. Visuals Vienna is visually overwhelming. It and I initially got off on the wrong foot because the husband said it was just like Paris, which is like saying that Chicago is just like New York. Other than being a European capital where there was extensive building in the last half of the 19th century, Vienna is nothing like Paris but is perfectly charming on its own. There are palaces, of course (not all of which we visited, due to crowds), and the area defined by Spittalberg, Neubau, Mariahilfer, and Karlsplatz is small enough that you can wander it on foot over the course of a couple days. Vienna also has an outstanding mass transit system. Buy the unlimited-ride pass for however many days you intend to stay, so you can get on and off the streetcars at will. This allows you to explore more distant neighborhoods, to get to Schoenbrunn cheaply and comfortably, and to just ride around the Ringstrasse if you want mindless exposure to eye candy. Hint: if you want to explore, hit the suburbs before mid-afternoon. The Viennese use their mass transit, and during peak hours, it's almost impossible to get a seat if you're reasonably young and healthy but have very, very tired feet. A Museum Must-See is the Imperial Furniture Collection. This museum of furniture discarded by generations of emperors is huge, well-curated, and includes seemingly miles of period rooms. There is an excellent guide -- in English -- sold at the gift counter. Although I am the person whom antique dealers see as Most Likely to Open a Home for Wayward Chairs, I staggered out of the building certain that I had finally seen enough chairs to hold me for a bit. (There are toy shops within a reasonable walk, as well as an excellent Chinese restaurant next door.) Interesting, but less drop-dead thrilling for the chair enthusiast, is the Museum of Applied Arts. Its highlights are the Thonet chair collection, the modernist architectural models, the Frankfurt kitchen, and the Porcelain Room from a palace in Brno. My beef with this museum is partly that it's relatively small and partly that the curator clearly has an agenda of showing continuity from the earliest Austrian design to the Wiener Werkstatt, whether such continuity exists or not. Visit this museum alone, and you'd never know that the neo-Baroque had been declared the Austrian national style. (Visit the incredible Kunsthistoriches Museum, and you'll have no doubt about this claim.) When you go, think twice about eating at the touristy cafes along the Ring -- about a block up Wollzeile on the left, we found a little place frequented by businesspeople (look for a glass display of pastries) that had pleasant Viennese food at an affordable price. While the Puppen und Spielzug Museum is mostly devoted to dolls, it contains an entertaining historic dollhouse (scale is about 1:10) surrounded by a roomful of historic roomboxes. This is a very small museum, so don't plan to spend the day. Naturally, you must have pastries and coffee at a traditional-style Viennese coffee house. My pick is Cafe Mozart, not so much because Harry Lime ordered a lemon soda there in The Third Man as for the pink-and-chocolate decor. If it gets me to like pink, it must be good. Finally, if you leave the city from the Sudbahnhof rail station, leave some time to visit the nearby Museum of Military History, where the fabulous displays include artisanal dolls dressed in uniforms (and the gift shop sells postcards of same posed against backgrounds -- they are a hoot and I bought far too many). And let's not forget the ship models, particularly the 1:24 battleship.
  5. Oh, Canada! and more...

    First, a confession: our tour of Ontario dollhouse shops is far from complete, due to dicey maps, Boxing Week closures, and general confusion. So what's here is an example to tempt you into visiting Toronto, not anything near a complete catalog of what you might find.TorontoThe major, must-do stop is The Little Dollhouse Company, located in the sort of cute neighborhood where you may as well just pay for maximum parking time and wander around. This is not so much a shop as an event. They carry the familiar major brands of houses (yes, I saw a Beacon Hill looming in the distance) as well as selling their own line of houses. The stock includes "affordable" brands of furniture and accessories -- which I appreciate because that's what I can afford most of the time! -- but the really outstanding strength is the range of artisanal pieces, starting at some surprisingly modest price points.How do you not fall in love with Don Henry's silver? "$84 for a butter dish?" you exclaim. (Actually, about $75 in US dollars.) Yes... but the butter dish has four parts, just like the real one it's modeled on, and every part is delicately to scale. These aren't toys: these are reality, reworked in 1:12. Do you prefer highly accurate glassware? Food? Kitchen packages? Handbags? Pets? It's all there -- and this is your best source for Canadian artisans. Alas, the shop's Web site doesn't show the gorgeous Chinese-style furniture that just about made me regret having multiple "affordable" dollhouses instead of one perfect no-expense-spared house. We also visited Martin House Dolls, which puts their dollhouse selection in the midst of collectible dolls and bears. They get some of the English front-opening houses, and the husband swears he spotted some Bespaq pieces that he hasn't seen elsewhere. The bulk of the stock runs high-end: I recognized a few gorgeous imported kitchens that I can't afford, ever, along with finding some new out-of-reach goodies.My delightful little find was Tin Taj (913 Queen St. W.), which is essentially a gift store but stocks an unpredictable array of dollhouse-sized items. We bought a little white wire wicker and a clay flower pot.Western New York"Whoa!" you say. "Western New York is not in Ontario!" No, it's not -- but the husband's relatives are in Rochester, and it was Christmas. See a connection?Kookla's Miniature World in Pittsford is the shop for bringing husbands. The miniatures include an outstanding selection of furniture and accessories for the den, the workshop, the pool hall, the fishing shack, and other stereotypically guy-oriented places. How often do you see a choice of taxidermed animal heads to stick on the wall? Or six different ship models?Ironically, given all the testosterone in the air, what initially opened our wallets was a selection of mini shopping bags from famous stores, some defunct, some not. No San Franciscan could possibly resist a Gump's bag.Working westward across the Rochester metro, Dan's Crafts & Things caches some out-of-production Greenleaf and Corona kits. This is an old-style hobby shop, where there are also trains, planes, and automobiles (as well as floral supply), and the craft stock isn't as trend-driven as at Michael's or Joann... but I liked it. Furniture selection was perfunctory, so this is more a supply location than a full-service dollhouse shop.Now, if you really want to dig, Main Street Doll Emporium is like nothing on earth. Sticking out from shelves of just... stuff... endless stuff... are built Greenleaf houses in need of some renovation, including some long-defunct models. This is the place to look for furniture and accessories that were discontinued 20 years ago. There's new stuff, too... well, there's just a lot of stuff. Wear old clothes and sturdy shoes. If you don't think you can slither down narrow aisles, bring an agile, cooperative, mid-sized child.
