I’ve had a fascinating few days in Italy. I’m usually there on holiday so going on business is a completely different experience – in a good way! I was hosted by the incredibly chic Illaria Balduino Sartori who is building a luxury brand that fuses modern and ancient techniques to create something new and exciting for the interiors market. There is a lot more about this brand than just the product, so I packed my bags and headed to Florence to find out more.
To tell the story of this brand I need to set the scene. This brand tells the story of artisans, craftsmen and traditional Florentine skills. All these elements form an intrinsic part of Illaria’s brand, Silia, its products and my visit.
Florence has a long tradition of beautiful artisan work, and this is evident throughout the city. The churches, monuments and buildings are so inspiring.
Palazzo di Camugliano
I stayed at the Palazzo del Marchese di Camugliano, a luxurious hotel in the centre of the city. It made me feel like I was living in a palace during the renaissance period. This beautiful hotel is a haven that you disappear into from the chaotic warren of streets outside. The reception rooms are tastefully decorated, and the hotel is very quiet which instantly slows and calms you down. My bedroom walls and ceiling were covered in frescoes, I lay in bed for hours just looking at the walls and ceiling. It felt ancient, but yet, so modern.
I couldn’t help but take so many images of the frescoes. These were just a small selection, but I’m sure you can agree with me that they are magnificent.
If you have been following me for a while then you’ll know that I like oversized lights, lamps and chandeliers, the Palazzo di Camugliano didn’t disappoint.
And last but not least, the breakfast didn’t disappoint.
The founder of Silia, Illaria Balduino Sartori, is a native Florentine and she is on a crusade to save traditional Florentine artisan skills. Moments from her home in central Florence she took me down a street that was filled with specialist artisans.
“These are the skills that we can’t lose. We have to think of ways to keep the artisans in the centre of the city.”
This is one of the reasons why Silia was started, as a way to keep these skills around, but more importantly, to make them relevant in the 21st century.
Illaria took me to the Locchi Laboratory, a small studio that is famous the world over for their restoration of antique precious glass and crystal. The Locchi family has been hand restoring, making, carving and grinding glass and crystal since the early nineteenth century. Today it’s run by Signora Paola, a charismatic lady that was an absolute joy to spend time with. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, I could have spent a day with her. The vast amount she showed and explained to me in my short visit was incredible.
Signora Paola showing me the design that the craftsman behind her is working on.
The Locchi laboratory is one of those places that you take your precious bits and pieces to be restored. Illaria and her family have been using them for generations to restore family pieces. They both joked and said that every family has a ‘Locchi’ box to keep all the broken bits and pieces in it, and when it’s full, they take it to the Signora to fix.
Illaria and Signora Paola
Next on our itinerary was a silversmith. Again, run by a very passionate lady. The Argentiere Pagliai is a family business that been operating since 1930. In the front of the premises a shop and at the back a workshop. Very proud of their collaboration with Tiffany’s in the 1960’s I was shown a few items that they produced for the world renowned jeweller. The quality of these items is outstanding of course.
The snail and the frog above were both made for Tiffany’s. It was really interesting to see the original model that the frog was designed from (below).
A lot of their work is restoration too, and I was shown a few pieces that they were currently working on. It’s so interesting to see how many skills are needed to make and restore beautiful silverware.
This is the bottom of a very rare silver chalice that is currently being restored.
I really liked this piece, it’s a candlestick and those two blocks are marble. It’s a great mix of traditional skill and modern design.
The link back to Silia is again through the founder Illaria and her family that has used these silversmiths over the decades. Producing crests and mending silverware to the established Florentine families has helped to keep skills like these alive and in the centre of Florence.
Back out in the street, I was shown workshop after workshop. I’ve been to Florence a couple of times before and really not noticed the number of artisans who are around and producing incredible items.
Illaria explained that it’s these skills that inspired her to create Silia. Generations of knowledge and experience are combined with Illaria’s vision to create modern luxury interior accessories that are far more than just the design or material. Investing in a piece from Silia is about buying into the heritage of Florence; it’s about buying from these families, supporting craftsmen and helping to preserve artisanal skills. Illaria enables this through the intelligent design of her products.
When I questioned Illaria about her design process, she explained that she gets a very firm idea about what she wants to design, then heads off to these workshops to play. Exploring existing techniques and questioning the artisans about the possibilities. Together with the artisans they create, and the products that are born are incredible.
I’ll be exploring Silia a little bit further in subsequent blog posts.
Thank you to Illaria and Silia for hosting me in Florence.