Seis Continentes / Summer 2001
By Larry Luxner
MIAMI -- When he was just 13 years old, Nino Pernetti got his first job at an Italian restaurant in his native Venice, making espressos and cappucinos.
By the time he was 24, the young man had begun his long hospitality career at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Kabul, Afghanistan -- a career that would eventually take him to Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Mexico, France, Turkey and Zambia.
"Because I worked in hotels throughout the world, I became an avid collector of antiques," said Pernetti, 55. His new Coral Gables store, Fiorelli Antiques, is located just across Aragon Street from Caffé Abbracci, the trendy Venetian-style restaurant he opened in 1985.
Pernetti told Seis Continentes that he began collecting antiques as a teenager.
"That's how many shops are born. First you're a collector, then you have so much you decide to open a store," he said, estimating that he has around 1,000 objets d'art for sale -- and remembers exactly how much he paid for every one of them.
But this is no pawn shop full of "chachkes." The cheapest item at Fiorelli Antiques is an Orrefors engraved crystal vase from Sweden, for $300. The most expensive is a very rare Tiffany lamp with linen-fold design, circa 1902. Asking price: $50,000.
Other treasures to be found in Pernetti's store include a 1930s Porteneuve desk from France with macassa ebony ($6,000), and a 1920 American-made Handel floor lamp with reverse-painted shade depicting a scenic landscape ($12,000). Pernetti specializes in Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Venetian Glass. Many of the pieces are signed by Daum-Nancy, Camille Faure, L.C. Tiffany, Réné Lalique, D. Chiparus, E. Galle and F. Preiss.
Pernetti, who keeps his own private collection at his home in Coconut Grove, said he speaks seven languages: Italian, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish and German. His Cuban-born gallery director, Isabelle Loeb, is fluent in English and Spanish. The store's manager is Michael Castro Mazzulli, whose education in fine arts includes schools in Rome, Paris, Brussels and Madrid.
So what kind of person shops at Fiorelli Antiques?
"Clients have to be collectors, people who love art and like to have unique accent pieces," said Pernetti. "They're mostly rich Latin Americans -- mainly Brazilians, Mexicans and Venezuelans."
The Venetian businessman should be particularly adept at accommodating his Venezuelan customers, since he spent five years as director of food and beverage operations for Inter-Continental's four hotels in Venezuela: the Tamanaco in Caracas, as well as smaller properties in Maracaibo, Valencia and Ciudad Guayana.
"This is a different type of business than hotels, but I have been on the other side, and I understand how the business is," said Pernetti, who has a wife, Marlen, and a little girl, Tatiana. "I'm a fast learner, and it's not new to me. I was purchasing all the time for my own collection. Sentimentally, I don't feel too good when I sell a piece from my own collection, but I do have a business to run."
Despite the demands of his antique shop, Pernetti spends most of his time at Caffé Abbracci, whose lobby is filled with numerous awards and magazine restaurant reviews recognizing it as one of the finest Italian restaurants in South Florida. He also serves on the boards of Jackson Memorial Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Miami Symphony Orchestra.
Fiorelli Antiques is located at 323 Aragon Avenue in Coral Gables, and is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (305) 441-2203 or visit Pernetti's website at www.fiorelliart.com.