  6. Nobody Walks in L.A.

    It occurs to me that I haven't recorded our trip to the Los Angeles basin about a year ago. Let's see if memory serves me, or if it runs screaming into the night, leaving me completely confused.First off, there are a lot of shops down there. They're spread all over. Many close at 5 p.m., and quite a few are closed Sunday, Monday, or Tuesday. So if you intend to do anything other than go to dollhouse shops, you probably won't be able to hit all of them. I'm sure we skipped Angels Attic, despite the fabulous reputation of its museum. We stayed in Pasadena, so we started our quest at the Doll House Lady in San Marino. This is your large regional dollhouse store. My memory is that the stock ran pink and Victorian, which is bad news for me but good news for everyone else. I also have wistful memories of a sale table toward the back of the store. If I ever were to live in an adorable Craftsman cottage in Pasadena, I could develop a warm spot in my heart for this store, regardless.The embarrassing lapse of memory is that I cannot recall with any certainty whether we went to My Doll's House in Torrance. It gets excellent reviews elswhere, and I think it might be the one that had the incredibly cool assembled houses upstairs. The photos on their site sure look appealing, so if I were planning a new trip, I'd make sure to go there.Two stores in Orange County do stand out much more clearly. One is inevitably Mott's, partly because they had just moved and it was quite a drama to find the new location. My impression was that their Web site has much more stock than the bricks-and-mortar store. The really outstanding strengths of the store were largely in areas I wasn't buying on that trip: instructional books, lumber and finishes, lighting, and artisanal accessories such as food. That stock was outstanding enough that I felt guilty about not needing it right then!The other extremely memorable venue was the Hobby City complex, which includes a doll museum, a miniatures shop, a railroad-focused hobby store that carries a lot of buildings, a cake-decorating shop that has items that work in half-scale, and a whole bunch of other stores. There is also an amusement park and a restaurant. The dollhouse shop is memorable to me largely for having some half-scale furniture (that's what I was shopping for at the time). If My Doll's House isn't the one with the great stuff upstairs, this one is. By whatever rambling route we were taking, this area is convenient to Mott's, so hitting both makes for an excellent morning.Since we drove home, we hit a few interesting shops on the way north. If you are thinking of visiting Angela's Miniature World in Camarillo, do call first (805 482-2219), as the Web site no longer exists. This store had a huge and tempting selection of mini guy-stuff like tools, tool benches, Egyptian artifacts, and stuff you'd need if you were going to explore the Amazon with Dr. Livingston. It was well beyond my budget, as the really cool artisanal pieces so often are.My favorite store of this trip was Larrianne's Small Wonders. Although the Web site promotes artisanal pieces (gorgeous, aren't they?), the store also had a huge stock of half-scale roomsets, which were my obsession at the time. I remember a lot of dollhouses, some quite unusual... but I was so excited about all the half-scale that I don't remember much about the 1:12 furniture selection.The major disappointment of the trip was discovering that Small Fantasies in Lompoc had not been able to generate enough traffic to survive. If you're in that neck of the woods, it's worth a stop in Solvang just to browse the hundreds of quaint gift stores for finds. It was in one such store that I got the hen-and-chicks egg-serving set in 1:12.And, of course, we always stop at the Miniature Cottage Shop in Morro Bay. This shop is unique in carrying its own building kits in half-scale, as well as a decent amount of half-scale stock (hint, hint: furnish your Fairfield). This is a quirky shop -- you don't go for the size of the selection so much as for curiosity about what you might find.The Los Angeles trip is unusual in that I don't think I even tried to go to fabric, craft, or bead stores. We were distracted by oddities such as an entire outdoor museum devoted to military vehicles. But don't all those goodies on the stores' Web sites just make you want to go?
