Sunday, May 24, 2009

Where in the World has the Design Guy Been?

It's been several months.... and I'm b-a-a-a-c-c-k!

Thanks for all of your cards, emails, letters, gifts and flowers! You really shouldn't have--but since you did, I'll take it, and thank you!

Oh! You hadn't noticed that I was gone?

Oh, yes, I was about to explain where I've been. Actually, I've been in Santa Barbara most of the time, focused on our business. Of course I've traveled a few times up to our Mill Valley store for meetings or to help out when needed, as has Caroline, and we even evacuated our selves to San Francisco to escape the recent wild fires that ravaged the countryside in and around SB (as in "OC" but we're in the "SB"!).
For amazing photographs of the recent wildfires, known as the "Jesuita Fire":

My sincere thanks to the men and women who battled this fire so valantly and served so many that were displaced. Thank you!

And then...

In addition to the fire, as if the world's economy isn't bad news enough, I watch the continual parade of dismal economic news and employment figures, negative first quarter business earnings reports, the automakers going bankrupt and closing many of their dealerships, all this after we've already survived record high gasoline prices and those projections of $150 per barrel oil (which fortunately didn't materialize). In real estate the statistical decline in housing prices marches on. All the while, I watch as our costs of doing business as a Mom & Pop retail store increase, seemingly on a daily basis though the retail price at which I can sell my merchandise is not rising.

Customers don't expect to pay more in down times, they want to purchase it for less., or they won't purchase it at all. Therein lies the major problem on the retail front.

Our Competitors--have they made a bed that we all have to lie in?

Fellow high-end retailers such as Saks 5th Avenue, makes it very difficult for us to compete (and for their direct competitor Neiman Marcus) when they discount the top brands early in the season. Taking early mark downs, Saks went directly to 70% off on some current season merchandise, bypassing the customary 20% sales which grow to larger percentage discounts as the season nears its end.

But, not Saks, not this year. They certainly achieved a goal of beating everyone to the punch, though I don't intend to go there and didn't, and neither did Neiman's.
It's a tough road to take, but we cannot run our business at a loss. Other businesses can't either, though I've always wondered how a business stays in business when they report yearly loss after loss, but yet are still going concerns. I didn't say profitable concerns, but they are still going, still in business somehow.

Take our freight costs for instance, to get merchandise delivered from the manufacturers in North Carolina all the way to the West coast, freight rates were typically between 14-18%, now their 20-22%, plus the addition of new fuel surcharges, making the effective shipping rate a whopping 25% of the costs of the goods shipped! Yikes!

Then, there are the unending notices of price increases from our Vendors, some of which haven't had a price increase in the last two years, but they've already had two price increases this year!

Sorry, I got a little off subject...what is the subject here? Obviously there are several!
I better have another bite of my orange.

Okay, I feel way better now! I'm ready! So, to revisit the purpose of this article, "Where have I been?" I've been fighting for every bit of business that I can by working my little tushy off, just trying to keep ahead of the curve.

In fact our business has risen slightly upward, steadily every single month since year end Dec/2008.

Where's the business coming from? Fortunately, we've seen at least one major interior design and furnishing job come through our doors each month. The jobs are furnishing a large part of, or the entire customers home .
These customers have purchased a home in our area, as mostly a second, or third, part-time residence, and they want to furnish it from the floors, up!

They "need" us to furnish it from the floor up, they have a need! Praise the lord...a customer who needs to buy furniture!

I just have to say it again: Hey, customers that have a need to buy! Wooo whoo!

The Media

And where are these people coming from? How do they know about our Cabana Home stores in Santa Barbara and Mill Valley, CA?
I've got to say that I firmly believe that they are coming from our advertising. Since we do not advertise on radio or television, that means the customer is coming from our print advertising.

Of course much of our business is from word of mouth, but I attribute the lions share of it to our advertising. Since the end of last year, we've focused and booked our advertising dollars with those media that produce results, namely the high-end home and fashion magazines; Santa Barbara Magazine, C magazine, the Montecito Journal and the Montecito Journal Magazine (or the "glossy", per the magazines first Editor), 805 Living magazine, California Homes magazine, California Home & Design magazine, and Marin magazine.

