Howard Richmond isn’t delusional.
As a dentist still practicing at age 86 after 62 years behind the drills, he realizes people are as excited about seeing him as they are sitting down for an IRS tax audit.
Quite frankly, Richmond says, “probably 99.9% who come and see you are not happy to be at the dentist. You have to make these people comfortable in the situation they’re In.”
Ah, but Richmond’s endeavor beyond dentistry is polar – better yet, molar – opposite: Richmond makes dollhouses or, more accurately, “architectural miniatures.” Yes, it started with an elaborate dollhouse for his granddaughter some 20 years ago, but it’s evolved into a nifty side business of buildings that stir fond memories – including the original Pedrotti family-owned hardware store in Crockett a century ago.
Richmond figures he’s done 100 or so miniatures with 100% satisfaction.
“Everyone’s been happy,” he says. “I haven’t had anyone say, ‘I thought it would be more like this …’”
Richmond’s created a scaled-down bakery, drug store, farmhouse, gas station, and jewelry store. The original 500-foot Firpo & Pedrotti hardware store is a first and, says the dentist, “the first one with stuff inside.”
With windows big enough to peek inside and wired for lighting, the miniature includes an array of hardware store items with the building matching the original brick. It’s easily more detailed than Richmond’s usual projects, he says.
A native New Yorker, Richmond’s family relocated to California when he was about 8. “As a kid I always built stuff in the garage – model airplanes, model trains. I made plastic jewelry for the girls. I was working with my hands all those years repairing stuff around the house.”
Graduating from Beverly Hills High School in 1960, Richmond enlisted for two years in the Air Force, stationed at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, which closed in 2001.
After two years at the University of Southern California, Richmond went to dental school in Cleveland, Ohio.
Never had he imagined his trusty hands would be creating miniature buildings until he attended a dollhouse show with his granddaughter in the early 1970s and saw dollhouses for $400, “which was a lot of money back then,” Richmond says. “My granddaughter wanted me to buy one and I said, ‘I could make it myself.’ So I built her a dollhouse.”
Richmond created dollhouses for about 15 years, he said, buying some of the furniture and, when possible, making it himself. “I’d make them for friends of mine with kids and grandkids, nieces, relatives,” Richmond says.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that he had the request to build a miniature front of a Craftsman home.
“That was the start,” he says. “People get so excited seeing miniatures of their house. It’s very gratifying.”
Finishing a wood-working project and seeing the recipient’s reaction is unbeatable, Richmond says, recalling one miniature lifeguard station he created with the top coming up, revealing an engagement ring. Then there was the 1890s farmhouse for a father’s 85th birthday made almost completely from recycled wood from the original farmhouse. When the farmhouse was unveiled, “everyone cried,” Richmond says.
At age 86, Richmond says he’ll continue his dental practice and his “miniature architecture” as long he has a passion for it and can physically excel. But first, completing the original 1922 hardware store, Firpo & Pedrotti.
“It’s been a great challenge,” Richmond says. Unlike most of his projects that are shipped, Richmond hopes to hand deliver the original Pedrotti’s hardware shop model to Gene before the July 3-4 celebration. People undoubtedly will be impressed, he hinted, with a plethora of hardware accessories such as nails, hammers, garden tools, and power tools neatly organized inside the model.
“I’m satisfied with it,” Richmond says, enjoying the process as much as he always does, laughing at first that it takes someone who is “stupid, dumb and insane” to consider making the miniatures. More seriously, “as with, I think, anything you do, you have to have a passion for it,” Richmond says. “And a satisfaction in completing a project and making the person happy you’re doing the project for.”
No doubt Pedrotti will be all smiles after finding Richmond on Etsy, a global online marketplace.
“I was musing, ‘If I could only find someone who could do a custom dollhouse… and he popped up,” Pedrotti says.
Pedrotti hopes the miniature becomes an attraction not only at the Ace store in the Southampton Shopping Center but perhaps at Farmers Market and other Benicia events. “That way kids can see inside the store and what it looked like for an early 1900s merchant,” Pedrotti says.