  7. Minnesota Nice

    Twin CitiesOver dinner at Tejas in Edina, a ritzy suburb of Minneapolis, my husband had asked jokingly what it would take to open a dollhouse store in the Twin Cities. "Well," I said, "you'd have to put it in a neighborhood like this one. And to make the rent, you'd need to hold a lot of classes, and you'd need to represent the local artisans at the Tom Bishop Show in Chicago. It'd mean a lot of work and creativity at a low profit margin, so I sure don't want to do it."Fortunately, Karen Fernholz did. She's the owner of Little Enchantments, the regional dollhouse miniatures store just blocks from where we were dining. The stock of dollhouse kits slants heavily toward a certain rival brand, but there's a satisfying selection of doors, floors, and other construction equipment. The furniture and accessories selections are outstanding, given the limited space. Local artisans are heavily represented, with some welcome and unusual finds like vintage-style mixers and blenders. This is a shop where I'd like to pay multiple visits over the course of a long project.Next door to Little Enchantments is the Bead Monkey, which is the major bead store in the region. (There's another shop on St. Paul's Grand Avenue.) The metal charm selection is the store's major strength, though there are also numerous oddities that can serve as tables, lamps, picture frames, and wall art. It's unusual that I don't buy anything at a store as good as this one: blame several years of shameless hoarding.The regional scrapbooking store is Archiver's, which has multiple suburban locations, including one at Mall of America. This place is just plain big. An alternate paper source is the Paper Source in Uptown Minneapolis. Paper Source has much less scrapbook paper than Archiver's, but they stock tons of small-patterned art paper and imported gift wrap. Sometimes this paper is more inclined to bubble, but the larger sheets are awfully useful in handling larger rooms.Unusually, I haven't been to a single quilting store; indeed, I've only dimly glimpsed one such store from an oblique angle, and I'm not entirely sure where that happened. The big surprise was the miniatures potential of Mall of America. As well as an Archiver's and a Dollar Tree, the third floor of this mega-whompus mall boasts Al's Farm Toys and more Minnesota-themed gift stores than... well, probably than the rest of the state combined. Dine at Kokomo's Island Cafe and order a Volcano: these come with pipecleaner animals in the stirring sticks.Much less surprising was the Ax Man in St. Paul. They always have weird stuff that can be made into other stuff. I resisted the Barbie-sized pharmacy bottles but bought a lot of "stuff" that has potential as parts for furniture.OutstateYou can go to a lot of antique stores in the Cannon River Valley of southeastern Minnesota -- and if you collect vintage tin litho houses or the plastic furniture of the same era, you should. The two or three largest dealers in Renwal, Marx, and similar furniture seem to have moved their booths to different antique malls, and I didn't take trouble over tracking them down. But we counted eight tin litho houses in a single antique mall, and it wasn't the largest in the region.For dollhouse miniatures, go straight to Stillwater, where you'll visit Kmitsch Girls. This looks like a doll store, but there's a small miniatures section in back. It was the front of the store that interested us more when we visited, though. Right in the doorway was a mint-in-box Greenleaf kit for... wait for it!... a playscale (1:6 or Barbie-sized) house. Since we don't have room for it, it may still be there, and don't think I'm not making soft cooing noises of longing over that one. There are also kits for 1:6 Greenleaf furniture.Gift stores and Christmas ornament stores are thick upon the ground in Stillwater. Since I was feeling woozy, we limited ourselves to Seasons Tique, based on its 20-year track record and particularly lively window display. I bought a half-scale baby grand piano in shiny black for just $3.99 and the ornament had no nasty hanger loop to unscrew and patch. There were three or four other piano options in approximately 1:24. A different person might have preferred the pink poodle taking a bubble bath.
