Bay Area Couple Fashion Cedar 'Homes' for Letters : Mailboxes for All Tastes, Even Post-Modern

From Associated Press

In an area where few can afford a home, Melody Cole's houses are selling faster than she can slap on the shutters.

They're made of cedar and come with flowered wallpaper, plush carpeting, lace curtains and a roof with shingles.

But you can't live in them--they're mailboxes.

"I guess it's sort of like the American Dream," said Cole who, along with her husband Jim, owns Mail Mansions in nearby Belmont. "It's taking a practical, plain item that is usually not paid attention to . . . and making it into something more enjoyable.

"It's another little embellishment that makes a house a home."

Five years ago, Cole quit her job as an office manager to devote herself full time to Mail Mansions.

Working furiously in her garage-turned-workshop, Cole made about 500 mailbox houses last year, worth $30,000 in gross sales to the small company.

Although her husband does the heavy sawing and cutting, Cole assembles the parts and does all the sanding, painting and finishing work.

To make the mailboxes as authentic as possible, Cole paints flowers along the borders and inserts real glass in the windows.

"You think of a big house, well, this is just a little house," Cole said.

The mail is inserted through the house's door, which has a tiny ceramic doorknob and opens with a cuckoo clock hinge.

Personal Touches

The mailboxes come in five styles--cottage, Victorian, barn, bungalow and cabin--but Cole personalizes them by matching paint, carpet and wallpaper to the buyer's home.

For some customers, however, that's not enough. One ham radio aficionado asked Cole to add a tiny antenna on top of his mailbox.

Another had a miniature light installed inside to match the lights in his house.

When Heidi Maslen added a bay window to the front of her San Mateo house, she wanted a mailbox to match. She ordered a Victorian-style mailbox and brought her blue-gray house paint along to guarantee an exact copy.

"They're just so cute," Maslen said. "They're so different from the standard black mailbox that you always see."

Since Cole has a bachelor's degree in theater arts from San Francisco State University, she knows how to make a flat surface appear three-dimensional.

By sponge-blotting the wood red or gray, Cole can make the mailboxes look like they're made of brick or flagstone. She then simply paints on the mortar.

Each mailbox takes about 12 hours to do, Cole said. They range from $45 to $165.

But it's not the money that drives Cole. She said she enjoys making something that is such a part of a person's daily routine.

"It's something that you visit every day," she said. "If you think about it, you don't have that many things that you have such regular contact with as your mailbox."

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