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Benjamin Epstein / Style

Builder Hopes Miniature Houses Find Good Homes

March 14, 1986|Benjamin Epstein

Rich Waters is an electrician. He's also a furniture reupholsterer. He installed Bob Newhart's hot tub and pool, and Elizabeth Montgomery swears by his green thumb.

Waters is the proverbial jack of all trades. Only in his world, he's master of all: Waters makes dollhouses. Dream dollhouses. State-of-the-art dollhouses. The kind of dollhouses adults appreciate.

The lights work, for instance. The fires are going in the fireplaces. The jets work in the hot tub. The pool self-cleans. The plants in the garden are live.

Three of his miniature homes will be on display through Sunday at the Home Restoration and Remodeling Show at Anaheim Stadium. One, a Tudor design valued at $5,000, will be given away as grand prize for a drawing sponsored by the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation; proceeds will help the foundation in its fight against blindness.

The Restoration and Remodeling Show is being promoted as "the largest assortment of home improvement, decorating, design and luxury additions ever assembled under one roof." Meanwhile, Waters' creations can boast one of the largest assortments ever assembled under one small roof.

"These are dream designs that most people can only dream of building," said Waters, 29. "Really elaborate, really special--somebody could actually imagine living there. They become homes within a home. . . ."

There were six homes within Waters' home in Studio City this week. He hopes they won't be there too long.

"If you keep them for a while, you really get attached," he admitted. "It's hard to give them up in the end. But somebody always comes long. You don't find them; they find you. And in each case I know the house is getting a good home . . . someplace where it will be handed down from generation to generation."

Waters generally turns out eight to 10 "real plain Janes" a year. The "working" models, however, can take as long as 10 months.

Once the shell is completed, inexpensive miniature furniture must be rebuilt and reupholstered; fixtures are wired and installed; wooden floors and stone facades are hand-laid; fireplaces are built brick by brick. Waters collaborates with interior decorator Oscar Palomino, who paints the paintings on the walls and handcrafts the bedspreads and pillows.

Waters said he came by his livelihood naturally.

"This was the one thing in my life I didn't have to learn how to do," he confided. "I just decided to do it.

"I love to watch things being built. My father was in construction. I've seen pools built, Jacuzzis installed. You just have to think of ways to do the same things small. You need little bubbles? Airstone and aquarium pumps."

According to Waters, it's things like airstone and aquarium pumps that set his houses apart from those of other, more seasoned, dollhouse makers. Meanwhile, the scale of his dreams continues to grow.

"I've always loved skyscrapers . . . and I want to do the Frank Lloyd Wright house," he said, "the one on Camelback Mountain in Phoenix, where I grew up. Of course, he'd kill me: I want to put in an indoor pool."

Although Waters has solved many of the intricacies of doll-size electricity and plumbing, he has yet to conquer the toilet.

"I haven't figured that one out yet," he admitted. "I will sooner or later. But the next thing I'm tackling is big-screen TV."

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