We currently run both statewide and local magazine ads. At the moment we are not doing any typical newspaper advertising--I'll let you know more about the impact of that decision after a few more months.

During this economic downturn, we've actually kept our advertising budget on par with last year, as I do not believe this is the time to have less presence in the market place, though others may be trimming their advertising budgets. In some cases, we're focused on placement rather than frequency.

Example: Last month we took a full page ad, on the back page of one of the more prestigious local weekly newspapers. The ad ran in a space that is usually taken every week by one of the hottest "see and be seen" restaurants in Montecito, CA. We rely in great part on word of mouth to augment our advertising, and after the ad ran, a "big hitter" (from Texas) who had recently purchased a second home in Montecito came into the store because they had seen our ad. They purchased $3,600 worth of lamps (quite a nice little lamp sale). It wasn't word of mouth that got them here, because they didn't really know anyone here yet, it was the ad, and I'm convinced the placement of it on the back cover.

Staging Your Home to Sell--What a Concept!

Where else is the business coming from? Of course we're fortunate to have the repeat customer, GOD love'm! We're also working in a way, staging houses for sale, though not in the conventional way.

We recently furnished a "spec" house, owned by one of our customers, for a lady (considered the most successful mortgage broker in the United States) and her husband, (an accountant).

This savvy business lady built a beautiful house in the prestigious Jack Nicklaus golf course community of Old Greenwood (, in Truckee, CA (that's Lake Tahoe).

Having been furnished initially by a local stager, and unsold six months latter, the owner was still paying multiple thousands per month for the use of the furniture, and she decided it might be less expensive in the long run to purchase furniture for the house, and that is, purchasing exactly the right furniture for that house.

A couple of things were at play here: 1. Properly furnishing the house would increase its appeal in the local market place, and 2. It would increase the attractiveness to a potential Buyer who would have the opportunity to purchase this home fully furnished, lock stock and barrel, which would make for an easier transaction for any absentee owner.

Left photo: Street side view of the property at Old Greenwood, listed at $1,895,000.
Right photo: View of the golf course fairways from the second floor deck.
This is one well-planned home. It features four bedrooms, with four private baths, the Living room with fireplace and built-in flat panel television and surround sound systems; high, beamed ceilings; Gourmet Kitchen (with two of each type of appliance!), a Game room, outdoor living areas with outdoor cooking and and sound system, all overlooking two of the prettiest fairways on the golf course. Sounds lovely? But it also sounds like every other similarly priced home that is for sale in the development.

In planning for the furnishings for this home, we worked diligently to give our customer the most complete home for the money that we could possibly deliver. At the end of the budget, we even lent them a major painting (not included in the price!) just to complete the interiors. The result? Judge for yourself, take a look at the new interior pictures below.

We also worked with their real estate broker to insure that we all had the same understanding of the customer for which we had furnished this home. I had specific talks with the broker/Realtors (remember, I'm retired from a twenty year career in real estate!) about getting away from the old way of selling a home based on "price per square foot". It's cliche, and my belief that nobody bases their purchase of a new home solely on price per square foot. Sure it's a factor, a guide if you will, in their decision making process, but it's the house itself, and everything it entails that establishes the value.

It's the customer considering the look, the feel, the way it fits their needs, and their dreams that drives them to select one house over another. That's the way to sell in today's economic climate. Forget the numbers! If the numbers where that important, then no one would ever purchase a house again--they would rent!

The look? Well, I must say we restrained ourselves from the Paul Bunyan look! No red plaid fabrics, no stitched deer-hide lamp shades, no antlers or horns on the walls (we prefer those on our Cadillacs in Texas). We passed on the typical hair-on cowhide upholstered furniture.

Instead of rustic spilt-log furniture, we opted for antique, primitive rough-hewn Chinese alter tables; naturally woven linen lamp shades instead of the deer-hide versions; we used a naturally woven grass rug instead (see the Merida Meridian rug, pictured below, and at the Cabana Home stores in Santa Barbara or Mill Valley, CA ( of a more expected braided rug; an upholstered headboard of raw silk instead of a more traditional wooden bed.

