Among the pieces inside the gallery is a spectacular art nouveau fireplace of brass and inlaid wood with glass-doored cabinets. The piece is 10 1/2 feet long and by the French designer Leon Benouville, and, like most exuberant art nouveau, decorated as a piece of sculpture; the inlaid surface is reminiscent of a painting, and the piece is useful as furniture. The tag is $42,500.
For the last five years, Gary and Janet Calderwood have been supplying a number of Manhattan dealers and collectors with art nouveau and art deco furniture from their shop at Seventh and South Streets and their warehouse at 21st and Hamilton.
They opened their new 17th Street gallery, directly across from the Warwick Hotel, on Dec. 1. It is their dream come true. "We tried to rent the space five years ago when we took the South Street store," said Janet Calderwood, 40.
"This space was vacant for a long time while the owner tried to get a zoning variance to build an entrance to the adjacent parking garage. I was driving by one day last fall and noticed a for-rent sign, and we got in touch with the agent immediately. It is a perfect space - dark so that sunlight will not bleach the fine woods."
Business has been good.
"Of the six pieces of Giacometti furniture we had when we opened, we sold all but the two chairs," she said.
In Paris last month, Gary Calderwood, 42, bought two more pieces of Giacometti cast bronze furniture, a bibliotheque (bookshelf) and a large, square coffee table, and the Calderwoods expect their acquisitions to arrive soon.
The Calderwoods have been buying French furniture for 20 years. They furnished their house in University City with pieces by Louis Majorelle, Benouville, de Feure and Leon Jallot - and then they became dealers. "We had to become dealers to support our collection," said Janet Calderwood. "We would buy three pieces and sell two in order to afford to keep one.
"Five years ago, when we went to the banks to borrow money to start this business, the bankers said, nobody in Philadelphia will buy this furniture," she remembered. "We said, no one is offering it to them here, they are going to New York to buy it. Now people come from many cities to buy from us and almost 30 percent of our business is with Philadelphians."
Jallot, Jules Leleu and Andre Arbus, along with the better-known Jacques Emile Ruhlmann and Majorelle, are not yet household names here - like Thomas Chippendale and Duncan Phyfe - but their furniture is just as luxurious, elegant and well-made in the same grand tradition of cabinetmaking.
As accessories, the Calderwoods stock German pewter, French silver plate, French posters, sculpture and a few American chrome desk lamps. Hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, or by appointment. Call 732-9444.
Calderwood Gallery is not the only place in Philadelphia to find 20th- century French furniture. Robert Aibel's Moderne gallery, 41 N. Second St., across from Christ Church, offers primarily French art deco furniture and lighting, some American art pottery and posters of the two decades from 1920 to 1940.
If Calderwood is like a Madison Avenue gallery, then Moderne is reminiscent of galleries in SoHo. Aibel, a professor of communications and film at Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania, runs Moderne in his spare time. He worked from an adjacent warehouse for two years before opening his storefront shop a year ago.
Art deco French furniture is not inexpensive, even in the lower rent district. A rosewood and sycamore vanity/desk with a lacquered parchment top, chrome drawer-pulls and a matching chair, by Jacques Adnet, cost $11,000; an iron console with stylized floral designs and a marble top by Edgar Brandt is $14,500; a simple rosewood buffet, a classic art deco form by DIM, (Decoration Interieure Moderne), the decorating firm established by Rene Joubert and Philippe Petit, also sells for $14,500.
Hours at Moderne are noon to 6 p.m Thursday and Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and by appointment. Call 923-8536.
SHOWS New York Winter Antiques Show, Seventh Regiment Armory, 67th Street and Park Avenue, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow, 1-6 p.m. Sunday
SALES (In New York unless indicated) Americana, Sotheby's, 10:15 a.m. and 2 p.m. today and tomorrow * Antiques, furniture and clocks, Conestoga Auction Co., Manheim, Graystone Rd., west of Route 72 and 7 miles north of Lancaster, 9 a.m. tomorrow * English and Continental Furniture and Decorations, Christie's, 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. tomorrow * English and Continental furniture, decorations and paintings, Doyle, 10 a.m. Wednesday.