The one thing that visitors never have trouble finding when they’re at Barbara Hartsfield’s little shop in Stone Mountain Village is a chair. There are more than 3,000 of them, though most are too small for even the tiniest person to sit in.
The Minichair Gallery at 994 Main St., Stone Mountain, is a combination shop and museum with plant holders, picture frames, bookends, cookie jars, inkwells, water globes, jewelry boxes and a huge assortment of other items—all made to look like tiny chairs. The salt and pepper shaker collection alone has more than 100 items. There are even chairs within chairs such as the chair earring holder that has earrings that are all chairs. In honor of the season, there is a Christmas tree with more than 100 different ornaments, each a miniature chair.
Hartsfield, in fact, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the owner of the world’s largest collection of miniature chairs. “They had to create a category just for me,” Hartsfield recalled. “I stopped counting at 3,000. Somebody else may go after the record, but that’s OK. I have the one certificate; that’s all I want.”
She explained that the collection started as a hobby when she was working fulltime as a psychiatric nurse at Grady Hospital. She was writing an article for a professional journal on working with pregnant psychiatric patients. She decided that chairs would make soothing images for such patients and bought a few doll-size chairs to have around as she interviewed patients.
In the process, she discovered what a wide variety of chair images—from lawn chairs to loungers to antiques to commodes—are available in miniature. Once she started collecting them, friends and co-workers gave her little chairs that they happened upon. “They were taking over my house,” she said with a laugh.
When Grady decided to cut staff and offered its nurses early-out packages, 61-year-old Hartsfield elected to retire early. “They expected about 200 nurses to take the package. Instead about 600 took it, so they had to hire some of us back part time,” she said, explaining why she works at Grady two days a week. Still, the buy-out money enabled Hartsfield to buy a restored 100-year-old house that she converted into the gallery that opened in May.
“When the building across the street became available, I was praying that I could get it. I would leave church on Sunday and come out here and look at that building and pray. I didn’t know that as I was praying I was standing on the property that actually was going to become mine,” she said.
In the seven months the Minichair Gallery has been open, it has nearly filled up with exhibits, most of which are in the museum. The shop occupies a relatively small part of the house. “I don’t like to sell the items in the museum—some are one-of-a-kind items that can’t be replaced—but once in a while someone talks me into selling something from the museum,” she said. Even the shop’s bathroom has chairs in its bathtub.
“My eye is always out for something different,” Hartsfield said, adding that she regularly goes online to see what other miniature chairs are being offered for sale. “I’m going to have to stop doing that—or get a bigger place,” she said.
In the museum, chairs are grouped by about 30 themes. There’s a Coca-Cola theme, a jungle theme and a sports theme, for example. There are groupings for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and other holidays, but Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Labor Day items are included in the patriotic collection, where she has photos from the 2008 presidential inauguration that have never been published. Functional items such as radios, napkin holders and planters are separate from those that are just knickknacks.
Not every item in the shop qualified for the world record count. It was for miniature chairs only. The numerous photos, needlework pieces and other such images don’t count, nor do the original doll-size chairs. “They have to be three-dimensional and they have to be small enough to be considered miniatures,” Hartsfield explained.
“A lot of people see the shop and just see the word ‘chairs.’ They expect to see full-size chairs. Women come in and say their husbands decided to stay in the car because they’re not interested in chairs. Then they come in and see what’s really here and they’re fascinated,” she said.
Also in the shop are hundreds of “sitters,” little figures designed to sit on the edge of shelves. “I think I probably have enough sitters to qualify for a world record in that category,” she remarked, “but I don’t think I want to go through that again.”
One visitor, she said, inadvertently gave her a slogan that she has adopted. “She said, ‘You have to see this to believe it,’ and I said, ‘That’s a good slogan for this place,’” Hartsfield commented.