We used a subtle creme and tan hounds tooth pattern fabric in lieu of a the more typical bright red and green plaid, and bent just about every current rule for mountain-house design that is currently so obviously popular--and overdone to death! See more pictures, below.

From the Bengal Collection of 100% Jute woven rugs from MeridaMeridian available at Cabana Home Stores. Left: Style Reef; Right: Style Bora Bora.

Oh, and one more thing...we did not set the Dining table to look like someone was about to eat. If the idea is to set the table to make the house looked lived in, then to me a set dining table looks like the owner is about to have a dinner party and we better cut our appointment short so we can get out of the hosts way! We put a lovely centerpiece on the table in a wonderful clay container and called it a day! Leave the Martha Stewart details to the potential Buyer. Let them visualize themselves setting whatever table they envision as they stand in the beautiful Dining room contemplating the purchase of this home.

Re-positioning this spec-house in the marketplace was a well thought out decision by the Owners, and the Realtors, we were simply the facilitators. And, once the home is sold, if it doesn't sell furnished to the new Owner, then this homeowner will use the newly acquired furniture to upgrade and augment what she already has, and pass on the former to her kids, friends and relatives. All in all, everybody wins with this scenario.

More about Staging (in order to sell your home)

Statistics for your consideration of whether or not to stage your home are plentiful on the Internet (as are the "stagers" themselves). Basically it boils down to this: A vacant home that has been properly staged sells faster and for more dollars, than a non-staged home. Likewise, homes that are occupied that are staged, sell faster and for more dollars.

Curious as to why one would stage a home that is lived in? Consider this, we all have our homes decorated and furnished to suit us, and our lifestyle, but does it suit or fit that of a potential buyer?

Answer: Usually not. we may have too much furniture in a room, such as an extra large dining table with multiple chairs in a space that is far too small to accomodate it. Perhaps we have a need for the large table and the chairs to accomodate our large family, but if your home is on the market, it conveys to a potential Buyer that the Dining room is too small, and then just maybe that the house is too small as well.

Enter the Realtor!

In preparing to place a home on the market, more often than not, the Realtor has to tell the homeowner that they need to consider removing some of their furniture, accessories, or art, form the house, which is most often met with a stinging response from the sensitive homeowner.

Classic homeowner responses: "It works for us, and that's just the way we live"; or "they'll just have to get over it" or even ; "if they pass on our house because the dining room is too small, then this house wasn't for them."; or how about this, "they can see past that, if not then this house isn't for them", or, "I like it like this, it's why I bought this house".

Shivers go up my spine as I look at the responses above, having actually heard them myself. The worse the homwowners reaction to my suggestions, the lower the price they would eventually get for the house. The more cooperative, the more money they would get for their home. It happened everytime, over and over again.

So dear homeowners, please know this, the Realtor knows very well that it's your home. They are more sensative to that fact than anyone else who will be looking at and/or decides to purchase your home, so lighten up. Remember, your the one who has deciced to sell your home, whether you wanted to or not, and it is up to you to hire the person that you think can do the best job at marketing the property, negoitiating the terms of the transaction, and getting the transaction closed. The person who knows how to do these things also knows exactly what it will take to bring you the highest dollar your home will bear in the current marketplace, and they know exactly how to postion and stage your home in order to do so. So once you've picked the right guy or gal agent, once you've done it, get out of the way and listen carefully to their suggestions. While your home is on the market, it's not about you, or at least not until there is a written offer from a Buyer on the table. Until then, its about the Buyer, and making the house as appealing as possible to the broadest range of potential Buyers.

Best tip for any homeowner: Never create an adversarial reatlionship with your Realtor, they're out in the public on your behalf, fighting to get your home noticed and sold. Make them want the best for you by listening carefully to what they're telling you. It would be a rare bird (Realtor) indeed that wouldn't have your best interest at heart.

Other links for getting your home ready to sell:

From the National Association of REALTORS: "Field Guide to Preparing and Staging a House for Sale":

Check out : "How to Prepoare your House For Sale" at:

Also, this site has some good but basic ideas for selling a home:

Or, follow this link for ideas about getting your home ready to sell:

Or, this link to avoid the "Seven Costliest Mistakes seller Make":

All for now! Next up on the Design Guy blog: Part III of recent European travels!