  8. With the exception of Dollhouses, Trains & More, the maximum miniature mega-destination up north in Novato, the miniature shops in the Bay Area are strung along the Peninsula between San Francisco and the suburbs of San Jose. So let's get going! This is a driving trip.Stop 1: San Carlos, Shellie's Miniature ManiaFrom San Francisco or the airport, take US-101 south to the Holly exit. Get in the middle lane, cross Old County Rd. and El Camino Real, then turn left on Laurel. Go three blocks and look to the right side of the street. This shop is closed Sundays and Mondays.Shellie's is the big regional dollhouse shop for the entire area south of the city. About half of the shop space is given over to classes, and Shellie is able to bring in an impressive slate of workshop teachers, including Rik Pierce and Bluette Meloney. As a result, you'll find artisanal pieces in stock, as well as a good supply of dollhouse parts. There is also a small stock of smaller-scale furniture, houses, and materials. I find the stock runs heavier on the Victorian and Bespaq-type pieces than really interests me, but this means almost everyone else on earth will absolutely love it. And then there's Shellie's own masterpiece, a huge Victorian mansion that is fully furnished and embellished. I believe she sells the plans for that one.Detour: If you're gutsy about going north on Laurel, J&M Hobby at 1660 Laurel is a very strange place with the odd (sometimes very odd) find. I have trouble finding them, so don't go as often as I might. I discovered this store when I forgot where Shellie's was.Stop 2: Mountain View, Global BeadsFrom Shellie's, get back on the freeway where you got off, or take El Camino Real south to the next 101 entrance. From 101, take the CA-85 exit. Get off CA-85 at El Camino Real, going NORTH. Turn right at Castro. Once you pass California, the shop will be on your right. Closed Mondays.I love bead stores. Global Beads has a ton of stuff, much of it exotic and weird. I've bought a lot of chickens for Gala's kitchen, and of course there are all the usual beads.What if: Mountain View is the southernmost of a bunch of small towns on 101, all of which are quaint and have little shops. My experience is that Mountain View has the best bead store, the best used-book store (just west of Global Beads), and the best array of halfway affordable restaurants. But there's nothing stopping you from checking out downtown Redwood City or Palo Alto. If you take El Camino Real south from Shellie's, instead of getting back on the freeway, you can stop at every burg in the byte belt.Stop 3: Campbell, D&J HobbyFrom CA-85 (in the Santa Cruz direction), take the Saratoga Ave. (eastbound) exit. Turn right on Cambell Ave. Get in the second lane to the left so that you don't turn left into Westgate Mall but take the left fork around the modern condos, onto Hamilton Ave. At the light for San Tomas Aquino, turn right. The shopping center is on your left and has a fine dollar store as well.D&J is an old-fashioned hobby store that carries tons of supplies to build just about anything. Compared to Michael's (conveniently down the road in Westgate), there are fewer craft supplies, but there are actual dollhouse kits, dollhouse furniture, accessories, dollhouse parts, mission supplies (fourth-graders in California build missions), train supplies (useful for 1:48!), wargame stuff, action figures... there is just a lot of stuff. The dollhouse furniture selection skews toward the less expensive end of the market, though D&J does not carry the least expensive house kits. This is the only dollhouse store where I've ever seen anyone shopping with a child. (A very well-behaved young lady chose a violet-covered bedroom set for her first dollhouse.) I've gotten some decent bargains on Reutter Porzellan, and you can find most of the standard dollhouse-building books here, too. For a while, I was coming here regularly on my weekly trips to teach in Santa Clara. There's a level of serious collecting at which D&J may not be quite your style, but I find it a lot of fun and very reliable.Stop 4: Campbell, The Miniature SceneFrom D&J, take the left back onto San Tomas Aquino. At the first light, turn left onto Campbell Ave. Go past the San Tomas Expressway and turn right onto Winchester Blvd. Go about six blocks and keep your eyes peeled for a strip mall on your left. If you cross railroad tracks, you missed it. Closed Mondays.This is a very small and very cool shop. It's not the place to stock up on basics (though she carries some) -- instead, come here when you want something special and aren't quite sure what. This is where we bought the pirates' palm bathroom set and also where I stock up on mini-Roseville pottery. There are quite a few other mini versions of famous American art pottery lines, plus some remarkable quarter-scale artisanal pieces. This shop also offers a full schedule of classes.What happened to San Jose? Those of us old enough to remember when there were seven, yes seven shops in the San Jose area will be wondering how we skipped straight from Mountain View to Campbell without touching San Jose or Santa Clara. Trust me: things have changed. If you're not from around here, you may enjoy checking out Santana Row, north of the Miniature Scene on Winchester at Stevens Creek Blvd. Otherwise, it's all pretty much the Land O' Malls, enclosed, strip, and occasionally failed.That's your tour of the South Bay mini stores. If you do go up Winchester to Santana Row, there's a big freeway at either end of Stevens Creek Blvd. The one to the right (east) is I-880, which will head off to Oakland. The one to the left (west) gives you a choice of I-280 (the fast, scenic route to San Francisco) or the Lawrence Expressway, which will eventually join US-101 (the slow, grungy route back to San Francisco).But wait! There's a potential detour if you're still feeling lively. From either US-101 or I-280, take CA-92 west (toward Half Moon Bay and away from the Hayward-San Mateo Bridge). Just follow the road to Half Moon Bay and go to the Olde Victorian, which is down at the bottom of Main Street. (It's also closed Sundays and Mondays.) This is a cool shop, stuffed with goodies, some quite unusual. I go there only rarely because HMB is bit of a drive, aggressively quaint, and not near much else; but I always buy something when I do. The selection of leopard accessories alone is enough to rivet the attention.
