A creative and unique space for a personal design experience
Quirky is the first word that comes to mind when describing Sopr’Arno Suites, a new boutique B&B in Florence that is perhaps the most creative sleep space to hit this city. The ten huge rooms are each decorated on a theme, using fabulous antique finds from around the world. The concept: why waste time sleeping in a boring place?
A creative team
Opened in September 2014, Sopr’Arno Suites is a collaboration between Florence-born Matteo Perduca, his English wife, calligrapher Betty Soldi, and architect Francesco Maestrelli. It’s the architect who spotted these high-ceilinged flats on Florence’s prestigious via Maggio and suggested that they create a B&B together. Previously used as offices, the bones were excellent, with a grand staircase, huge windows, vast rooms and the occasional frescoed ceiling. They were able to secure two floors of the building, and work started immediately to bring out the best of the past while updating the building with private bathrooms for each suite.
Across the street, Betty had opened her store, &Company, just three years previous, where she has her calligraphy studio and sells whimsical lettering on various supports. The store is also an eclectic mix of modern antiques sourced primarily from London and from Prato, Italy, and of art and artisan works, which all comes together in a simply delicious way. Already recognized as one of the coolest shops in town, the couple decided to apply their particularly good taste to the new hospitality business.
Matteo has never run a hotel before. In fact, by training and profession he is a lawyer, but he explains to me that he wears multiple hats. In the few hours we talked, it came out that he previously owned a restaurant (sold just before the B&B opened), but he also had an art gallery for a few years, and occasionally he lends his hand at farming olives. He also wields a mean paintbrush and is good with his hands, allowing him to personally carry out the visions he has when he spots an unusual antique item.
Going “antiquing” is something that Matteo and Betty have always done. The couple enjoys travel, and usually bought small things in antique and flea markets along the way. Sometimes these items would get larger, like the time they shipped home a enormous throne covered in beads from Africa. Back in Florence, Matteo would always keep an eye out for “antique occasions”, picking up unusual items for free or cheap because sometimes only he could see their true value. With their home and store bursting with these original finds, it’s a good thing he’s been given the creative outlet of a further ten rooms!
While each room is different, they all essentially have the theme of travel. Sometimes the reference is more literal, through ethnic items or maps while at other times it’s a metaphysical transportation of the self into another dimension. You can be James Bond in a very masculine room with chairs dressed in mens’ suiting fabric and a 1960s writing desk; be transported to your childhood in a room full of vintage toys that are sure to stir up memories; or imagine you’re living in a paper world in a room covered in paper cutouts that are handmade by twin Danish artisans.
Matteo says that destiny assigns each traveler the correct room. You might think you’re serious and would have personally chosen the room with grey walls and a large reading area, but destiny might decide you need to have a little fun and put you in the game room. A couple might enjoy the James Bond room, but end up with the romantic four-poster bed (all the beds are extra huge 2×2 meter super Kings, incidentally). Travel is about being open-minded, and that’s when some of the best experiences happen.
Asked about his personal favourite room, Matteo says it depends on so many factors – the weather, the season, his mood…they are all his personal creations, and every single object here has a story. If you ask nicely, he’ll be happy to tell you them. Like the brick of a stereo in the entry hall, a Saba handed down from his Hungarian grandmother, complete with vinyl discs of traditional Hungarian folk songs whose kitsch covers would be worth hanging on the wall. A sign in the café area that says “RAZIONI” that is actually the second half of an insurance company (“Assicurazioni”). Dutch wooden clogs that Matteo has ironically painted with a Nike swoosh. A low table made from a crate, a lamp from a fire extinguisher, a bookshelf that was a confessional: few things here serve their original purpose.
Recipe for success
Within two weeks of Sopr’Arno’s opening, the ten rooms were fully booked. Brilliant reviews, great exposure on Instagram and an article in Wallpaper have helped feed and extend this initial success. As the first guests came in, they often commented that the place is “even better than it looked online”. Matteo says, ” This is one key to a happy customer: provide reasonable expectations, then, go above and beyond.”
What is his formula for a positive travel experience? Matteo says:
“You’ve got to look at the city and its services from the point of view of a visitor and think about what would make him or her happy, and really it’s very simple: provide a nice room and be nice to people!”
With Sopr’Arno’s ideal location close to the buzz of it all and its eclectic, well-thought-out design, the personal touch is what finishes off the experience. Matteo gives a huge amount of credit to Leonardo Bressan, the manager you’ll meet at the desk when you walk in.
“Any ‘guy at the desk’ can show you your room, but Leonardo is part guide, part local friend. He orients all the guests to the area, eager to share his favourite restaurant, boutique and artisan tips.”
The area of the Oltrarno, the other side of the river from the Duomo and the main tourist attractions, has remained one in which Florentines still live, work and shop. You’ll see “nonni” (grandmas) with their carts and moms pulling kids along to neighbourhood schools. It’s also one of the two main areas for artisans (the other is Santa Croce). But if creativity has always been a strong point in Florence, this rarely extends to the hospitality sector, where it is too easy to rest on past laurels and depend on the beauty of what is outside the windows. The team at Sopr’Arno’s eclectic choices and applied creativity embody the best of Florence, creating a truly unique design experience.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Sopr’Arno Suites, Florence