Nestled among rows of thousands of wood and rubber stamps, Leigh Albert sat in the back room of Angela's Happy Stamper, a Reston arts and crafts store, and learned last week how to create unusual Christmas cards using stamps and fine, multi-colored paper.
"Angela's has some terrific learning opportunities," said Albert, a Vienna resident. "I just love coming here. This is a great way to pick up some tips for my cards."
Albert, who said she frequently visits the stamp store, is among a devoted crowd of do-it-yourself artists, designers and curiosity-seekers from around the region who are taking classes and finding hidden treasures at Angela's and other arts-oriented stores offering home furnishings, antiques, art supplies and more at a business park on Sunset Hills Road.
The owners of the stores, located at 11411 Sunset Hills Road, have taken to calling the business park, "The Design Studios of Reston," seeing their business community as a small-scale version of the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria.
"There's an artistic thread among all the tenants," said Scott Silvestain, the business park's property manager. "It's been really fulfilling and nice to see it grow into what it's become."
THE RESTON BUSINESS Park was built in 1986 and is owned by Charles Veatch, a member of the original Reston real estate sales team during the early 1960s and an accomplished photographer, best known for his "Nature of Reston" book.
For years, the business park was home to industrial firms that catered primarily to contractors. Over the last year and a half, however, the small, independent and artistic stores have moved in.
In addition to the stamp store, Angela's Happy Stamper, the business park houses eight storefront businesses, including:
* Things of the Earth, which offers a selection of thousands of beads, pendants, pearls and jewelry supplies, along with classes by glass artist, Meg Sebastian, on how to make jewelry.
* ARTworks, a gallery and studio that provides classes in different styles of art, including glass and abstract painting.
* Mayflowers, which boasts a range of home furnishings and outdoor accessories, ranging from stone statues to custom-made indoor garden ponds.
* Dragonfly, an Asian art and antique shop that offers unusual home furnishings, such as Buddha statues, wooden baskets and 200-year-old furniture.
* Decks Down Under, a contractor business that builds and installs custom decks, patios and storage space.
* Nova Tile, a tile shop for homeowners and interior designers.
* Nature's Best Magazine, a national publication that publishes nature photography from around the globe.
Several of the shopkeepers said they were attracted to the business park by its relatively inexpensive rents and the community of like-minded entrepreneurs and customers.
"It's very much about a sense of community," said Angela Finete, owner of the stamping store. "It's kind of like an old-fashioned quilting bee. It's very much a sense of family."
IN ANOTHER ROW of shops at last week, in the bead store, Things of the Earth, Peggy Laurent browsed among rows of colored beads. She said she often visits the store to purchase materials she can use to make necklaces and bracelets.
"I'm a bead-a-holic," she said. "It's a lot of fun coming here. You never know what you're going to get."
Next door, at Mayflowers, the home and garden store, shopkeeper Polly Jones gathered up some furry-looking Christmas ornaments, pointing to her store's unusual assortment of high-end indoor and outdoor decorations.
"Our home accessories are quite unique and not found in any other area store," she said,
A few moments later, upstairs from Mayflowers, staffers worked on the latest issue of Nature's Best in a suite the magazine shares with Veatch's office headquarters. Sitting in the office's conference room, amidst giant blow-ups of the magazine's best shots — depicting the Aurora Borealis, sea turtles, icebergs, insects and desert scenes — Steve Freligh, Nature's Best's publisher, explained how the magazine is adding a bit more art and beauty into Reston's culture.
"These photographs just take your breath away," he said, pointing out his favorite shots from a recent issue of the quarterly magazine. "Everyday when we pick up the newspaper, on the front page there's a picture of something terrible. But these photos are like a breath of fresh air."
THE AMALGAMATION of artistic and unusual establishments at the business park are drawing in an increasing number of customers, Silvestain said.
And even more tenants are expected to open store-front businesses in the coming weeks at the Design Studios of Reston, Silvestain said. This month, a photography studio is expected to open, showcasing the works of local photographer Bill Monet.
"Things are booming," he said. "We're real proud of what's developing here. We have a love of Reston and we're trying to do something special."