  9. Red or green?

    If you come down with the overwhelming urge to move to New Mexico -- as I predictably do, midway through a dish of enchiladas with green chiles at El Patio -- you will be spending a lot of time at Hobby Lobby. There is not a single dollhouse shop in Albuquerque (the lone phonebook listing is a misplacement of a seller of collectible dolls), and we saw no sign of one in Santa Fe. My one truly outstanding stop-the-presses, whip-out-the-checkbook find was perfectly 1:12 versions of traditional Acoma pottery at Blackstone of New Mexico in Old Town Albuquerque. As of August 2005, these are priced at a reasonable $15 each.Old Town Albuquerque is chock-a-block with gift shops, so a changing selection may yield other finds to other shoppers. There seems to be a mild trend toward putting 1:12 and 1:24 clay mugs and dishes on strings, as if they were ristas. If you want to build a Southwestern restaurant, this gives you bargain pricing on the tableware. As things currently stand, Aceves Old Town Basket and Rug Shop has the most promising selection, including incense burners shaped like traditional ovens.Heading north on I-25, we stopped at Traditions, a failing festival marketplace. (Don't believe the Web site -- most of the listed stores are gone.) The magnets at Holiday Expressions included fruit crates and cutting boards sized very nicely for 1:12. We got a crate of avocados and a cutting board that included a nopale (cactus paddle). I suspect these are made of bread dough, so they will eventually fade and crumble, but the low price and high cuteness quotient made them a must-have.In suburban Santa Fe, Jackalope still carries a small selection of dollhouse-sized plates and accessories, though nowhere near the selection we found there in 1999. Only the Santa Fe store had extensive goodies; the Bernalillo location was less well-stocked across the board.Unsurprisingly, New Mexico is awash in bead stores that sell fetishes and such. Being a bit overstocked in this area, I did no buying other than an oversized parrot at Stone Mountain Bead Gallery on Central Avenue in Albuquerque.
  10. Don't Call it Frisco

    I've been meaning for some time to reveal my secret and not-so-secret sources for cheap and weird miniatures within the city and county of San Francisco. Having exhausted myself by cleaning out the craft closet, I think the time has come. We're going to make a vast loop around the hipper parts of the city. (My husband is questioning whether it's possible to do the whole loop in one day without collapsing or running out of time. It would certainly require a solid six to seven hours, without serious stops for food.) The Mission To get there: Take BART to 16th Street. There is also usually on-street parking, more along Valencia than along Mission. The Mission is almost worth a day alone. The mini-finding action is largely along Mission Street itself, from 16th to 24th. To a great extent, it's random and changes from day to day. I've seen odd bits of 1:12 dollhouse furniture, bought 1:12 motorbikes, and found vending machines with Homies. Hip eateries are thick upon the ground: don't leave hungry. Your final stop should be Papel Picado Etc., just around the corner on 24th. They carry South American kitchenware, baskets, huaraches, and fruit in both 1:12 and 1:24. And where else would you find smaller-scale Zapatista rebels? Noe Valley To get there from the Mission, take the 48-West Portal bus. On-street parking is tricky to find but usually possible if you check side streets. Two stops are vital. First, Global Exchange, near the corner of Noe, carries the occasional half-scale knit person, as well as tiny icons, mirrors, and such that are appropriate for the funky 1:12 house. A few blocks west, Cottage Industry offers less elaborate half-scale people at bargain prices, as well as assorted beads and bits that may find a use. While Noe Valley has a couple of toy stores, the Ark is the educational sort (and very small); the other one, nearer Castro St., looks promising for funky stuff, but I don't think I've ever bought anything there. The Castro To get there from Noe Valley, take the 24-Jackson bus at the corner of 24th and Castro; get off at 18th. This six blocks involves steep hills! Don't try to walk it. Parking is scarce in the Castro. There are two somewhat marginal stops in this iconic gay neighborhood. Planetweavers is one of those fun and fascinating stores where I almost never buy much. More directly useful is Cliff's Variety. There's a case in the front of the store that holds 1:12 and 1:24 dollhouse furniture, albeit not a lot. Cliff's also carries 5-1/2" action figures and a small selection of art or craft supplies. Market Street To get there from the Castro, take the F-Market streetcar. Make sure you have a transfer, as you'll want to get on and off. Parking becomes frustrating as you head toward downtown. Hop off the picturesque historic streetcar at Valencia Street for Flax Art, an outstanding source of art papers. I have a secret affection for the packs of mixed extra paper bits. Flax also carries fancy ribbons and a large selection of scrapbooking die-cuts. Hop off again around Taylor St. for Pearl, the city's closet approach to a big craft store. The second floor offers yet more art papers and some scrapbook paper. The basement is the land of craft supplies, a sporadically restocked dollhouse section, and various architectural miniatures. I spend a lot of time (and cash) at Pearl. Walk two-and-a-half long blocks to cross Third Street if you need to stock up on Homies, and check out Jeffrey's Toys. They may have other