For Lonely Planet and local press, borgo San Frediano is the drive du jour, but we’ve got via San Niccolò on the brain. The lifeblood of a district that’s simultaneously steeped in the Oltrarno and distinct from it, this street brims with the best of Florence: artisans, galleries, old homes, social hubs. It’s a pity most pedestrians turn right at Il Rifrullo to head up to the piazzale: several of the street’s defining spaces are found on the final stretch toward the tower. Walking backwards toward via de’ Bardi, we take a look.
Until his untimely passing in 2012, Stefano Bemer was a towering presence among bespoke shoemakers, counting Julio Iglesias as a client and Daniel Day Lewis as an apprentice. His eponymous company is now carried on by Tommaso Melani, heir apparent to the Scuola del Cuoio dynasty in Santa Croce. Step into today’s atelier—housed in a converted chapel—and see Bemer’s spirit of methodical craftsmanship at play. Former apprentices-turned-employees keep the engine running, while next-generation trainees keep the energy up.
DHAI STUDIO ATELIER
Florentine painter and street artist Carla Bruttini, known for her fiery-haired La Sciamana (The She-Shaman) portraits about town, is the face and manager of Dhai Studio Atelier. But several creators’ works find a home here, Blub and his/her underwater characters chief among them. Though Bruttini skillfully explores a range of subjects, her multimedia portraits of pensive faces (pictured) make immediate impact. A bit of back-and-forth with Bruttini and you’ll be convinced: Florence is experiencing a new Renaissance, and the artist community of San Niccolò is one of its cornerstones.
VON HESSENBECK GALLERY
A new addition to this bustling block, collector Ian Von Hessenbeck’s shop-gallery feels like the home of some kitschy nobles. Jet black walls make its mix of furniture, art and decorative objects pop: there’s a definite nod to Art Deco, but you’ll find an odd antique here and there, along with Scandinavian-designed structures. Single objects—velvet ottomans, decorative watering cans—are less inspiring than the cumulative effect of Von Hessenbeck’s eye. Still, the easy fusion of eras will have you itching to play fix-up.
We might as well call her the phoenix from Prague. A Czech transplant who fell in love with a Tuscan, then fell into bankruptcy when the couple’s business failed, Michaela Sieberova moved on from that relationship and started doting on her true love: the Renaissance city. What grew out of heartbreak was a passion for street photography, now on daily display at OTTO Atelier, where she animatedly chats with customers and sells nostalgia-inspiring images of Florentine corners, in sizes suitable for fridges or
“Otherworldly” is an apt adjective for this jewelry atelier, a study in the art of presentation. On Planet Dari, all is carefully arranged, from curated glass cases to the witchy-looking workroom, complete with mood lamps and a cauldron. Yet nothing about it feels artificial—including its namesake goldsmith. Down-to-earth Dari is often spotted working among apprentices, cradling his baby or biking up the road for a coffee break. His metalworks, called “mystical” in a catalog of his pieces, are conceptually deviant, cosmically inspired. (Plus, they’re pretty).
This contemporary art gallery seems almost stark after a stop among Dari’s potions and statement pieces. But there’s much to be said about what (and who) is at work here. With more than 60 exhibitions under its belt, Base is an au courant art hub founded by an artist collective and counting 20 candles on its cake next year. High-caliber giants from Sol Lewitt to Matt Mullican have graced its walls, and the space spotlights Italian artists through projects like its Base Open cycle—thematic installations often carried out in situ, followed by days of “artistic aftermath”.
And if you’re feeling peckish, check out these area spots for dining!