PS: I have no idea who this kid is in the above pictures, but he is darn cute! I found these picutes on the internet so if he's your kid thanks for letting me use the pic's!

Goodnight Moon

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Europe Report IV of V: Rogue Taxi's at Rome's Stazione Termini (the main train station in Rome)

Rome, IT: Our Arrival (I'll let you in on this up front: There is no home fashion in this report either, just a retelling of our taxi experience upon our arrival in Rome).

We were sadly thinking Goodbye Florence before happily saying Hello to Rome for our real Roman Holiday, after successfully retrieving our daughter, her luggage, and our credit card from her semester abroad in Florence. The luggage is the operative word here!

The total number of pieces of luggage that I hoisted onto the train was eleven (11), not including the six carry-on bags.
Once aboard, I'd collapsed into my seat on the Eurostar, looking more like the sweating hired help than the proud father.

Unashamed, I fanned myself with my First class ticket, while my horrified fellow car-mates looked on with disapproval. Too bad I thought to myself, its over and I'm over this luggage.
Note: Not an actual picture of our luggage! But close!

As the train sped along upwards of 220 mph, and I had begun to cool down, I started dreading our arrival in Rome and the stack of luggage that awaited me. Suddenly, I wished we had taken a slower train. When we had arrived at the train station in Florence and the bags were transferred from the driver to me, I had to load the two baggage carts with the bags myself, which were so heavy the wheels on the front of the carts wouldn't roll.
After several attempts, I stood on the back of the cart to get the front wheels off the ground, first one, then the other. My wife pushed one cart, and I pushed the other, both carts with front wheels off the ground.
Our daughter pulled three large rolling bags just ahead of us trying to act like she wasn't with the "wheelie popping" adults behind her. I must admit, we must have looked like a band of well dressed Gypsy's.

Right: The Train Schedule Board, in Rome, Italy. Sex Sells even train tickets! You gotta love Rome!

Upon our arrival in Rome, it was chaotic as expected, so our plan was for my wife and daughter to quickly disembark so I could began handing, more like tossing, her our trove of bags. Caroline (my wife) was immediately met by a gypsy who promptly grabbed one of the bags from her and loaded it onto a waiting luggage cart, as if he were a porter who worked for the train station. She had one hand on the bag, her head darting back and forth between yelling at the gypsy, and summoning me for help. My daughter, having already experienced this scheme, reached down and jerked the bag off of the cart and told the guy to get lost (so she said...) in Italian. He grabbed at the bag and a tugging match ensued. I had been man-handling the bags off of the train during the near melee, and when I finished, I yelled at the guy, in my version of Italian (actually in English with an Italian accent), "Get the hell away from them, and my bags!"

He left abruptly, leaving us with the pile of bags. I wondered if maybe we shouldn't have risked letting him load the bags considering the large pile that had accumulated next to the train. I noticed several other Gypsy's using the same guise, and then I got aggravated that they would take free carts, that is if you could find one that hadn't been already commandeered by another gypsy, and attempted to charge unsuspecting passengers for its use.

Where were the Carabinieri (Italian police) when you need them?

Resourceful as ever, our daughter watched two passengers as they headed to their train car, and she stalked them until the last bag was removed from their cart. Once empty, she lurched for the handle, when suddenly her hand was met by that of another of the rogue Gypsies, trying to commandeer yet another free cart. She yelled for all to hear, "That's my cart!" and with that she gave the cart a hard jerk to the right and the stunned cart pirate let go in astonishment. That settled, she circled around the dumbfounded one and rushed to our aid and the tall pile of bags. Once our we were loaded, I briefly sighed a relief, "we're almost there", I told myself, to the Taxi stand that is, and the driver could handle them from there. Or, so I thought!