cool stuff; oddly, though I live a short walk away, I don't go there very often. Chinatown To get there from Pearl or Jeffrey's, go to Market & 4th St. Take the 30-Stockton and get off when it looks like Chinatown. If you prefer to drive, use the St. Mary's garage. Although the travel guide promises more authenticity on Stockton, the mini action is all on Grant. Start at the dragon gate and zig-zag up the street if you need to end up at the next bus stop. As in the Mission, you should poke your head into as many stores as you can stand to. Amidst the tourist stuff, there is much to be found. On the east side of Grant, Peking Bazaar is fun for chopstick rests that can pass as furniture, display stands that work as low tables, and other odd bits. Actual miniatures can be found at the Suey Chong Company, where I've found 1:24 tea sets and 1:12 nesting hens. On the west side of Grant, there is a dusty miniatures shop with a name I can never remember, but the real excitement is at China Bazaar. Downstairs is the china, a useful source of 1:12 trays and umbrella stands. Upstairs is the toy section, with 5-1/2" action figures and white wire wicker furniture. In the middle, the tourist junk recently included tiny colored straw houses suitable to be small dollhouse for your dollhouse, provided you don't want to furnish it. Who knows what you'll find? Polk Gulch To get there from Chinatown, at the corner of Grant and Pacific, take the 12-Pacific Heights bus. Get off at Polk St. Parking is iffy but possible. You're here for just one store, but it's a doozy. Polk A Dot on Polk is the source for funky, weird minis in every scale imaginable. The selection changes but is always fascinating. My finds include the 1:12 rubber chicken, 1:12 plastic cookware in stylish pastels, tiki heads, 1:48 office workers and ninjas, French animal cards suitable for 1:12 art. None of this may be there next time, but something equally good will appear. Walk south on Polk, check out the antique stores and used book stores, and fill up with espresso drinks at one of the many coffee houses. Your goal is to reach Geary, as you're going to have to walk to use mass transit to the next stop, and this is the more entertaining of the available routes. Japantown To get there from Polk Gulch, go one block west on Geary to Van Ness. Take the 38-Geary and get off at Webster or thereabouts. Parking is in a paid garage under Japan Center. This is another browser's paradise. I'm particularly fond of Kinokuniya Stationery for weird little magnets in tiny scales, as well as for exciting origami and wrapping papers. On the bridge between sections of the center, there's a tiny store that stocks really tiny versions of maneki nekko and of the 12 animals for the Chinese calendar. If you cross Post Street behind Japan Center, the basement of Soko Hardware is worth a stop. This is where you'll find pots suitable for real 1:12 plants, as well as yet more potentially useful chopstick rests and bits of china, along with the bamboo coasters that I keep hoping to use as window shades. This has been one of my all-around favorite stores for about 20 years. (But it's closed on Sundays.) Inner Richmond To get there from Japantown, hop back on the 38-Geary at Geary and get off at Arguello. Walk one block north to Clement Street. Parking ranges from easy to impossible, depending on factors no one knows. The best part of the Inner Richmond is Clement Street, another food mecca of the city. On the south side of the street, just before Third Avenue, Super Tokio offers multiple layers of excitement. The thrill starts with the vending machines in the doorway, where you'll find roughly 1:48 people. Go inside, and the area around the counter has magnets representing food and housewares in various scales. Stacked nearby are puchi, or surprise boxes, that contain housewares, food, and furnishings in various scales from 1:6 to about 1:24. Scales are erratic even within a single box, and you don't know which of the half-dozen items in a puchi series you'll get until you open the box. That's half the fun. Along the east wall is the most glorious Asian candy selection you'll ever find, with many flavors that are not at all weird to Western palates. A couple blocks further along, the Toy Boat Dessert Cafe offers a few action figures with its dessert selections. The real thrill, though, is on the north side of the street, past Eighth Avenue, where Heroes Club is the ultimate action figure destination, all the way from 1:6 down to 1:48. It stocks puchi galore (and on my last trip, was revealing what was in each box), including small-scale buildings and a ravishing selection of food. I love this store. I buy stupid things like 1:24 Vespas there. If you're still up for walking, head back to Geary and tromp another six blocks or so west to Hobby Company of San Francisco. This smallish store stocks actual dollhouses and recognizable miniatures, as well a selection of craft supplies. In three years, I have never once bought anything there, mostly because the regional "destination" dollhouse stores in Novato and San Jose offer larger selections of traditional miniatures, while Pearl or the suburban big-box craft stores provide a much larger array of supplies. This is probably a fantastic store if you live within walking distance or aren't willing to make the long drive to the 'burbs. To get back to downtown from here, cross to the south side of Geary and take the 38-Geary. The bus will pass through the hotel district off O'Farrell Street, turn up Market, and end up at the Transbay Terminal, intersecting several major bus routes on the way.
