Quirky shop on Charles Street takes off in Nouveau directions


If you haven't been to Nouveau Contemporary Goods on Charles Street in the last year or so, you might not recognize the place.

Well, actually, that's too much of an exaggeration. You'll still recognize things. The owners, Lee Whitehead and Steve Appel, are there. And their style -- their sharp-eyed sense of design mixed always with a relaxed sense of humor -- still shows throughout everything in the shop.

But they've expanded to offer a lot more things, including more furniture and accessories; and they've added clothing and a HTC custom framing service.

"We sort of redid the store about a year ago and in this past year it's sort of been building up in different areas -- furniture, framing, clothing, accessories, ties and stuff," Mr. Appel says.

"We started with very little furniture, mostly just doing giftware, jewelry, cards, etc., and lately we've been expanding more into furniture, vintage or retro furniture, or painted furniture, new furniture, things like that."

They have a sculpted '50s couch in mint condition, an art deco cedar chest, a cocktail table with cobalt blue glass top, an art deco Hoosier cabinet and a '50s green and yellow kitchen table and chairs. There are also a couple of vintage radios that have been redone, one with bright red paint, the other with a neon antenna. In the window there's a '30s bedroom set with pink-tinted and plain mirrors as part of the dressing table.

They also have painted furniture by artist Dan Good of York, Pa., including a set of red- painted snack tables, plus other contemporary furniture, lamps and accessories.

"We sell furniture, deliver it and set it up," Mr. Appel says. "So if you buy a piece of furniture from here you don't have to figure out how to get it home. We do everything. And we buy and price furniture so it moves. I'll never buy a $2,000 art deco cocktail table because I don't want this to be a museum, I want it to move."

At the shop, there's been a subtle movement away from trendy things and kitsch to things that are more classic. A trip to %J Nouveau is like an education in how to mix old and new and have it all work together.

Both of the owners studied art and design in college. "We worked for a year and decided this was what we really wanted to do more. So we sold all our furniture, moved back home with our parents and started the store on $1,500 each. That was 1985. For the first 3 1/2 years of the business we didn't take a paycheck. We worked other jobs. Then we decided to go full scale, got a business loan, doubled our inventory and went in headfirst."

Their decision to add clothing, Mr. Appel says, "came from a lack of being able to find affordable neat clothing in town. We're going stronger in a lot of different directions, much more daring jewelry and things like that."

The custom framing available includes all styles from modern to traditional, and they have a number of art posters -- some in stock and many others that can be chosen from catalogs. They try to keep a short turnaround time on the framing, usually about a week, Mr. Appel adds.

They also keep a customer request list. "People come in and say, 'I'm looking for a '40s wingback chair or a '50s couch. What can you find for me?' So we call people or we fax Polaroid pictures to a lot of our customers, all around Baltimore, D.C. and Pennsylvania, people who come down on weekends. And that's worked out really well."

They do three-day layaway for most pieces of furniture.

Nouveau Contemporary Goods is located at 519 N. Charles St. The hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. The telephone number is 962-8248.

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