I'd been forewarned, and you be too, to stay clear of the rogue Taxi drivers who rip-off unsuspecting tourists by not using meters, etc...
I was hyper-focused on finding the official Taxi Stand. When we rolled up to the curb, the Taxi's were parked in a disorderly fashion, one in front of the other, on the curb, sideways, in the street, between lanes, it was a real free for all. A man stepped out of the fist car and approached me. We discussed the bags and the need for two cars, to which I agreed. I'd take half the bags in one car, and the girls could ride together in the other with the other half. The driver volunteered that the fare would be 25-30 Euros per car, and I said that's' fine as long as the meter was on. The driver winced, somewhat indignant I supposed that my request somehow conveyed that he might be dishonest, and he assured me that the meter's would be on.

He quickly summoned a buddy, not the next car in line, but one from the back of the line of Taxi's, which didn't look quite right to me, but since he was the lead guy, I went with it. I put the girls in his car, and I rode in the second car following behind. I hadn't mentioned the meter part of the negotiation to my wife, only the fare that the driver had quoted. I noticed that my driver wasn't using his meter to which I justified fine because after all, he wasn't the lead guy.

Twenty five minutes later we arrived at our apartment, near the Piazza Popollo. The lead driver came up to me and said that it was going to be 40 Euros for each car, because of the distance and the weight of the bags. I knew the bags were crushingly heavy, so I gladly paid him, and gave them each a tip, for a total of 100 Euro's.
Later, I asked my wife if the meter had read 40 Euro, and she said that he hadn't used it because he told her that I had already agreed to a fare with him.

No matter I thought, it seemed fair enough to me, and after all, we're in Rome, we had arrived at our fabulous apartment for the Christmas holiday, so lets just have fun!

Left: The Train station in looks so innocent!
The next morning we took a taxi back to the train station to meet our guide (who was fabulous, but more about him later) for a day trip to the ruins of Pompeii. Upon arrival, the meter read a measly 6 Euro, and the drive took less than five minutes which was perplexing. I asked the driver if we were at the main train station, and looking at me a bit puzzled from his rear view mirror, he confirmed we were indeed at the main train station. And, it was the same train station at which we had arrived just ten hours before, but I wondered how this trip could have taken just five minutes and cost only 6 Euro, when last night it took twenty five minutes and cost 100 Euros (with tip)?

Once we located our guide and boarded the train to Pompeii, I asked the guide about the difference in the taxi fares. He grimaced and said that we'd been "had". He told us we had fallen victim to the typical taxi scheme that most tourist fall into at the train station in Rome.

"You got taken", he said in excellent English.
"Taken!? But, how?"

"Rogue taxi drivers. The government has tried to crack down on them, but, its Italy..." he said. "I hate it for the tourists, but it happens, too often".

I winced at his words, and mumbled "taken" under my breath. I hated to have been taken by those jackal's, and decided this was indeed a story to be shared with other potential travelers, and my readers.

So, when in Rome... go to the official Taxi Stand, it's the one which has multiple painted lanes and curbs, and better signage, and the Taxi's are parked in a uniform queue It's on the side of the train station where all taxi's drop off and pick up passengers. The rogue taxi stand is also signed, but it is actually on the main street side of the station, which is the entrance mostly used by pedestrians who have arrived by foot or on the Metro.

Speaking of the Metro, I never rode it, but my wife and daughter did and thought it was easy to navigate, efficient time wise considering the traffic throughout Rome, had well located stops, and the price was a fraction of even a legitimate taxi fare.

The ordeal with the rogue taxi was the only negative thing about our entire trip to Italy. Other
than that, this was a flawless trip to the Eternal City.

Tomorrow, Pompeii memories.

Good Night Moon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Europe Report III of IV: Shopping Florence

Shopping Florence (...oh, I know, somebody has to do it!)

The famed Duomo of Florence, with the Campanile Baptistry in the foreground.

artstore mandragora

A store not to be missed in Florence is the artstore mandragora ( located on the Piazza del Duomo.

