SRQ Magazine-Free Editorial, September 2018maria borri
Malbi in Mind
While Italy remains an epicenter to the ritual of artisan high fashion, Maria Alberta Borri plays a notable role in reinforcing the glamor of handcrafted art for our homes, right here in Sarasota.
SRQ Magazine | September 2018
By Brittany Mattie
Dispatch to Malbi Decor for warm, European hospitality from a family-owned/operated business and to covet passport-stamped goods representative of their Mediterranean origins, traditions and culture. Natives of the boot-shaped country, Maria Alberta Borri, husband Frederico and sons Pietro and Giovanni moved from the northern region of their homeland to Sarasota in 2014. “For us it was a great adventure,” says Maria. “We could start a whole new life.” The move came to fruition when she discovered the quaint cottage on the corner of Pineapple Avenue, which she now owns and transformed into a boutique with two rental apartments upstairs. The international allure of Malbi has since become a staple landmark of Downtown Sarasota—functioning as an art gallery and event space as much as a boutique, with artist showings and interior decorating demonstrations.
Maria has identified with the moniker “Malbi” all her life, having been nicknamed from her initials by her friends back in Italy; it seemed befitting to name the cornerstone abode the same. “It is my third baby,” she says proudly. The family even tenaciously decided to stay put during the massive construction of what’s to become The Mark condominium complex in 2019. Despite roadblock detours, ceiling damage, loud banging upon her walls and infrastructure cracks along the entire length of the floor; Maria plans to stay where she originally fell in love with Sarasota. Throughout the city’s exponential growth and expansion, her innate sense of style and design prevails—bringing our community exquisite imported provisions stamped ‘Handmade in Italy.’
Malbi evokes delightful chicness with product lines centered around dining, entertaining and charming high-end tableware such as cutlery, blown glassware, handmade dishes, as well as fine linens, one-of-a-kind art, ceramics, jewelry and lamps. Find notable brand names like Massimo Lunardon, Ashanti, La Gabbianella, Industria Vetraria Valdarnese and Sambonet (congratulations, you’re basically fluent in Italian). Since these artists/designers don’t export across the Atlantic, with products often made of “single material,” Maria goes to literal and figurative great lengths to source, acquire, ship and display the merchandise—connecting with these foreign brands and building exclusive relationships with them in order to supply Malbi with authentic product that can’t be found anywhere else in the States. “I work with these small vendors because I like to have something special,” Maria says. “I don’t want to sell what other shops already have.” So she and Frederico travel to Italy for a couple of weeks out of the year to make it all happen. (Where do we sign up?) The challenge remains, however, to hand-select enough inventory to stock Malbi entirely for the whole year. And it’s quite the process. “I go there in May to meet with all my vendors and order my goods—they have two months to produce them, June and July,” Maria says. “August everything is closed; the whole nation is on holiday the entire month—lucky them right? Then in September my container will leave by boat and arrive here in October.” And much of it is as delicate as things come, adding a fragility risk when getting shipped off for their transatlantic journey and sunny-side settlement.
Malbi shoppers can look forward to new vases, flute glassware and deluxe decor coming this fall from new vendors in Murano, Venice and Florence, along with an added line of handcrafted jewelry that appears more like pieces of abstract art. The designer Nicoletta Venerando has a small studio/jewelry shop where she buys leftover Murano glass pieces from forges, transforms them into beads and then puts together statement pieces with either black rubber, metal or wood. Maria knows she’s found something special. “Every piece is original and inimitable,” she says. “There is nothing like it here.”