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Moving from Tech World to Dollhouses

Tiny Heirlooms lets them eat cake and more

Chocolate cake is a best-seller because, as Tammy Katz the owner of Tiny Heirlooms notes, people don’t buy canned green beans in a fantasy world. Katz has built an international business helping people design their own miniature fantasies through the world of dollhouses.

Tiny Heirlooms in McLean offers a full array of miniatures and doll homes for serious collectors and for children. Collectors often find themselves transported into a different time when they walk into the store. Avid miniature collectors tend to be women in their 50s who are now able to create the dollhouse of their girlish dreams and have the disposable income to buy things like real crystal chandeliers and hand-woven rugs to create the dollhouse they always wanted.

“Half our customers are adults buying for themselves because they always wanted one. The other half are girls between 4 and 12 years old,” says Katz. Her customer base is not relegated to Northern Virginia, however. “People come here from Australia, New Zealand, Israel. If they are coming to the states, they plan a trip here,” said Katz. She has a thriving Internet business, which finds her often shipping miniatures to Europe as well.

At the age of 4, Katz received her first dollhouse from her grandfather and was hooked. At 24 she realized that being an IT consultant wasn’t what she wanted to do, so she got a small business loan and opened Tiny Heirlooms. Three years later she’s known as one of the rising stars in the miniature world.

The closing of the Washington Dolls House and Toy Museum in Chevy Chase, considered the premier establishment, is indicative of what’s happened to many dollhouse shops recently, said Katz. “All of the other dollhouse stores around here, the owners were retiring,” Katz said.

Tiny Heirlooms offers custom-designed as well as pre-made dollhouses in numerous styles. They have the traditional Victorian designs, contemporary styles, log cabins and even gingerbread dollhouses.

The store also offers everything conceivable to decorate the dollhouses. “We even have little tax forms for tax time,” said Katz. Miniature products have evolved with the times. Where once collectors molded food out of Sculpy clay, now they can completely recreate their own kitchen with everything from Wonder Bread and canned food to miniature USA Today newspapers. “It’s a fantasy world people are creating,” said Katz.

Products range from brand-name food items to real silver candlesticks. “Even if you’re spending $100 on silver candlesticks, it’s something that’s going to appreciate,” said Katz. “It’s to create a dream house.”

To complete the fantasy, Tiny Heirlooms acts as a tiny interior design center. It has swatches of wallpaper and flooring options that can be selected just like the life-size version.

Restoring dollhouses has emerged as a much sought-after side business at Tiny Heirlooms. It has a three-year waiting list of people wanting to have their childhood treasures restored, either for themselves or for their grandchildren. Jana Morgana, a visual artist who single-handedly restores the dollhouses to their former glory, works slowly and steadily to capture the vision the dollhouse owners explain to her. “People have an idea of what they want. I’m a dollhouse interior decorator. They tell me what they want, and I do it,” said Morgana. Each house takes a few months to repair “depending on how extensive the repair is,” she said.

Some dollhouses get a complete overhaul and have the exterior remodeled and the interior portion of the doll house electrically wired.

Tiny Heirlooms also sells kits for the do-it-yourselfer to fix up dollhouses.

“Young people like to come in with their parents or their grandparents and make a wish list. It’s energizing to see how excited they are,” said Morgana. “Especially the fathers. They get excited about the woodworking and the wiring. It’s something they can do,” adds Katz. “We have all the supplies if someone wants to do it themselves,” said Katz.

Tiny Heirlooms hosts Girl Scout troops who want to see the miniature world for themselves.

Katz love of dollhouses and miniatures continues to this day. When she travels to shows to exhibit for Tiny Heirlooms, she finds herself looking for her own elusive treasures. As a modern young woman in an age-old business, she is searching for the one item that will signal a new era in dollhouse collecting. “I’m always looking for modern dolls. They are all in Victorian clothes. I’d like to see a woman in a business suit,” said Katz.