The Italian Job
De Soto is a sleepy little community that rests on the western edge of Johnson County, perched among rolling hills of lush green acreage. It’s here that an unsuspecting main street waits for visitors or residents stopping in the local bank, library or post office.
Unexpected and punctuated behind one particular brick façade boasting large picture windows, is an Italian Mecca brimming with beautiful antiques that are coveted and cherished.
|Mary Lies and some of her Mercato Antiques wares.|
“They come out to me in this quirky location and that’s what I like,” says Mary Lies of her customers. “They don’t need anyone to tell them what’s trendy. They know who they are … they know what they like.”
It’s this “quirky” location where Lies, a direct importer and owner of Mercato Antiques, manages her exquisite collection of Italian treasures, right down to the tea towels.
De Soto may not be a sought-out design center, but it’s accessible and low on foot traffic, allowing Lies to do what she does best—deal directly with her clients. Between the Internet and local connoisseurs, many from Johnson County, Mercato has become a go-to resource for authentic Italian antiques.
While Lies stands firm on not falling for design trends, one trend is apparent: her clients are more fans than customers. With Lies they share a love of Italy; of its culture, flavors and artifacts.
“Both Mary and Tim have since turned out to be very good friends as the many years have gone on,” says Leawood resident and Mercato customer Marg Pateidl of Lies and her husband.
Pateidl met the Lies at one of Mercato’s many in-store events while she and her husband were building their home in Leawood’s Tuscany Reserve. Their instant connection with the pieces led to a friendship … and eventually more pieces.
“At first it started off with ‘we could use this and we could use that,’ then it moved on to, ‘well Mary, I really could use a nightstand,’” says Pateidl; which Lies found on a trip shortly after the request.
Pateidl aptly describes Lies as a master of repurposing. She learns what her clients like and over time can take inventory of their style to find the items she knows will be equally appreciated. For the Pateidls that meant not one, but two, large farm tables to be used as desks in their studies.
Visiting Mercato is an event in and of itself, almost like stepping into the collection room of a museum for a sneak peek. The difference is, you’re encouraged to experience the valuable pieces, enjoy their magnificence and learn their stories.
“I am not so museum-quality, my pieces are Tuscan and they were used by families so sometimes it’s different pieces of wood put together to make a table—and that’s OK,” says Lies of her extensive collection. “That’s the feeling that I want and it’s not perfect, I like it like that because to me that shows its true age.”
Expect to find tables and chests, lanterns and art at Mercato but plan to be surprised by doorframes, tableware, podiums and items salvaged from palazzo renovations. Accessing these kinds of pieces is what has propelled Mercato to a status all its own. Traveling to Italy roughly twice a year, Lies will spend about two weeks visiting with families and dealers as part of an intricate network she has built since 2003.
“On this last trip a friend of mine that I buy some things from had another guy. He said, ‘you know I know this guy, I am friends with him, his dad was a dealer in Florence for years,’” says Lies of the contact.
“He will be a great resource and we just got along perfectly, so he’s now part of my posse,” she adds with a giggle.
Lies is inspired by what she likes, but it’s also the recommendations of her dealers that help her find these rarities. Such is the case with the hand-carved, walnut ceiling pieces from a palazzo.
“They have these wonderful pieces that are carved, these rosettes; you see rosettes in doors, you see them on the ceiling and so to me, that you can own a piece of a palazzo is a pretty amazing thing,” she says.
Marking the inception of Mercato was a corner cabinet that to this day, Lies hasn’t forgotten.
“I looked at it and I thought to myself, if I am actually going to do this, I actually have to pull the trigger and start buying what I really like,” she says. “It was that point: ‘Am I going to do it, am I not going to do it?’”
Almost 10 years and thousands of pieces later, Lies has found her maxim—buy what you love.
New in 2011 was the release of Mercato Tableware; a line of olivewood bowls and handmade, hand-painted dishes and servers. For years Lies brought back ceramic pieces and saw how popular they had become with clients. Following that instinct, she once again tapped into her passion and developed the line.
“My husband and I are huge entertainers, we always have been,” says Lies of the inspiration behind the tableware. “That’s been a big part of our life.”
Lies’ entire family helped with the development of the line, understanding her vision. Trips to Italy were spent researching and finding the right family to produce the tableware, which was most important to Lies.
“That’s just a real thrill to be able to have those kinds of pieces that connect you to the families that make them,” she says.
The tableware, each setting beautiful in its own right, has become a token for shoppers who pop in or those who want to expand their extensive Italian collection beyond antiques. For Lies, it’s just one more way of sharing her true love—Italy.
For more information, visit mercatoantiques.com
photos: Laurel Austin