Creator Spotlight : Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino, antique restorers

Work is a constant gamble for Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino, founders of furniture restoration business Le Icone. “Our research is always a lottery,” Nicolò says. “We never know where our salvage ventures will lead us to.” 

Now based in Puglia, these two founders finished their studies in the United Kingdom in 2017 and arrived at a fork in the road: what comes next? One day, Aleksandra called Nicolò and said she knew what she wanted to do. Aleksandra had discovered some antique furniture in her father’s warehouse in Bulgaria and wanted to restore and sell them at her friend’s antiques fair.

But they knew virtually nothing about restoration and antique sales, which made Nicolò hesitant. “It took me little time to be conquered by her contagious enthusiasm,” he says. “This is when her dream became our dream.” And in 2018, this duo opened Le Icone, their antique sale and restoration business.

Here’s the story of Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

Ichtus Magazine
How do you search for the antiques that you restore?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino
Finding new stock is without a doubt the most exciting part of our job. Our favorite hunting grounds are private houses in the countryside, old warehouses, dusty basements, shops and antique fairs. We are very often contacted by people who want to sell furniture or decorative pieces. Sometimes it’s a small trip to a neighboring town, and sometimes it’s hundreds of kilometers away. 

Ichtus Magazine
In antiquing, some days you win, others you lose. Have you ever hit the “jackpot” when antiquing?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

Once we were going to pick up some ceramics. We loaded up, and as we were about to leave, the seller mentioned he had “some” furniture he had been collecting over the years but couldn’t keep anymore and asked us if we wanted to have a look. 

Of course, we were thrilled with the request. He brought us to this wobbly old building, opened up these big barn doors, and we just couldn’t believe what we had in front of us: a massive room filled with gorgeous things — from 18th century chests to old decorated ceiling panels. The kind of stock that we normally buy in a year was all there for us to buy in a day. Of course, we ended up buying almost everything.

Ichtus Magazine
When antiquing, you pass by so many items. How do you decide whether or not to buy it?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

Our selection criteria relies mostly on our taste and intuition. We buy only pieces that we find interesting and with a certain originality. That could be a piece’s cracked patina, its history, the way its shapes changed with the passage of time or just because it is an item we haven’t seen before. When you enter the world of antiques, you always get surprised by what people had and used in their everyday life. Therefore, the story those pieces narrate dictates the selection. 

Ichtus Magazine
What is the coolest piece you’ve ever restored?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

It was one of the very first cabinets we bought. When we got it, it had a very ugly, dark brown color but a nice, simple structure: two bottom doors and a cute, little drawer on top. We had to strip the color to get to the original wood underneath. As soon as we started, we realized that under its dark, gloomy paint, there were many other vibrant colors, different on each side of the piece. All of which have blended into each other, giving it a new, one-of-a-kind, exciting patina.

And it didn’t stop there. On the top of it, we uncovered a newspaper page from the 1920s, perfectly centered, making it look like it has been framed by time. On one part of it, there was a comic scene of a captain on his desk receiving prime ministers from different countries. We saw it as a way to cheer the readers up during a tense political situation after the war. We had just opened up a time capsule.

Ichtus Magazine
With as much antiquing as you have under your belts, you’ve certainly seen some historically rich pieces. Have you researched the history of pieces you’ve restored? 

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

Since we opened our shop, we have encountered many pieces with incredible stories, but if I have to mention one, it would be a military trunk from the early 20th century. The piece has a brass label on it that says “Capitano Medico Lanza, 51 Fanteria.” 

After long research, we found a document written in 1906 from the hospital of Turin that states that the doctor Tommaso Lanza was moved on November 8th of the same year from the hospital to the 51st Infantry in preparation for World War I. The 51st Infantry, also known as “Brigades of the Alps,” was founded on May 14, 1860 and had a crucial role during World War I. They operated in the Marmolada area and in France. Even today, we are still hopeful that some distant relatives of Tommaso Lanza will come across this piece and bring it back to where it belongs. (If one of you is reading this interview, please come forward!)

Ichtus Magazine
It’s not only the pieces you restore that have us swooning. It’s also your storefront’s location in the belvedere of Cisternino. Tell us more about your brick-and-mortar in Puglia.

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

Every time we would go for a stroll in town and walk beside it, we would start dreaming about showing our furniture there. The opportunity came along a couple of years ago when we found out the place was for rent. We took this chance immediately, and a few days later, we had the keys. 

Our decor-centric shop is located on the belvedere of Cisternino, literally in the walls of the town. It was the warehouse and water cistern of Palazzo Amati. What we love about it is the beautiful view of the Itrian valley with its trulli houses, olive trees, summer sunsets and starry nights. 

The space itself has a lot of character. As you walk in on your left, you see different arches built on top of each other throughout the centuries. In the niches on your right are perforated stones where donkeys were tied on to rest. There is a vaulted stone ceiling on the first floor and a lot of natural light.

Ichtus Magazine
Le Icone isn’t just a store; you’ve also used your brand to partner with other businesses. Tell us more about your collaborations. 

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

The beautiful boutique hotel Masseria Cervarolo opened over 10 years ago, and the owners wanted to give it a fresher look. The challenge was very hard since the place was already well-designed, and we didn’t want to alter the great vibe it had. We aimed for a layout that would respect the colors of Puglia, emphasizing the architectural elements typical of the masseria, or the Apulian farmhouses. We have opted for light colored furniture with bright decorative elements such as textiles and ceramics in order to transmit a feeling of deep relaxation and warm welcome. 

Lamia del Riccio, an Apulian retreat, is a project by famed interior designer Gian Paolo Guerra from Studio Guerra Sas. Working closely with such a high-caliber designer has been a very stimulating and formative experience since, through the use of our pieces, we had to create spaces that had to facilitate the blending of two different worlds such as modern design and antiques.

The result was a perfect union of elegance, sobriety and respect of the local tradition.

Ichtus Magazine
Do you have any upcoming projects?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

We are currently working on a large project in Monopoli in Puglia. We are following the restoration and interiors of a large 16th century masseria, which will become a luxury hotel. 

Ichtus Magazine
Tell us about your work dynamic, Aleksandra and Nicolò. What are each of your individual strengths?

Nicolò Avellino

Aleksandra is definitely the creative one. She takes care of the restoration herself as well as giving instructions to our two restorers. She also manages all our interior projects and collaborations with other interior designers and architects. I am in charge of sales and public relations (social media, contacts and furniture sourcing). We both have our own areas of work, but one thing we love doing together is buying new stock.

Ichtus Magazine
What is the restoration process like?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

We believe that antiques need to show their age. A scratch, an inscription hidden inside a drawer, flaky patina and signs of wear and tear add charm and tell a story. With the restoration process, we aim to bring these stories to life, while preserving the original qualities of each piece so that they will stand the test of time and retain their heritage. All our pieces are first cleaned, sanitized and then treated against woodworm or rust.

Afterwards, we begin the repair process using eco-friendly products wherever possible.

Ichtus Magazine
What is your best piece of business advice for entrepreneurs?

Aleksandra Kamenova and Nicolò Avellino

Our personal advice is to always follow your vision and passions. Many people thought we were crazy when we decided not to continue our studies, leave the U.K. and move to a small village in Puglia for the sake of opening a furniture and decor business. Of course, it took time and a lot of sacrifice to make our dream come true.  It is still a never-ending learning process, but hard work always pays off. 

This article may contain affiliate links, which means the author may earn a commission on included links. All opinions are those of the interviewees.

Kristin Blake

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