CORTONA PROFILES - NO. 11

GINO MATTRASSI, FURNITURE RESTORER AND DEALER, IS ALSO OWNER OF TERONTOLA'S SECOND-HAND MARKET...

Excited at the prospect of finding novel and unusual fixtures and furnishings for our new home extension, I headed off to Gino Mattrassi’s mercatino dell’usato (secondhand market), in Terontola. It’s a treasure trove of sorts and Gino is a fountain of inspiration, with a mental archive of where everything is, within his enormous, stuffed-to-the-brim warehouse.
Gino was born in 1957 in the original Cortona hospital (long before it moved to la Fratta). He abounds with stories of times past such as his parents’ honeymoon which entailed a 10 kilometre ox and cart ride from Farneta to Borgonuovo.
In his late teens, he worked as a veterinary assistant, with a renowned Cortona vet. He prepared exactly 4,756 dogs, of all breeds, for their tattoo registration before the days of ear chips. He only got bitten once and that, by a tiny (and indignant) mutt.
His story of applying for a US visa, in 1976 - necessitating that he confirmed his political orientation - might raise eyebrows today. Once it was issued, he flew from Fiumicino airport - in the days when it was surrounded by sheep and goats - into Newark where there were 36 runaways, kilometres of corridors and endless sliding doors to connect to onward flights. If not for the help of an Italian stewardess, Gino says his friend and he would never have made their connecting flight, nor met up with the charming American girls they had previously met in Cortona. They had a great time, learnt an enormous amount, but the differences in their worlds, as he says, couldn’t have been more apparent.
Gino began learning his trade at the early age of 15 by making the legs of elegant epoca (period) tables. He avoided military service due to his ‘occhio stanco’ (lazy eye) instead, continuing to work and learn. He carved the little flowers, in Fiorentino style, on furniture that were then painted by others. He restored for artists such as Procetti, Giulio Stanganini, Fernando Salvatori and Castellani, who displayed the furniture at Cortona’s first Fiera Antiquaria, in 1975.
The latter, Castellani, once gave him a bedside table to restore. Cognizant that they usually have some hidden drawers, Gino scrutinized it carefully and identified two that contained nothing of interest. He called Castellani to collect the piece, who on looking further, noticed that while most joints were fixed with nails, one had a screw. The third hiding place contained four gold coins and a gold chain. Castellani was exhilarated at his find. The only other discovery Gino ever made turned out to be a pair of scissors that an upholsterer had left in a sofa.
It was Fernando Salvatori, who took Gino under his wing and taught him the tricks of the trade. He laughs at how most people are reluctant to share their knowledge and cites a very Italian example, of a father who won’t share, even with his own son, the place where he finds his porcini mushrooms, preferring to take the secret to his grave. (One useful piece of advice that Gino shared with me was how to age iron by leaving it in a septic tank for a month).
Besides his warehouse in Terontola, Gino also does the rounds of the local markets – such as Pissignano – and is closely integrated into the antique/secondhand market network. He will empty houses on request, negotiating a fee that depends on the re-sell value of its contents.
He enjoys working with foreigners because they seem more familiar with the idea of a circular economy than most Italians. Currently, he says, the nature of the items he trades in - due to the cost of living crisis and the war in Ukraine - is changing.
These days, articles that find a market tend to be primarily useful or ‘special’, beautiful or collectors’ items. Gone are the days (thankfully) of gathering endless knick-knack dust-collectors.  
If you’re in need of something - anything almost – from doors, kitchenware, pictures, mirrors, frames, furniture, old bicycles, ladders, old gramophones, a Vespa, knick-knacks, to quite literally, even the kitchen sink …. it’s well worth a visit to Gino’s and if you’re lucky enough to find him (and can speak Italian), to have a chat.
How it works: If you have something that needs a new home, Gino will firstly ascertain if it has a market, and secondly, agree an asking price. The amount is shared 50/50 and should the object not sell immediately, the price will be reduced as the months pass, to ensure constant turnover.
I strongly suggest you pay a visit!!!
Lucy Wood, 13/11/2022 11:50:46
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