Year after year, Florence lures countless creative types who decide to make it home. A little over a decade ago, designer-turned-boutique owner Daisy Diaz became one of them. After a varied professional path in public relations and interior design, Diaz decided to open her own shop in Florence, specializing in interior design for children’s spaces. She named it Baby Bottega, alluding to the traditional workplaces where Italian artisans create their handmade products with care and dedication. The attitude that such craftspeople embrace, approaching their work with passion and heart, was a source of inspiration for Diaz to build her life in Italy.
Growing up between Miami and the Bahamas, Diaz discovered her love for combining beauty and functional design at an early age. When Hurricane Andrew tore through Florida and the Bahamas in 1992, Diaz and her family were left with nothing. As her mother went on house-hunting expeditions, the young Diaz accompanied her, soon realizing that she had quite a knack for identifying the pros and cons of potential homes. ‘My mom started asking for my input at the places we visited,’ she explained. ‘I started noticing all kinds of things I’d never thought about before—my mom would point out inconveniently designed rooms and say things like, ‘Look how far the kitchen is from the garage—it would make carrying in groceries so complicated!’’ Through her mom’s observations and her own curiosity, Diaz discovered her love for design.
Photo by Sofie Delauw
Beyond her perceptive house-hunting abilities, Diaz was always creative, producing ceramics and managing her own furniture-painting business in high school, which she called ‘Paint House.’ Her teachers and classmates kept her busy with a steady stream of commissions. She even produced a catalog of her work, cleverly disguised as a notebook so that her peers could pick out purchases during boring lectures, pretending they were diligently taking notes.
During her university years at Boston College, Diaz studied communication and public relations. When she began pursuing a graduate degree in urban design at Harvard, she was all set to remain in Boston—her favorite U.S. city—but her path changed when she came to Florence to study temporarily at the Accademia Italiana. Upon discovering all that Florence had to offer for someone with her interests and passions, Diaz couldn’t justify completing her studies anywhere else. ‘I’m sure my parents thought I would graduate and come home,’ she laughs. But she knew she had to find a way to stay, and she soon began managing public relations for the Lungarno Hotels, also working at their furniture store, Lungarno Details. Interactions with many of her private clients, along with her growing interest in the whimsical world of children’s interiors, played a major part in inspiring Diaz to open Baby Bottega. The store is tucked on a quaint corner of the Porta al Prato neighborhood in central Florence.
Eventually, Diaz met her husband, an Italian antique dealer. When not busy with her own work life, she often assists with his business. They have three small children who also keep them on their toes. Though Diaz admits life in Florence is not without its challenges—some of which are specific to expat families—in general, she’s enthusiastic about all the city has to offer for children. She loves taking her boys to the Stibbert museum, where they go ‘absolutely crazy’ for the armor collections. Long, lazy strolls on the Arno are also a favorite activity in her family.
Diaz’s children have tremendously influenced her profession and her opinions about form, function and design, helping her better understand the practical needs of children and families. But apart from her own family, Diaz takes much of her daily inspiration from the workers of Florence, from skilled artisans and street painters to carpenters and upholsterers. She says the heart that Florentine people pour into their crafts has always amazed her, and she aims to have the same mentality at her shop, which uses ‘Amore+Design’ as its motto.
When asked what she misses most about living in the States, Diaz said she generally makes it back at least twice a year to see family, but still often craves her mom’s Cuban cooking. ‘I also miss putting my feet in the sand in the middle of February,’ she added with a smile. ‘But when I see Brunelleschi’s dome in the skyline when I’m landing at Peretola, it just makes me feel like I’m back home.’
Best bar for an aperitivo?
My husband and I recently discovered the winter garden room at the St. Regis, which has a lovely mix of old world elegance and modern furnishings.
Best restaurant or place for bistecca fiorentina in Florence?
One place in Florence that makes you happy or inspires you?
The happiest place for me is inside the creative world of the many talented Florentine artisans. I spend long hours with each artisan when I’m designing for my store’s collection and it is truly an experience unique to Florence.
The biggest difference between Italians and Americans?
In my experience, the Italian lifestyle is more focused on family and friends. I have yet to meet an Italian that thinks twice about setting the table for two or a party of twenty!
Advice for newly arrived students?
Having been a student myself in this city, I’d really encourage getting to know the city like a local in your daily routine. Grab a newspaper at your local edicola or take your homework and head over to the bar around the corner from your place to enjoy your breakfast.
Best day trip in Tuscany?
The gorgeous drive to La Verna in the Casentino region is rewarded by breathtaking views at the mountaintop sanctuary, known for being part of St. Francis of Assisi’s pilgrimage.
Favorite Florentine, past or present?
Emilio Pucci. I love his use of bold colors that are such a departure from the Tuscan earth tones of his hometown.
Where would you take a guest who isn’t into art?
We’d probably visit the leather school behind Santa Croce to take home a personalized bag made completely su misura. Shopping would be followed by lunch at a typical trattoria like Cammillo’s in the Oltrarno and in the evening we’d grab a gelato and take a lazy stroll along the Lungarno.
Best kids’ activity?
A trip to the Specola museum never fails to stir the imagination of my young children, followed by a walk exploring the Boboli gardens to see if by chance any of the exotic animals are hiding behind the hedges!
Strangest thing you’ve seen in the city?
I see all sorts of strange things every day while driving, but I must say that the most curious experience I’ve had is witnessing the Easter tradition of the Scoppio del Carro or ‘Explosion of the Cart.’
Favorite view of Florence?
Overlooking the city from the Basilica di San Miniato. I was married in this special place and even on a stormy day the city looks gorgeous from up there.
Pet peeve or something you will never get used to living here?
I will never understand the amount of graffiti in such a beautiful city and why residents and business owners often take little action.