Jessica and Jeff Gurtman fell in love with their 100-year-old house years before they owned it. “Our family used to live right next door,” Jeff says. “We had always admired the home that belonged to our good friends. When they sold it to us in 2019, it was an easy move—we just carried our stuff across the backyard.”
The Gurtmans are passionate about mid-century, industrial, and eclectic vintage and antique furniture and artwork. Their Maplewood home embraces a masterful mix of paintings, sculpture and objets d’art with pedigreed provenance, as well as quirky curiosities, all thoughtfully picked, researched and displayed.
“What started as a hobby with my husband evolved into our little family business, Essex Co. Vintage, in 2017,” Jessica says. They sell through essexcovintage.com, Instagram (@essexcovintage), and occasionally at pop-up shops and holiday boutiques. “We love our side gig, but it doesn’t pay the mortgage,” Jeff says.
Somewhat surprisingly, these two creative spirits maintain non-artistic day jobs. Jessica is a manager for a global tech company, overseeing strategic partnerships. Jeff, an executive with a consulting firm, creates and measures customer loyalty in the hospitality, retail and heath care industries. A decade ago, he gained a level of celebrity as one of the hosts of the Travel Channel’s Travel Spies, visiting and rating global hospitality destinations undercover.
Today, the Gurtmans orchestrate most of their treasure hunting in New Jersey and the tristate area, pursuing their collecting passion as a team. “Some couples golf or bowl together. We buy and sell art, décor and furniture,” Jeff says.
A tour of their comfortable, unfussy home is peppered with comments like, “We found this art at an estate sale, and that vase at a flea market, and this lamp was my mom’s—and this chair some guy just gave us because he didn’t have room for it.”
Among their most desired collectibles are carved tramp art frames, folk-art heads and busts, old oil portraits, vintage lucite, and animal figures in wood, leather and brass. “We like things that other people don’t have,” Jessica says. A self-taught artist, she also paints and sells her framed artwork in their online shop.
Almost everything displayed in the playfully patterned, circa-1920 home has been previously loved. “Jess and I coalesce around the intriging details of each piece. We edit each other and both have veto power,” Jeff admits. “To us, buying vintage is as much about a love of the past as it is protection for our planet,” Jessica adds.
“People see our home and are surprised that kids live here. But we think it’s possible for children to enjoy vintage art and décor in a lived-in space. We realize that homes are meant to be lived in, so we buy high-quality, but not-too-precious, pieces that last. Worst case, if something breaks, it’s an excuse to replace it with a new find,” Jeff says. “It’s not uncommon to drag our kids, ages 7 and 5, out of the house at 6 am to arrive at the Golden Nugget flea market in Lambertville before daybreak. We hope to instill in them an appreciation for old things.”
Jessica adds, “The part we enjoy most is finding and sharing art that brings our customers joy. The moment this business becomes work, we’ll hang it up. But for now, we’re having a blast.”
When will the Gurtmans stop collecting cool old stuff? “Never,” assures Jeff.
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