Photographs by Bob Rozycki
Darren T. Scala has many houses – eight to be exact.
“I have a three-story English Tudor,” he says, “a glass mansion; a cedar Colonial; a very optimistic Victorian, lots of angles; a Grand Victorian; and a house that looks like something you’d see in New Orleans.”
Darren doesn’t live in any of them, though, as they are wee abodes, part of his D. Thomas Fine Miniatures shop, which just opened in Hastings-on-Hudson.
“When you see a miniature, there’s a visceral reaction like ‘Oh,’” he says, sighing. “Maybe it goes back to childhood when we played with toys, things smaller than ourselves. As adults we see (miniatures) differently, but we attach the same emotions to them.”
Partly, the appeal is about control. Your own Victorian may creak and leak. But you can perfect a 3-foot tabletop model, furnishing it with floral-shade lamps and brass appointments that can fit in the palm of your hand.
This may be the ultimate in niche marketing, but Darren – a former Revlon marketing executive whose job was to make women feel they needed that new red lipstick – knows there’s a miniaturist market out there that borders on the obsessive. There’s even a society, the International Guild of Miniature Artisans Ltd., or IGMA. (Darren’s on the board.)
What there hasn’t been are a lot of shops that cater to the miniaturist crowd. “There’s a difference between a retail shop and online where that one-on-one is missing.”
That’s where his store comes in, nestled in the cheery blue-and-white Moviehouse Mews that was once The Hastings Theater. (Opened in 1920, it was named not for the village but for its architect, Foster L. Hastings.) There Hastings resident Billie Burke – Glinda the Good Witch in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” – and Broadway impresario Flo Ziegfeld attended performances and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. flashed across the screen in “The Mark of Zorro.” Now the Mews is home to a salon, a doctor’s office and the French Press Café, where Darren talks to WAG about the miniatures business over latte before a visit to his shop, which is located where the theater’s movie screen once was.
“There are 16-foot ceilings,” he says. “It opens up the space to show the product really well. You have a lot of high houses, and you wouldn’t show the scale really well if the ceilings were lower. … There’s something really seductive when you play with size.”
The houses, which are displayed in the front of the shop with its dramatic lighting, come from estate sales and other places around the country as well as Darren’s own handiwork. Their façades are imposing or enticing. The backs, however, offer a cross-section of staircases and unfurnished rooms. Just as you want a buyer to be able to project himself into the full-size house he’s looking to purchase, so you want the shopper to imagine what goodies he’ll select to embellish his little dream palace. Hence the shadow boxes lining the walls near the gallery, filled with miniature furnishings.
The cozy shop – all woods and chocolate brown paint – also contains cabinets laden with small treasures – jewelry and other gift items – for those who’d like to dip a teeny-tiny toe into the miniaturist market.
But the display space and the houses are just two parts of D. Thomas (Darren’s first initial and middle name). The third is a workshop in the back where you can learn to craft your own miniature house and furnishings. It’s the route Darren took in 2009 amid the recession when one too many turnovers at Revlon led him to the writing on the wall. So he decided to follow a passion that’s been with him since his childhood in Brooklyn.
At 8, he asked his father, a cabinetmaker, to build him a dollhouse. And to his credit, “this macho Italian guy” did it – albeit at the behest of his mother, whom Darren describes as a superb homemaker. (Miniature houses, it should be noted, aren’t really dollhouses for children. They’re adult toys – in the nicest possible sense of that phrase.)
Though Darren pursued a degree in advertising at Emerson College in Boston and worked his way up the corporate ladder at Revlon, the love of miniatures remained. But they weren’t the only inspiration for the business. Credit must also go to the real English Tudor he once had in Yonkers.
Now living in an apartment there, Darren is shopping around for a small house.
But not a miniature.
“Right,” he says with a laugh.