Fatto a Mano, a 7,000-square-foot shop in the San Francisco Design District (and a HighBoy storefront) that specializes in Italian antiques and artisan-crafted accessories, is owned by husband-and-wife team Heather Dempsey and Massimo Mallamace. Heather, who had a career in environmental management, met Massimo, a stonemason, while he was helping her mother restore a villa in Florence. After they married, they restored and furnished a farmhouse in Tuscany, and in 2009, they created a business that allows them unlimited access to antiques and a great excuse to travel to Italy frequently to visit Massimo’s family and friends.
How and when did you fall in love with antiques?
I come from a long line of collectors, which includes my mother and grandmother. I started collecting when I was a child. My first collection was of Beatrix Potter figurines. Massimo developed his love for antiques when he was doing the restoration work, but he didn’t start collecting until he met me. Now he’s more obsessed than I am.
So tell us what you collect now.
I love all things Italian. I have a lot of new and antique pottery from Deruta and Montelupo, which is really ridiculous because of the earthquakes in San Francisco. Massimo collects hand-carved wooden bottle stoppers from Northern Italy that have figures of people and animals and that date from the 1900s to the 1950s. He has about 100 and has built a custom display case for them.
You live in a Victorian house; how is it furnished?
It’s a mix of old and new things and great treasures, like the early-1900s Italian Baroque-style bookcase that covers an entire wall in my office and the pair of 19th-century Tuscan bookcases that flank the living room fireplace. We bought them then planned the room renovations around them.
What are some of your favorite things in the shop?
We have a Northern Italian pinball table from the 1880s with figurines that the ball is supposed to knock over. It has turned wooden legs and an inlaid top. There is a plaster-painted statue of Santa Filomena, late 1800s, in a stunning wooden, faux-painted case that looks like an ancient Roman temple. And there’s an iron bed from the home of the Pontello family, who are Florentine nobles. It’s painted black and has mother-of-pearl inlays on the headboard and footboard.
What is the most exciting antique you’ve bought?
A circa-1800 paleotto, which is an embroidery on canvas. They are always of saints; this one was, we think, of Saint Anthony. It was very large – 4 feet by 6 feet – and it wasn’t in perfect condition. It was faded and water-stained, and you could only see half of it, which is what I loved about it. It was in the first container we ever shipped over.
This brings up an interesting point: Living with antiques is a very green decision.
Absolutely. Massimo restores many of the pieces we buy, and he uses found objects to make items like lamps. This way, we give new life to the past instead of letting these treasures disintegrate into wormwood.
What qualities do you look for in pieces?
For antiques, we focus on unique pieces that are quintessentially Italian. We particularly love the Baroque style, but we also carry an eclectic mix of simple, rustic, farmhouse-style pieces. For new artisan accessories, we look for handmade pieces from small family-run businesses that can be treasured and kept forever. We have cutlery from Scarperia, glassware from Venice, ceramics from Montelupo, and crystal vases and candlesticks from a small atelier in Florence.
And what are you still searching for?
Massimo and I have started collecting pupi (or marionettes). We have 10 small ones so far that are from the 1800s and 1900s, but we really would like to get some of the three-foot-tall Renaissance examples like the ones we saw in the Museo delle Marionette in Palermo. For the shop, Massimo is looking for a full-size horse-drawn Sicilian cart from the late 1800s or early 1900s that features elaborate, colorful painted scenes.
1. Italian Louis XV Giltwood Armchair | 2. Italian Carved Alabaster Centerpiece
3. Italian Three-Tiered Crystal Chandelier | 4. Italian Drop-Front Secretary Chest
5. Vintage Italian Bar Cart | 6. Rustic Italian Carpenter’s Workbench
7. Italian Painted Candlestick Lamp
Photography by: Arsenii Vaselenko