Rental diaries, vol. 25

Collecting

Mary Gray
November 5, 2019 - 10:05

By the time this column is printed, this is likely to be old news, but file the intel away for future reference. It seems that the Bellini Gallery—that antiques-filled, Arno-facing jewel of a building—is currently on a Marie Kondo kick. I say this based on the boxes of dusty coffee table books now sitting curbside for collection.

 

Last night, while inattentively walking my dog past the gallery, I glanced down to catch him marking on a weathered, water-stained Sotheby’s catalog from the ‘70s, caught between a car tire and a hard place. My instinct was to scold him, but when I spotted the overstuffed cardboard box that must have once held the catalog—amongst other treasures—I realized that if anyone needed to be scolded, it was whoever dared throw all those out. A textbook-like treatise on Santa Maria del Carmine and a weighty hunker on Simone Martini and the Sienese school were among the scores I ended up taking home. 

 

I’ve always been a collector: Beanie Babies, books, nail polishes, other people’s unwanted stuff. A year or so ago, feeling jazzed about a golden frame I sourced near a bus stop, I texted my best friend across the ocean. (He’s a former Florence resident who never sits on his bed in his “outside clothes”, as he calls all clothes that aren’t freshly laundered prince pajamas.) 

 

You’re going to kill me—but guess what!

 

Within ten seconds, he replied knowingly: Did you find garbage on the street and bring it into your nice clean house? Mary, it’s garbage for a reason.

 

Despite what they say about “sparking joy,” people like Marie Kondo and my friend love to rain on my kind’s parade by criticizing our, er, collecting habits. I get it. The aspirational version of my décor style is “Bobo in Paradise who wishes she were Parisian”. The actual version is more like “manic magpie with a touch of Miss Havisham”. Few things are worse, though, than a sterile or IKEA-only rental, and few cities are better for dumpster diving curbside antiquing than Florence.

 

I have found kindred spirits, many of them local, mostly in the dark recesses of Instagram. Fashion influencers tag the labels they’re wearing in their photos so you can “shop the look”. If I tried doing that on shots of my living room, I’d be tagging a whole lot of nameless stoops, charity bazaars and junk hawkers whose hands have never once produced a scontrino. And, yes, probably more than a few ALIA bins.

 

Fellow Florentine upcyclers and I all avoid renting overly furnished apartments, lest we end up trapped with a Tuscan nonna aesthetic. The irony is we end up assembling a home full of their hand-me-downs and throw-me-outs anyway. But collecting is a time-honored pastime in this town. We all have our ways of taking part.

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