The light of Venice’s glory days still shines brightly in its ateliers—and not just on the crafts for which Venetians are most famous. Blown glass, textiles and lace are only the beginning. From exquisite paper to hand-block printing, bronze casting to shoemaking, wood carving to gondola-building, the handmade works here are like no other: far from clichéd and almost entirely unknown.
If anyone is to blame for the ubiquity of mask shops in Venice, it’s Guerrino Lovato, a theater designer who’s sold Venetian masks from his Dorsoduro store since 1983. Most of his emulators sell machine-made pieces in garish hues, but Lovato sticks to traditional handmade papier-mâché. The simplest are $40, with custom and more ornate models topping out at $400. At 3063 Dorsoduro, Rio terà Canal; 39-041/528-7344; mondonovomaschere.it.
This family company has produced tesserae—colored glass mosaic tiles—since 1888, and its foundry in the Ghetto is a place out of time. Intense craftsmen tend great vats of molten glass, and large sheets in 2,700 shades sit on rickety wooden shelves, ready to be snapped into perfect squares by the women in the next room. Appointment-only tours are $13, but the fee is waived for those who buy tesserae or the mosaic jewelry, artworks and other objects—including the color-encrusted pots in which the melted glass is fired—sold in the adjoining shop. At 1045 Cannaregio, Sottoportego dei Vedei; 39-041/2440-0023; orsoni.com.
Lace & Linens: Emilia
The island of Burano has been a lace-making mecca since the 15th century, but most of what’s there today is cheap, imported and machine-made. Emilia is the rare atelier, however, that remains true to the craft’s roots. Doyenne Emilia di Ammendola and her team of local ladies hand-work intricate designs by her son, Lorenzo, to create off-the-shelf table and bed linens (from $25), towels (from $45) and silk lampshades (from $160), all with lace details and insets. The smallest custom pieces, a doily, say, begin at $45, and a large tablecloth starts at around $1,300. At 205 Burano, Piazza Galuppi; 39-041/735-299; emiliaburano.it.
Binding & Printing: Bottega del Tintoretto
Roberto Mazzetto’s workshop defies definition. Writers come to set their work in limited editions on handmade paper; artists experiment with antique printmaking tools; Mazzetto and other experts teach subjects ranging from watercolor to bookbinding; and a selection of the atelier’s output— prints (from $25), children’s picture books (from $15)—is for sale. $ At 3400 Cannaregio, Fondamenta dei Mori; 39-041/722-081; tintorettovenezia.it.
Shoes: Giovanna Zanella
Eccentric Venetian cobbler Rolando Segalin, famous for his gondola-shaped shoes, counts Zanella as his chief acolyte. From her workshop near the Rialto, she creates avant-garde, brightly colored leather footwear, from retro-chic to outrageous and embellished with swirls, wings, curls and bows. They’re completely handmade, which is reflected in the prices: A basic pair starts at $650, and boots are more than $1,200. (Sandals are less expensive, at around $450.) At 5641 Castello, Calle Carminati; 39-041/523-5500.
The family of Mariano Fortuny—the Spanish designer who lived and worked in great Belle Epoque style here in the early 20th century—no longer owns this textile company. But its all-cotton furnishing fabrics, dyed in sumptuous colors and block-printed in a variety of gorgeous classic motifs, are still made by hand (and in great secrecy) behind his factory’s high iron gates on the island of Giudecca. Multicolored bolts line the recently redone showroom, where factory prices of $490 per meter are lower than those in shops. Also on offer are light fixtures (from $970) and soft furnishings (from $390). At 805 Giudecca, Fondamenta San Biagio; 39-041/522-4078; fortuny.com.
Glass Animals: Costantini
To prevent fires, Venice’s tremendous glassblowing furnaces were moved to Murano in 1291, but in the city proper, Vittorio Costantini needs just a Bunsen burner and a few sticks of glass to create his delicate miniature creatures (from $80). His little shop, hidden down a narrow calle near the Fondamenta Nuove vaporetto stop, is a world away from the more touristed spots and their gaudy figurines. At 5311 Cannaregio, Calle del Fumo; 39-041/522-2265.