  11. Metro Phoenix The must-stop spot in Scottsdale is Kris Kringle's on Fifth, where the chair is king, queen, and most of the court. Let's talk resin. Heck, let's drool on it. Looking for something to round out a smaller cottage? There's resin in approximately 1:16. Thinking of half-scale in Arts and Crafts? That'll be $1.99. Resin horn table or horn chair? Both are available -- and since these are Christmas ornaments, the prices are quite moderate, often under $10. There are also 1:8 chairs for travel dolls, crystal chandeliers that would do Barbie proud, and assorted vintage dollhouse accessories. This is one of the rare stores where I'm tempted to make a second trip just in case I missed something. At a much higher price point is Scottsdale's The Doll House, home of unique (and very expensive) Southwestern room sets. Think "investment quality." (Think "Calamari can't afford that.") At the other end of the metro area (in every possible way) is Auntie Em's of Glendale. Leave time; bring money. Selection is excellent, with interesting goodies at every price point. Unlike many stores, Auntie Em's carries Greenleaf and Corona Concepts kits. Correspondingly, the selection of parts to kitbash, decorate, and improve with is outstanding. New-to-me are walls of tile designs, with wainscotting, body, and frieze molded as one piece but colored in distinct (and very elegant) tiles. Furniture ranges from artisanal Southwestern pieces to affordable Latin American sets that I haven't seen elsewhere. This is also a half-scale destination, with hard-to-find houses and some Town Square roomsets that I suspect date from the first half-scale boom in the 1980s. The store also buys estate pieces at any scale, so keep an eye out for houses and furniture that are hard to find. I succumbed to a 3/4-scale cabin kit for $25, and there were more where that came from. And don't forget the substantial selection of quarter-scale parts and furniture for your Greenleaf Village! (Yes, they also carry the village. Why are you still reading this when you could be there now?) Added April 2006: I finally got out to visit the notorious Diane Ribbon, Phoenix's largest and best venue for craft supplies. On the one hand, this place is really meant for local residents who can stock up on the comprehensive selection of ribbons, floral picks, and other goodies. On the other hand, they had gold lame cacti, as well as my current obsession, tiny plastic bride-and-groom sets. And all for cheap! Once out of metro Phoenix, go where you're going for the scenery, as miniature finds are fewer and more likely to be fortuitous. Flagstaff If you're headed for the Grand Canyon or touring Route 66, Flagstaff is where the cheap hotels and pleasant Mexican restaurants are kept. Once you're there, you may as well get out of the car. Check out Animas Beads, where you may find a few unexpected animal-shaped charms in the fairly small store on Rte 66. About Memories and More is a pleasant regional scrapbooking store that seemed to have a good selection of smaller prints. It's in a shopping center with a peculiar interlocking hobby store-toy store-educational store set-up that may be worth checking out, though none of the components carry dollhouse materials as such. Across Rte 66, in the funky neighborhood near Northern Arizona State, De Colores del Barrio carries those stands with the miniature pots and Mexican food. (I didn't buy one because I'd be overwhelmingly tempted to pry the accessories off and use them in a house.) Downtown Flagstaff is loaded with gift stores, which we didn't check out due to lack of parking -- it was the weekend of both the annual folk festival and the gay pride festival, which I suppose brings new meaning to "queer as folk." One promising stop is Mountain Christmas of Flagstaff, as the Prescott store had 1:24 laser-cut Adirondack chairs and a 1:24 resin upright piano. Grand Canyon Did I mention going for the view? The only grab-the-tourists'-money store that pays off in minis is Double Eagle Trading Co., which offers $3 mini buffalo skulls. That's also where I discovered the woven coaster-as-Navaho rug. Sedona One word: view. There's also no lack of fudge, ice cream, coffee, and t-shirt shops. But this is the first place ever that I have left both a bead store and a Christmas shop not only empty-handed but without the slightest regret at not buying anything. The one hot spot is Cactus Carlos, featuring a fabulous selection of coaster-rugs, plus 1:12 clay pots. This is also where we scored the $1.99 quartz top slated for Niko and Fuzz's coffee table. The photo shows the horn chair and table with coaster-rugs, unglazed pots, and buffalo skull.
  12. Valley Fever

    The hot news in the Sacramento Valley is the arrival of a Bombay Outlet at the Vacaville Premium Outlets off Nut Tree Road. Why is a Bombay Company outlet good news for dollhouse fans, you ask? Because the outlets carry the Bombay dollhouse, a solid Georgian mansion with remarkably few rooms, and the Bombay furniture, at $5 a pop. We bought a truly bizarre sideboard and a fairly normal tea cart.If you keep heading east, there are some worthwhile miniature-picking destinations along the I-80 corridor. Get off in Davis at the downtown Davis exit (Richardson Blvd.). Go through the underpass. As you emerge, you'll pass on your right a sage-green complex of late Victorian buildings (street address is 132 E. St.). In that complex is A Better Place to Bead, an excellent bead store for many exciting dollhouse projects. There is a scrapbook store in the same plaza, but it's not extensive. Davis otherwise is only for when you feel lucky: the toy store and hobby store really don't carry anything dollhouse friendly, but the ethnic boutiques are many and varied.Get back on I-80 and go east to Sacramento. You want an exit for something like Q Street, as you're going to 9th and R, the location of the Wishing Well, a Sacramento institution and one of the most exciting party supply stores on earth. The downstairs bins of party favors in the under-25-cents range are usually more exciting than the craft section upstairs. I've bought 1:12 scale huaraches, faux neon signs, a pogo stick, and various exciting plastic animals to be repainted for projects.When you're done there, head north to J Street and go outbound (east toward suburbia). At 23rd and I, there's Magic in Miniature, a very quirky little shop that runs heavily to fairies and resin furniture. This also puts you in the midtown region, one of Sacramento's better spots for seeking out lunch.You're now headed east to the far 'burbs. Important destinations include U Bead It, which offered (at last visit) a major supply of tiny animals and kitchenware, and the Elegant Dollhouse, your basic Regional Dollhouse Store, with an outstanding selection of glass, china, and pewter, as well as lots of smaller scales and some unusual vintage houses.If you're still feeling energetic, there's a Pier 1 Clearance Store in Rancho Cordova. Sometimes the napkin rings and coasters yield ideas.We skipped Sacramento on this visit, though, and headed back west to Berkeley, where the lone light on the miniaturist's horizon is Scrapbook Territory, one of the largest and most complete scrapbook stores anywhere, with an emphasis on contemporary designs. We bought so much paper that I have to redo an almost-completed dollhouse kitchen in order to use it. They've also started stocking little metal charms, one of which was... wait for it!... a 1:12-scale cheese grater! How's that for going home happy?
