Dacha's Place in the Sun

"In the old days, you could trade a shawl like this one for a whole village," said Mark Patlis, a specialist in carpets and woven fabrics, as he showed a woolen cashmere shawl to a young woman.

Back then, the garments were so expensive because they were produced in the West, but Russia began to produce its own in the 19th century. And those homemade wraps became famous all over the world for their beauty and durability.

Today, some of those first such shawls, as well as a number of copies, are just a few of the items on display at the enormous new gallery and antique shop, Dacha, outside Moscow in the village of Zhukovka.

A giant, white, two-story log cabin, Dacha was host on its opening day Monday to a number of celebrities, including the leader of rock band Mashina Vremeni, Andrei Makarevich, pop singer Oleg Gazmanov and fashion designer Valentin Yudashkin. These, and dozens of other guests, dined on sturgeon shashlik to mark the beginning of dacha season, an important date on any urban dweller's calendar - and browsed Dacha's aisles.

"I think that there's no other country in the world that shares Russia's concept of the dacha," said Patlis, who is also a co-owner of Dacha. "People abroad have houses in the suburbs or villas, but those have nothing to do with the Russian dacha - you long for it for a year, waiting for summer."

If the concept of the dacha is a unique one, then Dacha, which was built according to tradition without a single nail, is even more unique in today's Russia, where these country homes are often slapped together in two days by special firms that use prefabricated parts. The idea to cling to tradition belonged to art collector Yemelyan Zakharov and his wife, artist Sasha Vertinskaya, granddaughter of the ballad singer Alexander Vertinsky and niece of director Nikita Mikhalkov.

Zakharov, Vertinskaya and Patlis did their best to inject Dacha with the spirit of the dacha of old, of a rural kind of life beloved by the aristocracy before the Bolsheviks came to power. As their guide, they used folklore, books and pre-revolutionary black-and-white photographs of a number of well-known industrialists on vacation at their dacha. The photographs are on display at Dacha, but are not for sale.

"The idea came to us three years ago, and we took eight months to build the house," said Zakharov, who traveled the world collecting items - both paintings and antiques - to stock Dacha.

"There are many things here that I bought at auctions in the West and some I bought in Russia from old women in villages all over the country," he said of Dacha's stock, which is not limited to items of domestic origin, although those do make up the bulk.

"Sometimes it was furniture, sometimes works of art. Recently, I bought an old painting in very bad condition and it turned out to be worth a great deal. I used to find masterpieces a few times a month."

In addition to antiques and works of art by celebrated painters likes cubist Alexander Osmyorkin and realist Filipp Malyavin, Dacha also displays and sells handicrafts and period furniture.

"We are especially proud of our northern Russian furniture from the Vologda and Astrakhan provinces," Vertinskaya said. "My favorite is a desk made from birch in Vologda in 1893."

Also on display are a number of antique pryalki wooden racks adorned with hand-painted flowers used for stretching wool from all over the country, as well as antique toy horses and dolls, linen tablecloths made over a century ago, a 19th-century cast-iron bed and a bedside table made from a circus elephant's training platform.

Dacha's thousands of items might have surrendered to the chaos their number threatens if it weren't for Vertinskaya's mother, Marianna, who is responsible for arranging the myriad paintings, dolls, chairs, shawls, plates and so on.

Even she admits, however, that a certain disorder remains.

"This kind of artful chaos reminds one of vacations and holidays," she said. "Our Dacha isn't a copy of a real dacha. It's just a place where people can find things to help build their own warm space."

Dacha is located in the village of Zhukovka in the Odintsovsky region, at 70 Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Shosse, across the street from the Tsar's Hunt restaurant. Take the elektrichka from Belorussky Station to "Ilyinskaya." Tel. 778-1486. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.