Leather Goods: Mazzon Le Borse
In his atelier near the Frari basilica, Pietro Mazzon has been fashioning the smartest of calfskin handbags, belts and wallets since 1963. Some of the classic models (from $125) are for sale in his shoe box of a store, but regular clients use sketches, photos and swatches to have their ideal bags specially made. At 2807 San Polo, Campiello San Tomà; 39-041/520-3421.
Calling Cards: Gianni Basso Stampatore
Gianni Basso uses antique presses, hand-carved wood printing blocks and techniques learned from Armenian monks to create his resolutely old-fashioned visiting cards ($100 for 100). Custom-printed on rich stock, they appeal to some very contemporary icons whose cards are pinned up on the walls of his dark, narrow shop, Hugh Grant’s and Susan Sontag’s among them. $ At 5306 Cannaregio, Calle del Fumo; 39-041/523-4681.
Door Knockers: Valese
Venetian doors can look hostile, with fierce bronze or brass lions gnawing menacingly on elaborate rings. Those musi da porton (from $125) are only part of the repertoire at Carlo Semenzato’s 97-year-old foundry, however, which casts pieces using traditional sand-molding methods. His polished-brass sea horses (below) and mermaids decorate gondolas, and his chandeliers grace top hotels. Semenzato also produced seven bronze Piazzetta San Marco streetlights when fans damaged the originals during a 1989 Pink Floyd concert. The shop is at 793 San Marco, Calle Fiubera; 39-041/522-7282; the foundry, at 3535 Cannaregio, Madonna dell’Orto; 39-041/720-234; valese.it.
Paper: Legatoria Polliero
Piles of albums, diaries and files occupy every surface of this tiny shop, where Anselmo Polliero decorates the finest handmade paper using Venetian marbling and block-printing techniques. In addition to paper by the sheet, Polliero covers books, frames and boxes (all from $20). He also binds with leather and custom-makes photo albums and guest books (from $65). At 2995 San Polo, Campo dei Frari; 39-041/528-5130.
Lampshades: Angela Rosa Greco
This charmingly cluttered store looks like a maiden aunt’s sewing room, and Rita and Angela Greco, the elderly sisters who own it, fit that humble role. But the well-heeled Venetians and international interior designers who frequent the place give the haute game away: The Grecos’ Fortuny fabric lampshades, from $45 for small shield shades and much higher for elaborate drum or barrel shapes, are found in the houses of Venice’s most aristocratic. $ At 2433 San Marco, Ponte delle Ostreghe; 39-041/523-4573.
Hats: Giuliana Longo
Gondoliers wanting sun-shade and Carnevale-goers seeking something extravagant both have their requirements met in this little hat shop. Longo’s most stylish ladies’ pieces (from $80) are innovative and unusual: playful woolen beanies, felt hats in candy hues. Her straw Panamas are particular favorites of fans from around the world. At 4813 San Marco, Calle del Lovo; 39-041/522-6454; giulianalongo.com.
For the ultimate Venice memento, there’s always…the gondola. The Tramontin family has been keeping Venice afloat since 1884, and its current scion, Roberto, allows no unseemly innovations. There isn’t a piece of plywood or a modern tool to be found in his appointment-only squero (boatyard)—just the eight types of perfectly cured solid wood that gondola builders have always used. A full-sized boat starts at $30,000 and takes two months to build. At 1542 Dorsoduro, Campiello Sartorio; 39-041/523-7762; tramontingondole.it.
Delicate by Design: Love Bug
Of all the glass critters (little sea creatures, lagoon birds, butterflies) at Costantini, this beetle ($600) may not be the most, shall we say, pleasant, but it is exquisite nonetheless.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.