MOUNT AIRY - You've finally found it -- your dream house.
You've even furnished it in your mind's eye -- the color of the walls and carpet, the period furniture, the spacious country kitchen, right down to the pictures on the walls.
If you're like most of us, your dream house will remain a dream, because the price of such a home is out of the reach of your pocketbook.
But perhaps not, if you're willing to settle for something a little smaller -- say, one-twelfth the size of the real thing.
"There's a lot of happy things you can do with miniatures," said miniaturist Janice Bennett. "A lot of people re-create their memories with them. They build the house they grew up in, or it's a way to have something they can't afford."
Scaled-down versions, or dollhouses, are no longer just child's play, as members of the Mini Wonder Workers will tell you.
This group of women, ranging in age from 31 to 68, spend hours on end creating miniature replicas of period furniture and accessories for every room in the house, including the bathroom.
They meet monthly in one another's homes to work on group projects, to conduct workshops on furniture-making, to browse magazines and catalogs for new ideas or swap completed pieces.
Group members include Janice Bennett and her mother, Evelyn, both of Mount Airy; Kathy Garner of Laytonsville, Sue Ketchum of Damascus and Meg Adamson of Gaithersburg, all in Montgomery County.
Each belongs to the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, which has an estimated 15,000 members worldwide.
The reasons for making and collecting dollhouses and furnishings are as varied as the women themselves.
"As a child, I'd go out and pick flowers and paint them," Janice Bennett said. "I also enjoyed sewing at a young age -- I did the crafts for the dollhouses. I was always more interested in making the crafts and painting than in actually playing with the dollhouse."
When her interest in miniatures was sparked by doing some flower arrangements for the county fair 10 years ago, Evelyn joined her in plunging into the whole tiny world of scale models.
Today, the mother and daughter make their own "room boxes," one-twelfth scale rooms protected by removable plexiglass, just in case someone does want to play dollhouse.
Garner, perhaps, is the group's most devoted miniaturist. Her basement has been taken over by dollhouses from the last 100 years, as well as a workshop area for her own room boxes.
At a gathering of the club last month, she proudly displayed her latest purchase: a new replica of an English Tudor-style cottage of the 1500s, complete with two-seater outhouse and 8,500 hand-cut ivy leaves covering the outside walls.
"That's the fun of the game -- searching for details," said Garner, whose interest in miniatures grew after her son went off to college. "I collected dollhouses as a child, so now this is to fill my empty nest."
Like Janice Bennett, Ketchum likes to make things.
"I must be a frustrated builder," she said with a laugh.
While Garner collects dollhouses, Adamson simply makes her room boxes, then sells, trades or gives them away -- except for her kitchens.
"I like to build the room, and then I get rid of it," she said. "I'm not a real collector, I'm a kitchen nut."
Working in miniature can be an intricate and tricky business, but that's the fun of it, the women said.
"We're habitual pack rats -- we collect everything because we know one day there'll be a need for it," Janice Bennett said.
Indeed, everything from standard-size bathroom tissue (some from other countries for authenticity) and wallpaper to plastic foam packaging material, dried plants and flowers is carefully stored away for future use.
When a room box is completed, it is a finished room in miniature. The walls are papered, decorated with tiny, framed pictures or family photos or a variety of crafts. There may be carpet on the floor, or hand-woven rugs.
A coffee table or bedside stand may hold a telephone, magazines or lamp.
"(What you do) can be very simple or very elaborate," Garner said.
Miniatures can cost from a few dollars to many. Bennett tells the story of one woman who took out a $10,000 mortgage on her dollhouse.
Shows featuring miniatures have grown to be big business in recent years. Mini Wonder Workers attend shows to buy, sell and swap pieces, mostly "to support our habit, so we won't be going into the grocery money," Bennett said.
Group members displayed some of their miniatures at the Mount Airy branch of the Carroll County Public Library in October to coincide with National Doll House Miniatures Week, Oct. 14-20. The Mini Wonder Workers are always eager to share their work with others, Bennett said.
Information: Bennett at 829-0421, or Garner at 301-253-4266.