Brooklyn by Design: PORTA's Alice Russotti and Francesca del Balzo

As a ceramics, glassware and tablescape fanatic, one of my favorite discoveries of the fall was PORTA, a beautifully curated homewares store that opened last October on Brooklyn’s shopping-centric Atlantic Avenue. Created by lifelong friends Alice Russotti and Francesca del Balzo—two London natives now living in Brooklyn—PORTA spotlights the craftsmanship of independent artisans and local makers discovered on their travels throughout Europe and beyond. Many of the collections are sourced from Italy, Portugal and France—like their exclusive collaboration launched this October with French artist and ceramicist Laetitia Rouget, whose whimsical pieces emphasize color, irreverence and the occasional Matisse-esque motif. As a gift for your favorite host, or yourself, PORTA’s impeccable finds are available to shop online or in the intimate flagship (360 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, 11217), which was designed by Studio Giancarlo Valle.

Below, the design duo discuss the creation of their brand and their approach to discovering great makers, and they share their favorite (oh-so-stylish) places to dine, stay, shop, source inspiration and explore—in Brooklyn, London and beyond.

What inspired the creation of your store?

Our brand feels like an intrinsically organic product of both of us that was always meant to be but not necessarily planned for very long before we started working together! In an overarching way, looking back, it was a long time in the making and a natural progression from those experiences that we shared leading up to it—our upbringing in London, our European roots, our looking for something in NYC that spoke to both of those things as we were building our homes with our young families, our previous work experience manifesting the visions of others in the art world (Alice) and the fashion industry (Francesca), our love of travel, family, craftsmanship and storytelling. In practice, though, it came together very quickly, based on shared creative restlessness and desire to knit together different aspects of our lives in a cohesive way. We both wanted to build something that had a creative and business side to it, and also something that we felt personally connected to. At times, it feels like PORTA came together very quickly—bursting forth fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus—but in reality, it was brewing in each of us for some time, and we were just lucky enough to recognize the conviction we both had around making something beautiful happen, and running with it gut-first!

When you go on sourcing trips, how do you plan your itinerary? How do you decide where you want to go and which artisans you want to work with?

Each of our sourcing trips has been different in approach but, ultimately, they all end up being wild and wonderful adventures. In general, we decide on a place, research through the internet, friends' recommendations and even Google Map searches. We collate, refine, reach out for meetings and studio visits. We try as much as possible to meet with as many people as possible, obviously makers, but also others who live in each place so that we can build out an understanding of each location from multiple angles and perspectives. We have learned to leave time for some spontaneity, but there ends up never being a free moment—when there is a void, it is very quickly filled!

There is always something to find if you look for it, no matter where you are. However, our favorite place to find new creatives is really in person on our travels. Meeting with a maker, seeing where they work and understanding how they think and approach their practice is really unparalleled. There is an intimacy and connection that cannot be replicated, whether that be online or in a trade show. It allows for the magic to seep through, that little bit of a person who then intrinsically becomes part of that object that they spend time making, and, in turn, we hope that allows a little more permission to really relay the product to our customers. There is something extraordinary about looking around our shop and seeing the faces of each of the makers shine through from all over Europe to our little space on Atlantic Avenue.

Related: Indagare Insiders: Summer Style with RIANNA + NINA

What are your favorite restaurants/bars in your area of Brooklyn?

There are so many! We are in a nexus between so many neighborhoods, but to try and narrow it down—

  • Colonie is so delicious. This is where we had dinner during Covid and decided that we were going to work together. We were very giddy about the whole thing, and met there the next day for breakfast to make sure that we still were serious about it all in the light of day! Luckily we both were.
  • Ingas Bar is creative, cozy, seasonal.
  • June Wine Bar is very unassuming on the outside—you might miss it—but head inside to a fabulously cozy restaurant. Great food, great vibe, great wine and also a sweet garden in the back.
  • Rucola is a staple of the Boerum Hill neighborhood. Always a good bet.
  • The Long Island Bar is old-school perfect for drinks and bar food
  • Elsa has fabulous cocktails.
Related: New Restaurants in Brooklyn to Know Now: Fall & Winter 2023

What are your favorite shops (besides your own!) in your neighborhood?

Our block is amazing (if we can say so ourselves!). We opened just after The Outline, which is across the street from us. It's a very cool multi-label brand opened by three friends that stocks both new and well-established brands like Dries Van Noten, Lemaire and The Row. Consignment Brooklyn has been on the Atlantic for a long time, and you can always find really great things there. Down the road from us is Michele Varian and Primary Essentials—two other homewares shops, each with their own look and feel. M.Patmos is also next door to us. It feels very special and supportive to be on a block with such great shops and such brilliant independent owners.

