Ornella Pisano sits at the far end of the Ercole Home showroom. From her desk she can survey mirrors, tables, chests, and other home accessories that she has handcrafted using a combination of vintage china, silver leaf, resin, glass, sea shells, crystals, plaster, and wood to achieve the Ercole mosaic style. The beauty of the space is almost intimidating.
Ornella projects confidence and pride in her work, but more than once during our conversation she grew reflective as she spoke about the effort it took to get where she is today. The story of Ercole begins in Venice, where Ornella was born and raised. “I had some formal art training in Italy, but really I naturally absorbed what was around me each day. You have to understand that in one way or another, everyone in Venice is connected to glass,” she said, referring to the world renowned Venetian glass industry. “Not only that, but everywhere you look there is art. You open a door to a church and there is a gorgeous mosaic.”
After college, Ornella’s first stop in the United States was Key West, where she was a fashion stylist for movies. “I was working with colors, shapes, and textures, but after a while, I realized it was time to get serious.” She then spent some time in the New York art scene, and in 1986 she decided to start a business selling her mosaic pieces to interior designers. “One challenge was navigating the thin line between art and interior furniture. At Ercole, we make art.”
Ornella has been the sole owner of the company, which now has ten employees - most of them women. How has Ercole remained viable while many other business have a difficult time surviving in New York? “Running a business is a skill,” Ornella says. “There was a learning curve, but I basically have followed my core principles, just like I do in every aspect of my life. Those are Integrity, Honesty, and Sustainability. I try to convey these things with my designs, to send a message of beauty and order that contributes to my customer’s lives.” When I asked her about trends in her industry, Ornella laughed. “Really, honestly, we are one of those places that determines the trends. If anything, our design is too precocious. In the early days I would grow worried when a certain line would not sell. Now I never worry because I know, even if it takes two or three years, it will suddenly become the popular look of the moment.”
These days, Ornella enjoys working with anyone who has a vision for an Ercole product. “I am really curious about and open to the unexpected, of looking at color and form and shape in new ways. I don’t have a particular favorite because, for me, everything is beautiful. How can you say yes or no to one color when one color is really thousands of shades that can take different forms?”
As we neared the end of our time together, Ornella asked me to emphasize that she is aware that it is difficult to run your own businesses in Manhattan given the current climate. “Ercole is a proud New York company, but the small business environment is very hard, with the rent, wages, and benefits that are required. The city is going through a lot of changes and it could be more supportive to artisanal companies. You don’t want people walking around with Gucci and Prada as the only options of where to shop.”
When I asked whether she knew many other female business owners she said that she did not know of many others in her position, and that she was too busy to try to build a community. “Sometimes it can get a little lonely as one of the only women who run a sustainable business of this size in the area. But I hope that my story is an inspiration for other women who want to create something, to have a legacy, to be entrepreneurs.”
Jung Lee has always had a vision. Starting in 2002, she and her husband began implementing this vision through their event planning business, Fete. But after years of helping folks optimize their celebrations, Jung decided to delve even deeper, opening a shop to display luxury home decor. There is no theme: traditional designs mingle with modern ones, and therein challenge more staid categorizations of items. The result is energetic and adventurous, but most of all beautiful to behold.
Walking into Mantiques Modern is the equivalent of walking into a treasure chest. Full of antiques that grace the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this store offers not only an incredible buying experience, but an extraordinary viewing experience. While the largely pop culture-referential items, such as old Wrigley’s sculptures, handmade bicycles, carved skulls and massive seashells, were intended to cater to a primarily male, nostalgic clientele, there were plenty of women browsing on the days that we stopped by. In addition to the impressive selection of fun memorabilia, there is an array of photography, clocks, small tables and other furniture pieces. On a second visit, we were given a personal tour of the different century pieces that were particularly unique. A nineteenth century sterling silver Japanese flask from the Samurai era, a bronze clock that drips downward by Salvador Dali, a giant leather, classic Hermes handbag in perfect condition were only a few of the items that we gazed at in awe. While the store has rested on 22nd Street for just ten years, the owners of Mantiques have been in the business for forty, accumulating a broad knowledge that spans centuries, and a certain sort of intuition for choosing pieces that are “gutsy, cool” and one of a kind. We found that we could look up at a shelf for several minutes, walk away, come back and see something equally intriguing staring back at us that we had missed only a moment before.
