In February of 1998 our lives were changed forever by El Niño. Eye of the Day was in its infancy, just two and a half years old and we became a statistic as the worst damaged business in Santa Barbara County. The federal government declared a disaster area and we lost nearly everything. But…what we didn’t know was that our journey was about to take us on a brilliant detour.
From its inception, the Eye of the Day plan was to sell pottery, fountains, statuary and other garden products. There were a lot of nurseries but not many focusing on accouterments for the garden. We began by selling wine barrel planters, Mexican pottery, American made concrete fountains, benches, bird baths and lots of colorful pots. At Christmas we sold only the Noble Fir. But then the forces of nature randomly decided to take us out.
There is a saying that when a door closes a window opens; I was looking for a window and it turned out to be FEMA. With a new FEMA loan and a lot of help from friends, Eye of the Day quickly found a new home in a bigger market, picked ourselves up off the very wet pavement and began again.
After we opened our doors in our new (and current) location in the small beach town of Carpinteria, we sensed a great opportunity to grow in a way that the pre-disaster Eye of the Day would not have been able to fulfill. Our business model was limited and we needed to think bigger, so we decided that the gift shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlanta just didn’t provide what we needed anymore. It makes me laugh when I remember how quickly my wife, Suzi, agreed that we needed to go to Paris and check out the gift show there. We didn’t realize at the time just how prescient we were.
The first day of the show was the ultimate shopping experience but only if you were buying at least ten of everything. Included was an area for outdoor garden decor and when we walked into Francesco del Re’s booth, I knew I had found something special: the finest handmade terracotta pottery on planet Earth. His containers were classics and many were models of forms and shapes still in service after hundreds of years, including pots or “vasi”, urns and amphorae adorning villas and palaces throughout Europe. Francesco’s display screamed CLASSIC ITALIAN TERRACOTTA to me. I vowed right then that Eye of the Day would sell Francesco del Re, just as soon as I figured out how I could afford a container.
The following year we returned to Europe, this time to Italy. Something drives me to wander and explore and I knew Francesco del Re was somewhere around Florence and I knew I would find him. I scoured the small, famous hill town of Impruneta, walking into some fabulous artisan workshops. No one knew who and where FDR was, but I learned later that in Italy, few are willing to promote someone else and everyone in that famous commune was challenged by him. The hunt was on. I didn’t travel in order to give up. It was hard work, but over our excellent lunch in Greve, the proprietor of the restaurant told me how to find the factory. By the way, we selected the restaurant for lunch because there was a pair of classic Francesco del Re Vaso Lessona urns at the front door.
I have returned to the FDR factory every year for the last sixteen years. This May I flew there for three days to help load a forty-foot container and to see Signora Elettra Brancollini, Francesco’s partner and sculptor. Sadly, our friend Signore del Re passed away two years ago, but his classics will live on for centuries in our gardens.