Just by the river Arno sits a small shop with the words “R. Cappelli Cartoleria” written in old typeface above the doors. A store facade reminiscent of pre-war times, inside it′s a different story. Behind the windows of this old stationery shop aren′t any paper products to peruse rather eyewear in colourful shapes and sizes. i Visionari is an independent eyewear store with draws, literally, to explore. The old store cabinets remain and now display a selection of fashion-forward contemporary brands from Australia, France, Germany, Russia, and U.S.A. It′s where brother and sister Elena and Emiliano Lenzi work side by side to make this eyewear store like no other in Florence. For there is no formality here, no clinical white space, sterile and cold. Elena and Emiliano have kept the interior style of the old shop: original shelving restored in baby blue, the long countertop sitting in the same position since the 1940s, the shop front windows used to display new product to create a boutique feel that is inviting and curious.

Elena, an eye specialist for almost 30 years, runs the front of house, seeing clients, testing eyes and helping to find customers the perfect frames. Emiliano is the online guru, making their digital presence relevant and user-friendly. With a background in graphic design and photography, he manages the website and online sales plus helps source new eyewear brands. Born in the Tuscan town of Pistoia, where Elena still lives, in 2011 she joined forces with Emiliano to open i Visionari. Their shared passion to create a different eye experience, and for quality eyewear from small labels, is what sets them apart from most.

DOM VETRO′s minimal yet classic style with thin rim frames carries names like “Capretto” (baby goat) and “Lupetto” (little wolf), a nod to their mountainous roots as the glasses are handmade in the Italian Alps. The story of DOM VETRO reflects Elena and Emiliano′s vision too, a brand with international minds (the designers live in New York) who produce in Italy respecting quality traditions. VAVA from Portugal offers bold red and mustard coloured frames in acetate which reflect an industrial design inspired by Berlin and Detriot. Plus Massada from Poland, Sunday Somewhere from Australia and Thom Browne of New York are just some of the labels, many which are exclusive to i Visionari, found nowhere else in Italy.

During the flood of 1966, the store was severely damaged and remained empty for years. Today it′s reinvigorated. The old storefront may remain but within the walls of i Visionari is a fresh and fashionable space. Their ethos, after all, is, “open your mind, and your eyes too”. And when eye′s look this good in the frames on offer, I am very, very open.

Photo credit: Sofie Delauw