Similar to the "museum stores" in the US, this is probably the best of the bunch next to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art store in Santa Barbara, CA, and the MOMA museum store in NYC.
Find great European Art and Literature books, Italian leather journals, Art Reproductions, as well as handmade Jewelery, Ceramics, Glass, and original Paintings and Drawings.
Finds at the artstore mandragora include this framed pastel picture by Enrico Fizialetti (born 1964) a student of Luciano Guarnieri and a graduate of the venerable Istituto per l'Arte e il Restauro Palazzo Spinelli in Florence. Price--a mere EUR € 400 (about $600 US). The piece was framed in an exquisite Italian frame that appeared to be vintage, and worth the price of the picture itself!
In consideration of purchasing this, or any picture, I would select this picture for its colors and its composition, and of course I love the frame. This piece may not be more valuable than what one would pay for it, but that's not the point. The point is if you like it, and you can afford it, then it is a very good picture at a very good price.
One of my favorite pictures in our personal collection was purchased in San Marco Square in Venice, Italy from one of the ever present artists. It's a conti pencil drawing of a reclining nude female in the style of Picasso. Granted it's no Picasso, but it's not just a copy, not to me. It's an artists heartfelt homage to Picasso, and it is wonderful. The piece is framed in gold leaf, floated on linen, and sits on the music ledge of our baby grand piano.
Do you think it looks more important than the $15 we paid for it eight years ago? You bet it does. It looks as good as any piece in our collection that costs thousands more, and I like it better than most anything else we own.
The point here is about having the confidence to choose art, and buy it, especially when your traveling whether domestically or abroad. In addition to the owning the piece, the interaction with the artist or the gallery is an important part of the memories and the enjoyment of owning a particular piece of art.

Ermenegildo Zegna - Agnona
A Great store located on the corner just a block from the Arno River. Huge selection of the latest Zegna Collections. My bag was lost by American Airlines, so immediately after I checked in at the hotel I headed over to the neighborhood Zegna store (as if every neighborhood has one!).

The store was just one convenient block from our hotel in

The Italian Sultan of Cool: Ermenegildo Zegna
I bought a great sweater, a pair of pants, and a couple of shirts.
My bag arrived at 7:00 am, the next morning. Whew! I'm glad they didn't bring it to my hotel before I got to the Zegna Store. That was a close call!

Ermenegildo Zegna Via de' Tornabuoni, 3
Tel: 055 264254‎

Owned by the fourth generation of the Poggi family. This small shop features Italian Silver plate, Miran Lamps, And smaller antique accessories. Downstairs find a great collection of Silver serving pieces, both new and antique. Mind the narrow, steep stairs, and allow Mr. Poggi to go first so he can turn the lights on for you!
Ugo Poggi, Via Strozzi, 26r
Tel: 055.216741

The Straw Market

The Famed Straw Market in Florence, Italy, is located on the Piazza del Mercato Nuov, at the corner of Via Porta Rossa and Via Por Santa Maria.

Shopping the Straw Market is a must, if not just for the experience of learning to negotiate prices, Italian style.

The markets name belies the goods found there, the space is not located in a barn, but under a semi-enclosed beautiful, spacious loggia dating back to the 16th Century. Stalls are arranged cheek to jowl (pardon the pun considering the Bronze Boar--see below).
Find leather desk sets and boxes; Florentine gold-leaf trays, mirrors and boxes; tourist trinkets and umbrellas; leather belts and handbags; Pashmina shawls and printed silk scarves; embroidered linens. There is also a selection of traditional Italian pottery.

The Vendors there are some of the best negotiators I've seen in an open air, or flea market. Be forewarned, The Straw Market is anything but a flea market so be prepared to be pay the price for your treasures.
Florentines call this market Il Porcellino (Little Pig) due to the wild boar fountain located at the market’s south side. The statue, created in 1612 by Pietro Taccas, was cast from a marble Hellenistic original that is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery. Many tourists come to rub the pig’s well-polished snout and throw a coin in the fountain. It is believed that by doing so it insures a return trip to Florence.
Perhaps stopping by the good luck "Bronze Boar" will give you a leg up on negotiating with the markets Vendors, if not at least you'll reduce the weight of the change in your handbag or pants pockets.

Pictured: The famed Bronze Pig that brings one good luck!

