Artefact Owners Maureen and Sue Walsh Open a New Boutique

The sisters ruminate on the opening of their new South End shop, the art of curation, and the power of doing (and selling) what you love.

Maureen and Sue Walsh opened their first store together in 2011. “After being in the [corporate] world for 10, 20 years, we wanted to do something more creative,” Sue recalls. / Photo by Cody O’Loughlin

Even if Maureen and Sue Walsh never told you they were sisters, you’d probably figure it out on your own. The pair, co-owners of the Belmont- and Boston-based home-goods company Artefact, have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences—a tendency that reveals both their deep familial bond and compatibility as business partners. “We always knew we wanted to do something,” says Sue, adding that she and Maureen left corporate jobs to try their luck as entrepreneurs. “And literally, I mean something. We [weren’t sure] what we wanted to do, but it was the right time.” That leap of faith resulted in the opening of Artefact’s first location in Belmont in 2011. Now, eight years later, the sisters have opened a second boutique in the South End, where they’ll continue to offer exclusive Verellen furniture and a curated selection of artisan-made ceramics, linens, pillows, and more.

What was the impetus for opening this second store?

Maureen: We were very interested in working with architectural firms and more interior designers. So we wanted to be in the heart of that where, literally, we can invite teams to walk over and take them through our collection and really support them and their projects. We’ve always loved the South End, so we narrowed it pretty quickly [when we were searching for a space].

How will the new shop be different?

Sue: The new South End shop will be loaded with furniture and accessories. We have the Verellen exclusive for the area, and we’re just going for it. We’re keeping the Belmont store [open], though, and that’s going to be a bit more garden-oriented and have a slightly more casual feel.

Maureen: Also, in Belmont, we have more personal goods. We have a really exciting jewelry line coming in, we do handbags, and we’re actually going to do a bit of clothing, too. It’s a very small collection of clothing from a local designer, so we’re excited about that.

What’s the story behind your partnership with Verellen?

Maureen: I used to travel at least once a year to Australia in my corporate job. Tom Verellen had representation there, so I had seen his collection. Long before we ever got into this business, I had been carrying around a picture of a crazy-expensive sofa [by another designer] in my wallet for the longest time. And when we found our space and decided it was perfect for furniture, I remembered Tom Verellen in Australia. I had my picture of the sofa and I thought, “You know what? The Verellen collection has that same sort of feel to me.” So I reached out to Tom and just said, “We’re starting this new venture and the space is perfect for furniture.” He invited me to visit with them, so I did. I came home and we said, “That’s it. We’re doing Verellen.”

In addition to Verellen furniture, the pair’s recently opened South End boutique offers an array of finely crafted home accessories. / Photo by Cody O’Loughlin

Verellen’s “Paola” chair features an exposed-wood base and hand-hammered metal legs. / Photo by Cody O’Loughlin

Do you have a sense of what speaks to you about a piece when you see it?

Maureen: The lines, for sure.

Sue: Yeah, the silhouette. It also has to be comfortable and actually look comfortable, too. It can’t look like, “I don’t want to be stuck sitting on that.”

Maureen: And then the finish and the stitch detail are really important to us.

How do you help customers select the pieces they buy?

Maureen: We welcome everybody to come in and sit in everything and really experience it. And we know the Verellen collection so well. We go and sit in everything twice a year [when Verellen introduces new fabrics and pieces] and take “sitting notes.”

Sue: Instead of tasting notes. [Laughs]

Maureen: Yes, sitting notes. So, we can really guide people.

What are some of the other lines you carry?

Sue: We love sourcing locally, but if it’s a good design we’ll buy it from anywhere. We carry Carvers’ Guild, which is based in Massachusetts. We also just started working with Amadi Carpets, a company from California. Their rugs are based mostly on older African tribal patterns, and they’re hand-loomed. The design work is done in L.A., and the rugs are made in Afghanistan. We also have pieces from Joe Cariati, a glass blower [based in] L.A. He’s just a fun, fun guy with a great eye.

Maureen: We also work with a number of Japanese artisans for our ceramics. For textiles, one line we carry is Tricot, which is a Chilean company that does fabulous texture and color. We do travel quite a bit to source items for the store. And we also find that artisans are very generous to one another and will connect us with [their colleagues], which I love.

The Walsh sisters work with artisans across the globe to curate items for their boutiques. / Photo by Cody O’Loughlin

How do you make decisions about what goes into the shop?

Maureen: It starts with the Verellen pieces and the fabric we decide to apply to them. And then everything—from the pillows to the throws to the Japanese hand towels to our glassware—rolls from there. We just kind of look and [ask ourselves] what pairs. I think our real love is pairing things.

Where do you think your design sensibility comes from?

Maureen: Definitely our mom. She just had it, and she wasn’t in the [industry] at all. Even growing up, I knew our living room was really cool. I think the love of textiles, of furniture, of having a home to entertain in came from her.

Artefact is a women-owned business, which seems especially meaningful these days. Does that resonate with you at all?

Maureen: Definitely. We have so many women come in and ask, “How did you make the leap? Why did you make the leap? What were the challenges? Would you do it again?” They really want to talk about it. And we love to engage in that conversation.

What advice do you give when you’re asked those types of questions?

Maureen: I say that the single most important thing is who you partner with. That can really make or break your business. I also say it will take at least double the amount of money you think it’s going to take. [Laughs] But yeah, [you should] do what you love.

Sue: Also, if you’re asking about retail, you can’t sell something if you don’t love it. In the beginning, we bought things for the shop thinking, “Oh, we don’t love it, but other people will really like this.”

Maureen: We did that once when we first opened, and we never did it again. That was it. Now, I have to want it in my house [if I’m going to have it in the store].