Growing up in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Maureen and Sue Walsh were always doing something creative. They went to art classes on Saturdays, and instead of watching television in their spare time, they painted and made pottery. Art and design were integral parts of their lives.
“Both of us always knew we wanted to do something creative,” Maureen says.
When they graduated high school, however, they took the practical course prescribed by their family: college degrees followed by careers in business. Maureen ended up in international business development, and Sue worked for many years in corporate technology.
Then, in 2011, Maureen decided it was time to leave the business world behind and return to the passions of her youth. Her plan was to open a store selling unique and beautiful products for the home, ideally in partnership with her sister. She called Sue, who was living in Maine at the time, and said, “Let’s do it.” Sue agreed, and Artefact was born.
From the beginning, they knew they wanted their inventory to focus on sophisticated, handmade pieces that were unlikely to be found anywhere else. They wanted to offer items crafted by local and global artisans, rather than collections of mass-produced wares.
“It’s the incredible design, the material they work with, the workmanship,” Maureen says. “We have a real respect for artisan work and what it takes.”
The location they found for their shop was a storefront wedged between a bus company and some garages in Belmont. Although, in their early planning, they had not given much thought to selling furniture, the open, airy space they had secured just called out for sofas and tables, they realized. So they investigated potential supplies and fell for the aesthetics, craftsmanship, and sustainability of North Carolina–based Verellen.
The Belmont shop was not in the sort of spot to attract walk-in traffic, and launching a new business in the midst of a shaky economic recovery was sometimes a bit daunting. Still the sisters worked hard to develop a reputation as a destination for great design.
“We put in a lot of hours,” Sue says. “We developed a loyal following.”
Visitors praised the pair’s kindness and thorough knowledge of their products, the chic industrial space, and the collection’s unique style.
In addition to the Verellen pieces the sisters love, the shop sells a range of home décor items and personal accessories. There are raw-edged leather totes, hand-woven linens, and mid-century-style blown glass decanters. A line of gardening planters made from a mixture of resin and marble and rock dust provides a great option for lightweight gardening containers with a classic style.
After a few years, Maureen and Sue decided they wanted to do more to work with clients in the interior design space, and also to expand their offerings from Verellen. To achieve that goal, they realized, they needed more of a presence outside of Belmont. So earlier this year, the pair opened a second Artefact location, this one in Boston’s South End, within easy reach of many of the city’s designers.
The new store is more furniture-focused than the original space. The sisters call the shop a “Verellen salon,” with pieces from the company arranged in groupings throughout the space to let shoppers experience the comfort and also catch a glimpse of some of the design possibilities. The other décor pieces are all chosen to complement and coordinate with the furniture.
Sue and Maureen pride themselves on creating unexpected and thoughtful product combinations that look great and help inspire shoppers’ own design explorations. Alpaca throws woven in Peru are heaped on a coffee table in one seating arrangement, and gilt-framed mirrors produced by a guild of artisans in Groton, Massachusetts, hang above one of the couches. Metallic paper hangings, inspired by traditional Japanese techniques create patterns of shadow and light on the walls.
Looking ahead, the sisters plan to rework the layout of the Boston store a bit to display even more furniture, as well as to make room at the front of the space for more smaller items. They have no plans for additional locations yet, preferring to enjoy where they find themselves right now, both physically and professionally.
“Everyone told us to expect a slow start,” Maureen says, sitting on a comfortable sofa and gazing out onto Boston’s Washington Street. “And it was not slow. We’ll be settling in here for a while.”