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House of Dreams

Mar 31, 2016 11:29PM ● Published by Steven Hoffman

Gallery: Doll houses [11 Images] Click any image to expand.

Have you ever fancied owning a Victorian mansion? Do you covet a spacious villa or cozy cottage? If so, Alice DeVore is the woman to make your dreams come true.

DeVore has been in the dollhouse and miniatures business for more than 30 years, and her shop, Fingertip Fantasies Dollhouses and Miniatures, is on Main Street in Clayton, Del. Laughing about the occasional off-color phone call she receives as a result of the name, she said, “Dollhouses are about fantasy, and it is all created with your fingertips.”

“Dollhouses are not just for children,” DeVore said. Her customers are men and women of all ages and come from varied backgrounds. “Some people want to recreate their childhood home, but others want to build and furnish their dream house,” she said.

DeVore had a dollhouse when she was a child, but did not pursue the hobby as an adult. As a busy mother raising children, her interest was rekindled when a friend gave her a dollhouse kit. She constructed the exterior of the house, but then needed to complete the interior, so she turned her attention to making miniature home decor. One of her specialties was to create tiny clay versions of food on a one-inch scale. Her favorites were tiny turkey dinners, and pies that had bottle caps for tins. In addition to food, DeVore sewed dainty tablecloths and napkins. On a whim, she rented a table at a craft fair and all of her miniatures sold quickly. Bolstered by her success, she attended more craft shows, and after two years of successfully selling her miniatures, she decided it was time to open a shop.
DeVore built her business offering dollhouse kits, as well as custom-built houses and all the miniatures needed for a well-furnished home. As a testament to her expertise, her loyal customers followed her through three moves over several decades, from her original location in Pike Creek, to Booths Corner, and to Aston, Pa., until she finally opened shop in Clayton. Her son and daughter live in Dover and her desire to be near family and grandchildren brought her south. Her current store is in a former pharmacy and is more than 100 years old.

“The neighbors have been so welcoming,” DeVore said of the warm reception she has received from the tight-knit community. “People stop in to say hello, or wave from their porches every day.” She especially enjoys visits from the neighborhood children.
“Everyone is fascinated with things in miniature,” DeVore said. Each pint-sized item needed to furnish a house is available in her shop. The range of miniatures is extensive – from garden furniture to four-poster beds, carpets and drapery, even electrical and plumbing supplies. Some of the more extravagant houses have bathtubs with running water, or working outdoor fountains.

Of course, there is quite a range in cost as well. If you don’t have the desire to take on a large project, you can opt to do a room box. Like a shadow box, a room box simply showcases one room of a house.

“I have a customer who is creating a room box for each room of her home,” DeVore said. “Each room box is a miniature version of the room where it is displayed. Room boxes can be an economical way to venture into the world of dollhouses, and they can be as grand or as simple as you wish.”

Another popular alternative is a fairy garden. These magical, tiny worlds can be created with artificial or living plants. Add some sprite-sized garden accessories and you have created a space where fairies cavort and play. Both children and adults are enchanted by the fairy gardens DeVore has created in her shop.

When a customer approaches DeVore about a dollhouse, she helps them determine which type of project best suits them. Next, she asks how handy they may be – are they comfortable assembling the house or are they mainly interested in the interior? One of the services that she offers is the construction of the house, including the wiring. “Building dollhouses provides you with an opportunity to learn about wiring, plumbing and interior decorating,” she said.

DeVore can also outfit your house with all the appropriate period furnishings, though most people prefer to handle the decorating themselves. She regularly travels to trade shows in Las Vegas and Ohio to keep her stock of miniatures and houses current.

Whenever possible, she purchases miniatures from local artisans. In her display cabinet are beautiful reproductions of famous paintings done by a local artist. So if you can’t afford a Monet for your living room wall, you can purchase a diminutive one for your fantasy home.

Another artisan mother-and-son team create lovely table and floor lamps, complete with decorative shades. DeVore still enjoys making miniature food and she has quite an array -- charcuterie boards to produce to baked goods, allowing you to set your table for a tiny, though grand, feast.

According to DeVore, men have been developing an interest in miniatures and dollhouses over the past several years. Even though most men may not refer to them as dollhouses, the appeal is much like the hobby of model building. “Men often like to build a house that recreates their fishing camp or their man cave,” she said with a laugh.

To cater to that interest, the shop offers barns, garages and hotels in addition to houses. Log cabins are also very popular, and DeVore built a replica of the Ponderosa for her two oldest grandchildren.

Can you guess which television show has caused a surge of dollhouse popularity? If you guessed “Downton Abbey,” you would be correct.

“The dollhouse hobby originated in England,” DeVore said, “and as the show gained popularity, the interest in dollhouses exploded.”

Though dollhouses and miniatures can be traced back to the early 1600s, one of the most famous houses is a replica of Windsor Castle given to Queen Mary on her birthday. Renowned architect Edwin Lutyens labored for four years on the castle, involving hundreds of craftsmen and artisans. The finished dollhouse contained the best of everything the United Kingdom could offer. It includes a library of lilliputian books handwritten by famous authors of the day (such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), contemporary paintings, a wine cellar holding real wines, and a garage with gasoline-powered automobiles. Most of the carpets and furniture are 1:12-inch scale reproductions of the actual furnishings of Windsor Castle. Since its creation, the mini-castle has been on display as a tribute to the people of the United Kingdom. Today, it stands in a room in Windsor Castle where it attracts dollhouse enthusiasts from all over the globe.

If you are not ready to take on a project as daunting as a castle re-creation, DeVore can help find the project that’s perfect for you.

“Dollhouses encourage people to use their imagination,” she said, “which is why it is a great hobby for children as well as adults.” In addition to her shop, she has a website (www.dollhouseminiatures.com) that serves local and international customers. Though everything you need to get started can be found on the website, it is well worth the trip to chat with DeVore and marvel at the dollhouses and miniatures in her delightful shop.



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