Florence's New Creative Neighborhood, Oltrarno
In Florence, the south bank of the river Arno has been a center for artisans since the Renaissance. More recently, the men’s-wear and leather ateliers around Palazzo Pitti have attracted a discreet fan club of fashion insiders. Now, in an effort to lure more travelers to Oltrarno, the Florentine government has been pumping money into the neighborhood (the once traffic-clogged Piazza del Carmine got a makeover earlier this year). Boutique hotels have opened, along with innovative places to eat. Perhaps most notably of all, a new wave of artisans is modernizing and organizing Oltrarno’s dynamic craft culture, making it more appealing to visitors than ever before.
Matteo Perduca, a lawyer and designer who is also one of the area’s most prominent entrepreneurs, says, “What’s really drawing people is the energy that’s running through Oltrarno.” With his partner, former Fortnum & Mason packaging designer Betty Soldi, Perduca runs AndCompany, a design studio and shop that sells ceramics and stationery adorned with calligraphy.
Just down the street, three craftswomen joined together to open Atelier Via Maggio earlier this year. The store stocks handmade table linens and home furnishings, many of them created in the on-site workshop. Close by, on a street opposite the Palazzo Pitti museum, designer Giulia Materia has her namesake boutique. (The location is appropriate, since the palazzo’s construction, in the 15th century, lured other nobles to the area, thereby creating work for many more craftsmen.) The shelves of Materia’s shop are lined with covetable tote bags, artisan-made clothes, and notebooks covered in 1970s wallpaper. And on the hidden-away Via d’Ardiglione, Dimitri Villoresi opened a leather workshop where he makes deconstructed, hand-stitched travel cases, bags, and other accessories.
To provide shoppers with suitably stylish digs, Perduca and Soldi last year debuted SoprArno (doubles from $169), an 11-room guesthouse set in a 14th-century palazzo. Interiors combine original Florentine features—frescoed ceilings and wooden rafters—with modern pieces like Arco lamps. And in November, they are scheduled to open their second guesthouse, Ad Astra (doubles from $225), in a palazzo belonging to the Marquis de Torrigiani. Most of the inn’s nine rooms have views of Europe’s largest privately owned city garden, which surrounds the property.
Several grassroots schemes to promote the area are also under way. Perduca and Soldi formed Unusual Florence, a group of like-minded businesses that has produced a shopping map and website. In December, their Unusual Market will purvey holiday gifts at local hostel Ostello Tasso. Materia and her partner, Enzo Sarcinelli, have also founded Sulle Tracce di Arnold, a similar group of 22 Oltrarno-based shops and ateliers. Both websites are excellent starting points for a self-guided shopping tour of the area.
Perduca has his sights set on yet more projects in the neighborhood—opposite AndCompany is an empty shop he plans to convert into a café. “It’s exciting,” he says. “A new renaissance for Oltrarno.”
More Oltrarno Artisans, Both New and Classic
Stefano Bemer | Handmade shoes in everything from hippo to 18th-century reindeer skin.
Campucc10 | One-off art, jewelry, and leather goods designed by young artisans.
Signorvino | A new store and tasting room whose mission is to bring Italian wines to a broader audience.
Castorina | Wood-carving workshop from 1895 that still produces over 5,000 objects, including photo frames and adorable miniature animals.
Black Spring | An alternative bookstore founded by a gardener that sells unusual nature-themed publications. 10r Via di Camaldoli