By Phyl Newbeck, Contributor

Jen Novak first started thinking about opening a home design and décor store last February, but when the pandemic hit, she put her plans on hold. With things looking up, Novak decided now was the time and opened the Gilded Elephant at Charlotte Crossing in mid-April. “When this space opened up and with people getting vaccinated, it seemed like a good time to go for it,” she said.

Jen Novak

Novak has a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, and she practiced in that field after graduate school. She later worked as an early childhood mental health consultant and then taught yoga for kids with special needs. As she and her husband were getting ready to move from Massachusetts to Vermont four years ago, she decided to take her passion for interior design and turn it into a new career.

The Gilded Elephant is a small space—just 250 square feet—but people have already been coming in. “I’ve had supportive friends who came in and bought things,” Novak said “but people have also been trickling in from the Red Onion.” Others have come to the store looking for her interior design services.

Because Novak is a one-woman show and has two sons, aged 10 and 12, her hours are currently limited to Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., some Saturdays, and by appointment. “I’d love to expand and continue to grow my client base and need a bigger space,” Novak said, “but for now I’m content to do it on my own and see where it takes me.”

Since the store is small, Novak has spent a lot of time thinking about her inventory. “It’s important that someone can come in and appreciate the look and feel of the store,” she said. “They can purchase anything from a ten-dollar candle to a side table worth a few hundred dollars. I worked hard to have a range of items so everyone will think there is something for them.” Novak carries small pieces like candles, vases, picture frames, pillows, blankets, and bar and cocktail items, but she also features larger pieces that are either custom or customizable. “I have some nice trays from companies that can make them in different color finishes, patterns and textures,” she said. “Clients can buy what’s on the shelf or I can work with them to tailor an item to their needs.”

Jen welcomes Kristen O’Connell’s daughter, Neely on opening day of The Gilded Elephant. Photo by Kristen O’Connell.

One of Novak’s specialties is revitalizing vintage furniture. “I’ve done it for myself,” she said, “as well as for friends and clients. If someone has a beloved piece that’s in good shape, I can breathe new life into it.” Novak noted that this can include new paint, upholstery or hardware. “It’s a really fun way to add something unique to your house,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a piece with sentimental value that you’re able to save. It’s something nobody else will have.”

So far, Novak has only done residential design work, but she is not opposed to having commercial clients. In a non-pandemic world, she visits with people in their homes, but Covid placed some restrictions on her work. “Typically I go to a client’s house, take measurements and see their style,” she said. “They can also come into my studio when it’s time to look at things like wallpaper and fabric.”

“One of the reasons I wanted to open the shop,” Novak said, “is I wanted to give my design clients the full picture. I’ve found that the finishing touches, accents and details are just as important in making a home feel warm and welcoming, so I wanted to be able to provide a place where people can find unique, curated pieces to add to their homes.” Novak wants to give people access to a full range of services. “I want people to feel welcome,” she said. “People can feel intimidated by interior design and I want to break down that barrier.”

Novak has always felt that it’s important to be invested in her community. “I’ve been volunteering with Meals on Wheels,” she said, “and I’m currently the president of my PTO board. It’s really important for me to connect with community members and feel that I’m contributing in a positive way.” Novak loves the work she does, but she also believes it is another way to help her community. “I want people to have a place to go for décor,” she said. “I felt that this was another way I could contribute to my community.”