The Creators of Smallsea
In 1996 Diane Birnberg was on a business trip to London for her money management firm in Chicago. She had an afternoon off and had read in a magazine about a dollshouse shop, The Singing Tree. It sounded fun and she decided to pay a visit. The Singing Tree proved to be not only a pure delight to her but also a revelation as she had no idea that such beautiful miniatures existed. She spent the better part of the afternoon talking with the owner and learning about the world of miniatures. In the shop, Diane loved one particular Georgian house. When she returned home, she shared her new enthusiasm with her husband, Howard, and told him all about the Georgian dollshouse. For Christmas, Howard gave her the house. So began the collection that currently counts 36 buildings and 1,500 miniature dolls.
At first Diane did not have time to devote to building as she was running her financial business. She turned to the experts at a local Chicago shop, Think Small by Rosebud, Carol Olsen and Leon Pitt. Carol and Leon worked with Diane and built nine of the original twelve buildings of Smallsea. Diane will always be grateful to Carol and Leon. Not only did they realize Diane’s vision for each shop they built but taught her many of the basic skills and techniques of miniature construction. Diane first began to build by working on a couple of renovations. Then she and Howard (who had already helped with carpentry) took on a two-year “from scratch” project. With Howard’s degree in architecture and Diane’s in art history they both welcomed the opportunity to reignite long dormant passions. Their work became The Explorers’ Club Edwardian London gentlemen’s’ club. The building has been featured in Miniature Collector Magazine (July 2009) as have many of the buildings in the collection.
In 2008, Diane retired from the day to day work at her firm and she and Howard moved to Carmel, California. With Howard’s urging, she decided to pursue her dream of creating a full city center based on London circa 1900-1905. Smallsea became a reality.
Diane had been collecting for Smallsea for about twelve years, carefully and methodically filing labeled carton after carton with items, furniture and commissioned dolls for specific shops and other buildings. With Howard’s enthusiastic assistance between January and June of 2009, twenty separate shops were constructed. Howard also branched out into all aspects of mini construction and to Diane’s delight is “hooked” on minis.
Diane and Howard have augmented the collection with a few auction purchases in England and now the collection stands at thirty-six buildings. Expansion is most definitely in the works with a church, rectory, and a school set to be completed by Christmas and a restaurant and department store in 2010. As Diane and Howard continue their travels to London and Diane expands her research into the period, there will most certainly be more to come to Smallsea.