Alessandra and Mario De Benedetti had never been in the restaurant business. She was a law professor and he was in finance - both living in Italy. When a passion burns inside you, however, and a desire to live in NYC is so strong, why not change careers and pursue your dream? This is exactly what the dynamic duo chose to do. Working alongside Elizabeth Roberts, architect extraordinaire, the team created a space built for dramatic floral arrangements and an enchanting atmosphere for dining. Alessandra combined her love of flowers by integrating them into the restaurant's splendid cocktails, specialty dishes and magnificent displays. In 2019, their dream finally became a reality as they opened the doors of Il Florista on West 26th Street.Manhattan Sideways is thrilled to be working alongside Simon and his team at Locasaur. Finally, there is a platform that invites both small businesses and customers to seamlessly connect with one another making their shopping, eating or drinking experience that much more meaningful.Il Fiorista uses Locasaur - to engage personally with their regulars. Join their community here to message directly with their team, reserve a bar seat for happy hour, and plan for a next evening out, surrounded by flowers.
Crossroads Trading Company now has almost thirty locations around the United States, but even in Manhattan they keep their original relaxed Bay Area vibe. The company began in Berkeley in 1991 and has since become a hub for recycling both men and women's clothing with the goal of helping the environment and working to eliminate waste. Locals are welcome to come in and sell their gently used garments for cash or credit...and while there, hopefully browse for something
Having spent years throwing parties and doing his best “most interesting man in the world” impression, Robert Chan, a.k.a. Toshi, seems to have settled down. After starting his career on Wall Street, Toshi became an actor (appearing most notably in The Departed), all the while hosting mega-parties that became famous citywide. Now, he has been trying his hand in the hotel business, running the Penthouse and Living Room in conjunction with the Flatiron Hotel for the past few years....and, by what we could discern, rather successfully.The living room downstairs serves as a funky music and performance venue, with live acts every night of the week. The couches are cyan, magenta and golden and might have been designed by a stylish Dr. Seuss. A circular tank houses all sorts of tropical fishes, including sharks, and juts up to the second floor mezzanine. There is a bar on each of these first two floors, with an experienced mixologist slinging all sorts of spirits until two in the morning.But it is upstairs, in the Penthouse, where there is a minimum spending limit so the vibe is a bit more exclusive (all hotel guests have access). Emphasis is placed on outdoor seating, with the Empire State Building providing a powerful backdrop. On any given night, alongside the live performances, Toshi's affable canine companion, Prince Ponzu, can be found frolicking with his owner.The entire operation reflects Toshi’s emphasis on hospitality. Guests can often find him mingling amongst their ranks, or fully engaged in friendly conversation with his performers. Once a first timer in the hospitality business, Toshi has made his mark by welcoming thousands of guests into his own party setting. He has clearly become a seasoned veteran.
If one were to close their eyes and walk into Hill Country, there is no doubt that in an instant they would know what kind of food was being prepared. At Hill Country, they take their barbecue very seriously. The food is prepared in their very own custom meat-smoking room, and everything is done in the style of Central Texas barbecue. The atmosphere is kitschy and relaxed, with live American music most nights of the week.
Except for the unfortunate lactose intolerant among us, I do not know anyone who does not love a good grilled cheese. At Melt Shop, they serve up this childhood staple, simple and delicious, or a bit more sophisticated with interesting variations on the classic. Paired with their potato tots and a milkshake, the Manhattan Sideways team was happy to feel like they were back in grade school.