Catonsville store captivates midcentury modern crowd

Couple's retro retailing venture began years before 'Mad Men'-inspired home furnishings became trendy

January 18, 2012|By Liz Atwood, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Ten years ago, Nini Sarmiento and Rob Degenhard were scouring flea markets, antiques stores and yard sales searching for midcentury modern pieces to furnish their Rodgers Forge townhouse.

They were having such a good time — and becoming so good at it — that one vendor suggested they try selling furniture themselves. And so Home Anthology was born.

Today their Catonsville store has become a destination for those seeking midcentury modern, vintage, and retro furniture and accessories. Degenhard says many of their customers come from Washington, Philadelphia and New York. One woman flew from Chicago, rented a truck and packed it with as many pieces as she could fit, he says.

As the popularity of midcentury modern furnishings has grown, so has Home Anthology's business.

"Initially there were a lot of young hipsters, but now we have a wide spectrum of ages," Degenhard says.

The creators of the hit television show "Mad Men" haven't come knocking yet, but Don Draper would feel right at home amid the glass-and-chrome tables, Danish teak cabinets and fiberglass chairs in the Home Anthology showroom.

Longtime Home Anthology customer Pam Grady says she tunes in to "Mad Men" to get decorating ideas. "I can't quite follow the plot because I keep shopping," she says.

Grady and her husband, Howard Shapiro, have furnished practically all of their three-bedroom Clarksville condo with pieces they purchased at Home Anthology, including a dining room set, bar stools, chairs and a desk.

While Shapiro, a communications lawyer, is drawn to the modern design, Grady, who heads Howard County's court-appointed advocacy program for children, says she likes using furniture from the past.

"I was always interested in scavenging antique and junk shops for interesting and unusual pieces," she says.

Chris and Randi Hays turned to Home Anthology for furniture to complement their 1960s condo in Bethesda. Both have a background in graphic design and were attracted to the clean lines of the midcentury modern furniture.

"It's the nostalgia, the clean design and the quality," Chris Hays says, adding that the pieces also remind the couple of furniture owned by their parents and grandparents.

While most of Home Anthology's customers are shopping to furnish their homes, television and movie company representatives have turned up as well. Sarmiento and Degenhard sold a womb chair to the creators of the TV series "Lipstick Jungle," which starred Brooke Shields.

The store's owners, both 43, met when they were freshmen at Loyola College. Sarmiento was a communications major with an interest in graphic design. Degenhard was a religion and philosophy major.

For a number of years, Sarmiento designed magazines and marketing brochures. Degenhard worked at a variety of jobs, including as a youth minister and a fundraiser.

By 2002, they were looking for a change. "We went through an early midlife crisis," Sarmiento explains.

Taking a chance to turn a hobby into a vocation, they started Home Anthology by renting a 250-square-foot booth in a Cockeysville antiques mall.

The business quickly took off. "We got a sense immediately that we stood out from what the other antique stores had to offer," Degenhard says.

In 2002, Americans were retreating to the nest, seeking the familiarity and comfort of a bygone era. "We caught it at an early stage," Sarmiento says.

After a year in Cockeysville, the couple moved their store to western Baltimore County and rented 5,000 square feet in the old Oella mill. The mill's future was uncertain as a developer sought, and eventually received, approval to build apartments in the space. But for a time, the rent was cheap, and Home Anthology could expand. "It worked," Degenhard says.

One of their first mentions in the press was a piece in The New York Times when a reporter writing about railroad towns stumbled into their store seeking a glass of water.

When the mill closed for redevelopment, the couple moved the store to a 5,000-square-foot space in Catonsville and focused more intently on midcentury modern furniture and accessories.

Sarmiento says she loves the look of the midcentury modern pieces, especially the Danish modern design. "I love the simplicity. I love the scale," she says. "A lot of modern stuff is so overstuffed."

Home Anthology carries authentic Danish modern pieces and less expensive American modern furnishings. Although the inventory changes constantly, recent pieces in the store included an eye-catching blue daybed designed by Adrian Pearsall for $625, a Louis Poulsen pendant lamp for $650 and a yellow Danish Jydsk sofa for $950 that looks like it came right from the set of "Mad Men."

Although modern furniture can look almost stark in its simplicity, it can be surprisingly comfortable. The furniture makers of the era understood ergonomics and function, Degenhard explains. Skills, techniques and materials that had been used during World War II, such as bent plywood, were applied to furniture design in the 1960s.

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