Itâs been said that in the antique world, there is a still a desire to see and touch a piece to truly appreciate its beauty.
Tucked away between two vineyards in the quiet 208-acre village of Finesville, NJ â 20 minutes south of Easton and just across the Riegelsville bridge â is one of the areaâs best-kept secrets for dedicated antique and vintage hunters. A place that is designed to be a respite from our hectic lives where one can relax, browse beautiful objects, get a breath of fresh country air and enjoy warm hospitality.
Talented sisters Jennifer McGowan and Melissa Kosakowski are the business partners behind Chelsea Forge Antiques and Design, which just celebrated a fifth anniversary in the 4,200-sq.ft. red barn where youâll find everything from primitives to vintage, clothing, art, year-round holiday antiques and even locally roasted premium coffee. They also deliver, ship, and work in the ecommerce side of the business.
Their location is a perfect spot for a weekend drive from the Lehigh Valley, and easy to spot from County Road 627. When you pull up, youâll notice the property adorned with items that feel as if you can take them home and fit them right into your own lifestyle â farm tables, cupboards, farming parts, barn wood, wrought iron furniture, planters and more.
Before you even get out of your car, Chelsea Forge is appealing to your visual instincts â even if that wasnât the sistersâ intention.
âWhen we first opened, we liked it clean. But then we started putting architectural salvage and dirty barn finds outside,â says Melissa. âI did like it nice when we had flowers and when everything was pristine outside, but now we have inventory such as windows, shutters and rustic finds everywhere out there, and it makes people stop because they wonder what it is and whatâs going on.â
Despite an upbringing with parents who were into flipping houses, collecting, antiques and classic cars, the two women didnât exactly set out to run a full-time business together. It wasnât until 2001 that they started their first interior design, remodeling, kitchen and bath business in Morristown.
âWe then owned an antiques, uniques and vintage style retail location on Main Street in Clinton. It was all home goods,â Jennifer says of a business venture they stepped into in a friendâs available building. âThat got us the bug, but she sold the building after one profitable year. And we were thinking, âWhat are we going to do?ââ
A little bit of divine intervention played a role. Back then, the barn in Finesville housed a primitive store where the sisters found furniture to outfit their fatherâs local home. When the shopkeeper decided to retire and close the business, Jennifer heard about the barnâs availability and jumped at the chance. Coincidentally, she had had a dream when she was younger that she would have an antique shop in a barn. Her dream came to fruition when Chelsea Forge Antiques and Design opened its doors on June 20, 2013.
The name of the shop came from when the area was first built up as a permanent settlement due to the construction of Chelsea Forge â a charcoal-iron forge on the Musconetcong â in 1751. The forge helped to provide the Continental Army with weapons to defend Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. The meadow that the barn sits on (named âHunts Meadowâ after original property owner William Hunt) was also where George Washington wintered 60 horses. While Jennifer and Melissa didnât come up with the name, they were proud to carry the title of the historic property. Since the opening, theyâve attracted fans not just for the mystique of the antique, but also for the experience.
âOur vision was to mix it up. We wanted it to be interior design, but also offer unique gift items, home upholstery, and home goods mixed with really cool antiques, vintage and unique things,â Jennifer explains. âWhat people love about antique shops is that they bring memories. We get a lot of people who come in just to look. Maybe they donât have anything in particular that theyâre looking to buy, but theyâre there for ideas.â
The duo recognize that successful retail today is all about providing a personal and unique experience. To that end, they work closely with Brian Perry of Perry Custom Woodworks, an in-house craftsman who creates custom furniture, and Mary Beth, a greenery artist who is responsible for the various plants and bulbs found in special containers throughout the barn. These containers could be antique Ironstone, Transferware, tureens, iron urns, or simple clay pots.
Theyâve also recently opened up a gift room where they feature goods created by other local retailers, such as hand-poured candles, lavender creams, bread boards, scarves and clothing, coffees and teas, jewelry, napkins and tea towels, and more.
âWe offer local artisans and small businesses worldwide â including people who make handmade items â Â the opportunity to be featured in our store, but we really do like to support local peopleâ says Melissa. âWe have furniture, antiques and home dĂ©cor, weâre interior designersâŠwe do it all. When people come in, sometimes we have to explain it to them and theyâre really surprised.â
Itâs no secret that in recent years, vintage interiors have become trendy in a way that few could have predicted prior to the popularity explosion of shows like âFixer Upper.â Vintage furniture, fixtures and accessories can be very appealing, however, because theyâve got character, were made well in their time, and have a classic appeal. When you decorate with vintage dĂ©cor, you will rarely have a home that looks exactly like anyone elseâs â and thatâs the number one thing that many homeowners strive for.
âWeâll ask people what their âstyleâ is, and theyâre attracted to the image and to the visual [that HGTV provides]. What weâre trying to do is the same,â says Jennifer. âYou have to be smart with the way you go about it. It takes time, but every year it gets better and better.â
Indeed, Chelsea Forge Antiques and Design sits in an area where the antiquing community is large, spread throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, as well as into New York City. Many customers have found them not through a casual drive-by, but via the power of social media. The chemistry of Instagram, in particular, is hard to ignore when it comes to those who are willing to search high and low to get their antique fix. It is on the popular app where you can appeal to a consumerâs basic instincts, they get to know a shopâs particular style, and where they can instantly decide to buy something that they see pop up.
Jennifer and Melissa spend part of every day updating their social media feeds, including Instagram and Facebook, where customers frequently communicate with them to ask about the availability and pricing of posted products. Theyâve also recently updated both their business website (chelseaforgeantiquesanddesign.com) and their listing on Houzz.com, where theyâve been named Best of Houzz 2018 in Client Satisfaction.
And what do they see for the future of Chelsea Forge Antiques and Design?
âWeâre going to continue to buy a unique variety of items to keep people coming back for whatâs new. We strive to keep the merchandise fresh weekly,â says Jennifer. âWe want to help you find what would complete your home, or make a great conversation piece. Our inventory is never the same. Weâre all about classic and memorable, but weâre also focusing on lifestyle.â
Join Chelsea Forge Antiques and Design for their official 5-year anniversary sale weekend on Saturday and Sunday, September 29 and 30, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Full details of the sale will be announced on their social media pages as the event approaches. Or, customers may sign up for the mailing list at chelseaforgeantiquesanddesign.com, or call the business at 908.995.4300 for details. Customers who opt in to Chelsea Forgeâs text messaging program also receive notices of special sales and discounts throughout the year.