  13. Normal Heights

    Normal Heights is my favorite San Diego neighborhood name, though the area doesn't contain any mini resources. San Diegans spend a lot of time outdoors, so I was only able to find one mini shop, Ms. Peggie's Place (5063 Cass St., up in the Pacific Beach area). Visiting the kind of shops where you pack a sack lunch and plan to spend the day has left me jaded, but Ms. Peggie's is a perfectly solid regional dollhouse store that carries the basics, enough quirky stuff to be interesting, a few half-scale room sets, and some exciting artisanal pieces in quarter-scale. I bought two quarter-scale rustic twig sets. They must have been irresistable, as "rustic" is totally out of character for me. Update from February 2006: On a trip to Ocean Beach in search of a cheap Mexican breakfast, we found The Dollhouse Factory of San Diego, which sits at the back of the Ocean Beach Antique Mall on Newport Avenue. On our visit, they had lots of handpainted furniture, not to mention gorgeous handmade sofas and chairs. There were also a few assembled houses for sale. Quilting is apparently the only indoor hobby in this town. According to the Cruisin' Quilters brochure, there are 19 quilt shops in the greater San Diego region. I gave up on trying to get to all of them. Two of those I visited stand out as particularly ripe in miniature-friendly patterns. Rosie's Calico Cupboard in El Cajon had a slew of small-scale patterns in pre-cut fat quarters. At Fat Quarters, look for the preselected bundles to give you color coordinating fabrics for an entire house. (You do know that, if you saturate a piece of cotton fabric with spray starch and iron it dry, it will act almost like paper and can substitute for wallpaper, right?) My real find, though, was Beached Glass and Beads (594 Carlsbad Village in Carlsbad). It's a bead store and scrapbook store in one. The owner is still building the scrapbook section, so the paper supply is interesting rather than huge ("interesting" = "I bought a lot"). The bead section is truly superlative, including not only beads that work as vases, lamps, tables, and art -- but also bins of exciting mixed beads at a fixed price per ounce. Aside from building my "filler beads for lids and such" supply painlessly, I scored a glass apple that's the perfect size for a cookie jar and a skull to be an end table base for my tiki Arthur. While you're in Carlsbad, Sowing Sisters quilts is right around the corner, though the selection tends to run to bolder fabrics. It's also worth a trip through the tourist trap of Old Town San Diego, where El Centro Artisano had the half-scale people that I like so much, including a grandmother and a mid-sized child.
  14. That's the title of a World War II song, but it's also a good motto for the roving miniaturist. The Carolinas boast a couple of destination mini shops and a few other shoppers' finds.Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NCThe Research Triangle area is weak on mini shops -- you have to go to the Gingerbread House in Greensboro, which is quirky rather than extensively stocked -- but has an excellent scrapbook store. Scrapbook Plaza in Raleigh is difficult to find but stocks absolutely every single line of "modern" paper.The Triangle also offers the convenient Craft Store Triangle, where Michael's, Joann, and A.C. Moore are located within a mile of one another on US 15-501 between Durham and Chapel Hill. A.C. Moore carries actual dollhouse supplies.Charlotte, NCPJ's Miniatures is da bomb, with a huge selection of furniture at price points from economical to omigoodness, plus an absolute flooring bonanza. The "cool stuff per square foot" ratio is very high, especially if you're on the prowl for furniture that isn't Victorian, fussy, or in every eBay store. Don't forget to stop at Hobby Lobby, which is right up there with fried chicken and mint juleps as an excellent reason to relocate to the South.Charleston, SCMiniature Memories is not only South Carolina's largest mini shop, it is a half-scale destination, featuring custom houses and an enormous selection of mass-produced smaller-scale furniture. If you're a Bespaq fan in any scale, you'll want to arrange for your second mortgage before walking in the door, as your every wildest dream is about to be realized. You don't have to be a lottery winner to shop here (though it helps -- artisanal work understandably doesn't come cheap, which means a truly irresistable half-scale mansion in the regional style runs $1000+ and some to-die-for half-scale cottages are in the $400 range), as the stock includes... well, everything. Did I mention that they carry everything? As in half a dozen choices of the 1:12 tool bench for your miniature workshop? Oh, and while you're in the shop, there's also the museum and the circus. Don't go while you're hungry, as once you're there, it'll be a while until your next meal.You may as well have the next meal in Folly Beach, further down the road, and take some photos of the beach houses up on stilts, just in case you want to build one in miniature. When you get back to historic downtown Charleston, be sure to check out the long, narrow houses with verandas along one side. Nothing comparable seems to exist in dollhouse kit form at the moment, but you'd be amazed what you can do with a Greenleaf kit, a sharp craft knife, and some initiative.