It really is a charming picture. Really. A huge black and white lithograph of a spaniel in a round black frame. But Lis Serrano is not so sure.
"You don't have the dog," she says, opening her eyes wide, when you compliment the picture. "I have the dog. The same one. He was so terrible I don't want to see the picture. I like the frame. But when I remember my dog . . . uh oh."
Talking with Lis Serrano -- well, not talking so much as listening as she tells stories in her beautiful Spanish accent -- is half the fun of working your way through the Olde Touch, the new shop she and her husband, Alex, opened on Charles Street in Charles Village.
"My English is not so good," she says, "but I say, 'well, the people don't come in here to learn the language. They come in here to see the antique pieces.' "
What people come to see are the antique porcelain, china and crystal downstairs and the furniture upstairs. There are chandeliers, lamps, mirrors, paintings and prints. She is particularly proud of the Satsuma pottery and her collection of cloisonne. There are Victorian sofas, a Potthast breakfront and two dining room sets -- one an unusual 10-piece set with two legs at each corner of the table.
In the front window there's something you can't miss -- a striking 5-foot-tall pink Chinese palace vase. "This piece I bought because I say, 'well, this is my good advertising,' " she says with a laugh.
Mrs. Serrano first developed her love of antiques as she was growing up in Madrid.
"My mother collected so many things. And I started not to collect myself but to do researching. I look in books to learn about the pieces."
Later, when she and her husband were courting, they traveled around Spain visiting museums. "Before we were married, we liked to go to the museums, especially in the small towns. I am from the big city. He is from the small town, Segovia. And there are a lot of palaces, very old palaces, and castles, especially in the small teeny towns. You don't think there's a castle over there -- the town is two or three houses -- but it has a little castle and they have beautiful things. They have so many things and so much history. You can look and stay for days, months, looking and you never finish, you never see all these things."
When they came to the United States, they started collecting. Mr. Serrano has a good eye for furniture, his wife adds. "He is expert. He can do anything. He says, OK, give me five minutes, and he repairs it or whatever he needs to do."
At the shop, Mrs. Serrano says, they try to have things for people with different budgets, for collectors with no limits on the amount they'll spend and for people who like things that are old but not expensive.
She sometimes does consulting, advising people whether certain pieces from her shop will fit into their decor. But to build a business, she says, you have to be honest.
One day, she says, a customer asked about the possibility of putting a reading lamp on a tall, narrow table. "That's OK, I say. 'I can put on a lamp and you can see.' Was terrible.
"She asked me how I think. 'Don't ask me,' I said. 'I think it's ugly.' I should say beautiful, because what I'm supposed to do is sell the table. But I can't. I can't. When it's ugly, it's ugly. When you do that, the people trust you.
"But I love it," she adds. "It's fun. It's like a hobby, not like a work."
The Olde Touch is at 2103 N. Charles St. The hours are 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and other times by appointment. The telephone number is 783-1493.