Made in Sarasota

By staff May 1, 2004

Marina Isetta Duval grew up in a 400-year-old villa filled with art and antiques in Albisola, an Italian Riviera town famous for its ceramic techniques. Now, in a Nokomis house converted to a studio and filled with some of those antiques and plenty of her own pieces, she teaches the ancient ceramic techniques of her old hometown, and designs and creates beautiful hand-painted custom lamps for prestigious firms and showrooms across the country.

Duval has painted lamps-and other accessories such as plates and tiles-to replicate sofas, curtains, wallpaper, even the illustrations from a favorite book. She recreates the delicacy of a fine jacquard pattern, bold geometrics, playful West Indian monkey designs and bright florals. She uses a technique called majolica painting, which involves transferring images and mineral oxide colors to ceramic pieces and tiles and then firing the pieces in a kiln to bring out the strength of the colors. One of her loveliest pieces is a series of plates designed to hang on a dining room wall that each replicate, in vivid detail, one flower from a lush floral fabric used in the decor. Occasionally, she paints tureens or urns to match or complement the lamps. If clients request, Duval also supplies imported pleated silk lampshades.

"I wish I could paint all day," she sighs.

Duval started painting at the age of four, and was sent by her attorney father to be trained by classical master painters. She sold her first piece at the age of 17. However, an early marriage put a halt to her career, which wasn't rekindled until she met and married Edward Duval, an American corporate executive, and merged their families in a nine-room hillside villa overlooking the Mediterranean.

One day, after noticing a lamp base Duval had painted, a friend asked her to create a pair for her dining room to complement the furniture fabric. When Duval showed the friend what she could do, the woman suggested marketing that skill in the United States. Duval built up connections with firms such as Brunschwig & Fils and with major showrooms in New York, Chicago and Atlanta. Though she moved her operations into a factory, she continued to paint each lamp by hand.

In 1998, the couple moved to Sarasota, where Edward Duval had vacationed as a child, and Marina Duval set up Designers' Home Furnishings, Inc. with her son, Max Leoncini, who specializes in antique furniture restoration. Duval teaches majolica painting both in her studio and in the Ringling School of Art and Design's continuing studies program, and has begun offering her custom designs to interior designers here.

Today, her client roster includes names such as Lee Raymond, the chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, but Duval still remembers the day she got her first large order. She had flown in from Italy to White Plains, N.Y., to convince a major textile firm to buy her lamps. Impressed by her artistry, the firm's buyer began to place orders while an increasingly worried Duval watched.

"Can you handle this large an order in your factories?" the buyer asked her.

"Sure," replied the quaking Duval, not letting on that, at the time, she painted the lamps out of her villa.

The buyer kept ordering, and as soon as Duval got out of the meeting, she called her husband, Edward, and exulted: "I made $50,000 today!"

Duval's lamps range from $350 to $700. For more information, call (941) 918-4553 or check out  

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