Are there any cultural happenings you are excited about in NYC?

There is never a dull moment in New York when it comes to galleries and museums, and the fall is when the best shows open. When it comes to museums: Manet's Olympia at the Met! She has only left Paris three times in her life, so it is very exciting to have her here as the focal point of the "Manet/Degas" exhibition (on through January 7, 2024). The Whitney has Ruth Asawa and Henry Taylor, both of which are on our list to see. As for galleries, can’t wait to see Vivian Suter at Gladstone Gallery, Keiran Brennan Hinton at Charles Moffett Gallery and Nicolas Party at Hauser and Wirth. Liz Magic Laser is also at Pioneer Works in Red Hook—an amazing space, program and artist.

Related: What’s New in New York City: Hotels, Restaurants & Culture in Manhattan – Fall 2023

How often are you back in London? What are some of your favorite places to eat, shop and explore on the other side of the pond?

We are both back and forth to London to see family and friends. Our parents actually live on the same road there! A few spots we love include...

Related: What’s New in London: Fall 2023

Do you have any favorite hotels?

  • In New York: The Carlyle for storied uptown NY sophistication; The Beekman, a magically transportive property in lower Manhattan; Hotel Chelsea to breathe in the past residents that used to grace its halls before becoming a hotel (including Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsburg, Nico and Leonard Cohen).
  • Beyond: L’Hotel in Marrakech and Villa Mabrouka in Tangiers—designed by Jasper Conran, these are on our list for when we visit on our next trip. And the Mezzatorre in Ischia, with its dreamy setting above a cove and the perfect aperitivo set up.
Related: Indagare’s Most-Booked Hotels in New York City

Are there any artists whose work is particularly interesting to you right now?

For artists: Megumi Shauna Arai! Over the summer we both visited the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton where Object & Thing were presenting a number of artists and makers, one of which was Megumi. Megumi is a textile artist who works in the piecework tradition, using natural dyes. Her works are delicate but full of movement and vibrancy. LongHouse was owned and lived in by textile designer and collector Jack Lenor Larsen and is set within an extraordinary garden. Seeing her works housed within this domestic space was really special.

For artisans: The Exvotos continue to hold our attention and amazement. Comprised of Daniel Maldonado and Luciano Galán, they bring an informed theatricality to everything they create, from wall hangings to plates with saints on them, theaters made out of paper, and ceramic heads of all sizes. The materials used are organic, clay, wood, paper or cloth, together with ancient techniques, to create pieces with a traditional flavor but a fresh and new air—decorative art inspired by religion, nature, theater, painting or history, all through slow work. They are constantly researching the combination of different artistic techniques to bring their imagination to life.

For designers: The Row (if you can afford it!), Rachel Comey, Cordera and Soeur for a better price point!

Related: The Culturalist’s Calendar: Top Exhibitions, Performances & More for Fall 2023

Are there any new projects you are working on that you are excited about?

We are really proud of a collaboration we just launched, "Breakfast in Bed with Laetitia Rouget," a collection of breakfast-focused ceramics by the brilliant artist and ceramicist Laetitia Rouget. She brings cheeky humor and fabulously bold design to everything that she does, and this collection is no different. It is full of energy, joy and vibrance. How better to start your day?

We will also be showing textile flag works by Pangea (a creative collaboration between Laetitia Rouget and fashion designer and creative director Colombine Jubert) on the walls of PORTA as part of our ART360 series, where we showcase artists that we love and want to celebrate. These flags are exquisite, deeply cool and original and, like the rest of Rouget’s work, brim with hope, positivity and a bold sense of strength. To have one in your space feels empowering.

Where are you traveling to next?

Morocco in the spring!

Must-have item(s) in your carry-on?

  • Irene Forte Helichrysum Toner for a refreshing and hydrating spritz.
  • A Dreamer's Notebook to capture everything along the way.
  • AirPods for listening to podcasts.
  • iPhone battery backup! Our trips are long, and we never know where the day will take us.
Related: Favorite Beauty Products to Pack in Your Carry-OnContact your Indagare Trip Designer or Indagare, if you are not yet a member, to start planning a trip to Brooklyn. Our team can match you with the accommodations, reservations, shops and activities that are right for you.

Published onOctober 31, 2023

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