Hidden in Florence is Oltrarno, historically known to be a thriving neighborhood with craftsmen’s workshops.
The Airbnb hosts of Oltrarno created a map to support and share the local artisans and the cultural spots in Oltrarno, collaborating with associations and local communities in order to share the most special locations with travelers visiting the city, and supporting small businesses and local traditions.
The history of Oltrarno can be traced in the many artisans’ workshops. Come with us on a walk you’ll also find on the map. This itinerary is called “Crafting dreams”.
First up was Manufacta. The owner, Sara Ricci, used to restore and refresh furniture in the neighborhood of Santa Croce. Her shop collects and sells objects that are handmade by local craftsmen. This way she gives them visibility and increases the value of their crafts: here you’ll find one-off pieces that are great both to buy for yourself and as keepsakes.
The former owner of the workshop where Dimitri Villoresi works told him he would never be successful in business in the neighborhood. She couldn’t be more wrong. Today here, he crafts leather bags with a very unique style, and he describes himself as a “Metropolitan monk.” Why? Because this place is his shelter from the world, and he conceives his business more in terms of quality rather than quantity, as any artisan would do.
“I’d rather sell you just one bag, but I want you to use it, to live it, to carry it with you all the times.”
His girlfriend, who works for renowned luxury fashion brands, adds: “Your work is the real luxury.” And it’s true: Tim Cook, Chief Executive Officer of Apple, came here wanting to learn a bit of Villoresi’s wisdom.
Extremida makes handmade costume jewelry. It is a place where “every piece is as unique, as the one who wears it”, says Debora. She is an antiques restorer, who works with her husband, Flavio, an expert goldsmith. This workshop started from the shared love they have for this art which ranges from creating rings to bold, decorated, beautiful works of art. They now offer whole themed collections. Debora explains:
“One day a friend of mine said to me: ‘When you buy something from an artisan, you are not just buying an object. You are buying all the long hours of trial and errors, all the days and weeks of hard work until they achieved to realise what they had in mind.”
Tiberio Tozzi, restorer, started as a kid following his father’s footsteps. His workshop looks exactly like you would imagine a legendary restorer workshop in Florence: the furniture is all piled up together in a way that only Tiberio can ‘read.’ Once you come in, the first thing you hear is a radio in the background. Given the nature of his job, the radio is what keeps him company the most. He loves it: “I can’t count the times my Dad used to tell me when I was a kid “Where are you going? Don’t go to the workshop!” But I’d always find some excuse to go there.”
He specialises in furniture from the 1550/1660 but has now broaden his work spectrum. Today he wants to teach as much as possible to the new generations, as the future doesn’t look so bright as there are fewer people following in his footpaths.
Tiziana Alemanni is from Capo d’Orlando, Sicily, and has only been living in Florence since 2011. Her craft is something she has been practicing her a while: as her family owned a knitwear shop. She picked Florence because it was where the high fashion was born. She reinvented herself transforming knitwear and giving it structure through textiles and a contemporary design. She always welcomes visitors in the studio where she works. She starts from lush fabrics and creates gorgeous tailor-made or ready-to-wear fashion. Her logo is a spider because it is a metaphor of her craft: “the spider weaves his intricate, beautiful web in the most interesting places.”
Alessandro Dari is not only an artisan, he used to work as an alchemist in a pharmacy. In his shop, there are old bottles–a reminiscent of his past. His workshop-museum is located in a 1400 palace. Goldsmith and sculptor, he is a great connoisseur of the materials he crafts and also a musician. His love for music pervades his whole work, so much so that the only jewel you can’t buy in his shop (among the 900 one-off displayed) is a big musical box. The musical box is an intricate machinery in which he carved in gold various monumental moments in his life.
Giuliano Ricchi crafts metals with an old machine dating back to the early ‘900s that engraves beautiful decorations on brass. e previously hand-carve them on steel. He started working at a very young age of 15, learning the technique from the master Carlo Cecchi.he workshop still retains Cecchi’s name as a tribute. He creates small and larger objects – jewels, accessories – that he turns into special works of art through his meticulous craftsmanship. His creations are sold all over the world: Bill Clinton owns one of his business card cases.
Luana Innocenti works with Piero Picchi in this charming place that seems frozen in time and where peace and the highest level of craftsmanship reign. “Il Paralume” shop sells incredibly creative lampshades, combining lush textiles – that are turned into tailor made “dresses” – and skillful craftsmanship. All the woodwork is hand-made.
Duccio Banchi’s workshop is a rare example of expertise handed down from master to apprentice. Opened in 1925, it still retains some piece from the original furnishing. Lamberto Banchi passed on his bronzer’s knowledge to his son. Additionally, he left a journal where he expressed all the love he had for his job which he learned at a young age. A love that Duccio inherited as the shop is packed with: beautiful brass objects, frames to handles, clocks to doorstopper. An anecdote Duccio shared with us:
“One day a woman bought two frames, but she said she didn’t have money with her. My Dad told her to come back the next day, no problem. The next day someone did come to pay us: he revealed the woman was the Queen of Denmark.”
Gianni Raffaelli is yet another example of expertise handed down within the family. Gifted like his father, a painter, Gianni left his previous job at the land register to dedicate himself to etching after attending an etching class at University. In 1976 he opened “L’Ippogrifo”, a workshop that quickly became the epicenter of the ancient art of etching in Florence. The son, Duccio, who works with him, says:
“I remember he told me that while he was attending University a professor didn’t believe him when he said he did the etching himself. The professor had asked because it was so perfect. He passed the class.”
Today they display and sell over 500 etchings created over the year.
This journey through Florentine craftsmanship wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention the workshop of Arte Decorativa di Simone Fiordelisi and the shops La Bottega del Mosaico and Pitti Mosaici Decorazioni. They all contribute keeping alive a typical Florentine craft, the “commesso fiorentino”. This artistic technique (nature-themed inlay stone) also known as Florentine mosaic was implemented in 1500 by the House of Medici.