What happens when an architecture student who studied in Siena, Italy, and a student who studied Italian at a Florence language school meet after they return to the United States?
Their common love of all things Italian results in marriage, another trip to Italy and an enormous purchase of Italian decor and architectural artifacts.
This was the beginning of Mercato Italian Antiques & Artifacts, a cozy retail space that Mary Lies now operates on a quiet commercial street in De Soto. Mary’s husband, Tim, remains an enthusiastic business partner behind the scenes.
Refurbished original wood-plank floors, repainted antique tin ceilings, corrugated metal walls and open shelving create a warm and welcoming environment in this 1800s building.
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“A friend in Florence gets me great art, too,” Lies said.
That includes weathered pottery, a massive wood convent cabinet, and antique desks and ladders. Lies also offers antique art and architectural detail pieces, displayed in handsome black frames and shadow boxes.
But handcrafted tableware has become a big focus here, too, sold amid those same architectural artifacts and decor. Handmade Fresco dinnerware showcases colors found in a Fresco painting, including rich reds, deep olive, robin’s egg blue and warm terra-cotta.
Mercato also carries Buon Ricordo (Good Memory) plates. With colored rims and bright center designs, plates created by the 1964 Buon Ricordo union of restaurants in Italy represented the culinary specialty of each participating dining establishment. Mercato’s Buon Ricordo plates replicate the tradition in tall colorful piles covering a rustic antique wood table.
With creamy glazed interiors and unglazed exteriors, Mercato’s Cimmo bowl collection reflects centuries of production by potters from Italy’s Puglia region. They’re perfect for use as serving and food-storage pieces.
Although Lies is clearly passionate about her entire inventory, she lights up as she talks about the shop’s newer focus on quality tableware. The shift also reflects the fact that “I’m a good cook, and (my husband) is a great cook,” Lies said. “I started our tableware line because you can’t separate food from Italy.”
Lisa Waterman Gray is a freelance writer based in Overland Park. She specializes in food and travel writing.