Pictured: Racks of Italian leather belts at the Straw Market.
I found a Navy Blue, Paton leather faux alligator belt to go with some alligator trimmed Prada loafers that I had purchased back in LA in the fall. Since buying them, I have searched every designer boutique in Beverly Hills and no one had a navy belt of any kind, regardless of price.
Here I had a selection of various navy Blue faux exotic skins and leathers, and I paid only EUR € 18 (about $30 US). I'm still wearing a great looking faux alligator Gucci knock-off belt that I purchased at the Straw Market four years ago.
Straw Market hours: Every day from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm, except Sunday and public holidays.
and down the street...

and just down the street...
A beautiful store window display, filled with Italian ceramics caught our eye. There is always a place for Italian ceramics in the home, whether purely decorative or used as serving pieces.
I inquired as to the lead content, if any, and the shopkeeper didn't understand my question. I couldn't tell if the shopkeepers lack of knowledge was purposeful or not! who cares, they're gorgeous!
This is a photo I took with myself with a digital camera, and I was just thrilled with the result!


The famous FLEA MARKET of Florence is located in Piazza dei Ciompi and it's opens (every day from 9 am to 7.30 pm. If you're there on the last Sunday of every month, the market vastly increases in size with additional vendors, causing the market to spill out into the surrounding streets.
You can find furniture and "uniquities", prints, coins and jewellery. There are affordable treasures to be found amidst the bric-a-brac and antique books in the myriad cluttered stalls.

The Flower Market
The Flower Market, is located under the portico in Piazza della Repubblica (via Pellicceria).
Frequented by locals and tourist alike, find a huge selection of plants and flowers by local growers.
Flower Market Hours: Every Thursday morning, from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.

And...saving the best for last: Outlet Shopping...Italian Style!
In addition to boutique shopping in Florence, we spent a day in Tuscany going to the designer outlet mall.

Named The Mall (which was a little confusing since the word 'outlet' is not a part of the malls name), is located on the Europa 8, in Leccio, Reggello (Tel 055 8657775
Open: Mon - Sat 10 A.M.- 7 P.M. and Sun 3 P.M. - 7 P.M.).

Unassuming from the outside, you won't be disappointed as you'll find every designer you're looking for, including Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Tods, Yves Saint Laurent, Loro Piana, Giorgio Armani, Ferragamo, Bottega Veneta, Versace, Ermenegildo Zegna, Perla, and Prada.
We drove the 45 minutes out in the country to find the mall with friends, but there is a regularly scheduled bus and train service that delivers shoppers right to the doors of the mall.
Pictured, is the inside of the simply designed interior, but chock full of merchandise, Prada Outlet Store.

And back to the City...
Back in Florence, for some last minute shopping before heading to Rome, no trip to Florence would be complete without a swing through the beautiful Ferragamo Flagship Store in the Palazzo Spini Feroni, on Via Tornabuoni n. 2.

A real treat is a visit to the Ferragamo Museum, located on the basement level of the Palazzo. The museum was opened to the public in 1995 by the Ferragamo family, in an effort to illustrate Ferragamo's artistic qualities and the important role he played in the history of shoe design and international fashion.

Pictured, the Ferragamo Flagship Store and Museum.

In addition to photographs, patents, sketches, books, magazines and wooden lasts of various famous feet, the museum boasts a collection of drawings of more than 10,000 shoe styles designed by Salvatore Ferragamo from the end of the 1920's, until his death in 1960.
Salvatore Ferragamo as a younger man, photographed with some of the famous "lasts" (forms) for a collection of shoes.
I googled the Ferragamo Museum when I got home, and here is an excerpt from the entry:
"Ferragamo convinced his brothers to move to California, first Santa Barbara then Hollywood. It was here that Ferragamo found success, initially opening a shop for repair and made-to-measure shoes, which soon became prized items among celebrities of the day, leading to a long period of designing footwear for the cinema. However, his thriving reputation as 'Shoemaker to the Stars' only partially satisfied him. He could not fathom why his shoes pleased the eye yet hurt the foot, so he proceeded to study anatomy at the University of Southern California. After spending 13 years in the U.S., Ferragamo returned to Italy in 1927, settling in Florence."
I knew he was a special fellow, and he's a fellow Santa Barbaran to boot (pardon the pun!).

Okay, its late and I'm tired from all of this shopping!

Goodnight Salvatore.

Goodnight Moon.

Stay tuned for the next installment of shopping (and touring) Europe!