Bettelou Brown Sorci became an interior decorator in the golden age of department stores, a time when Liliane Kaufmann thought nothing of buying chairs in Paris for the store's Vendome, a designer salon for women. Even the accessories department had style.
"If you bought a pair of gloves, the sales clerk brought out a red cushion on which to rest your elbow while you tried on a pair," recalled Mrs. Sorci, who lives in O'Hara with her husband, Nino.
Now, buyers can reap the rewards of a lifetime Mrs. Sorci has spent collecting. Starting at 10 a.m. today, Concept Gallery in Regent Square will auction 366 lots, including a carved Balinese cupboard, oriental carpets and an elaborately carved Renaissance altarpiece.
There's also a 17th-century sculpture of a Catholic cardinal that sat on a mantel in the couple's home. Mrs. Sorci bought the cardinal in 1980 during an auction at Treetops, the Sewickley Heights estate of the late George R. Hann.
Mrs. Sorci grew up in McKeesport. By day she worked at Kaufmann's, and by night she studied interior design with Joe Cuticchia, who taught at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. After graduating in 1955, she married Nino Sorci in 1956. At that time, Mr. Sorci was a chef at the Bachelor's Club on Penn Avenue in East Liberty.
"The place got raided for gambling a lot," Mrs. Sorci said. Before the police arrived, "they would throw all the [poker] chips into the soup pot.''
After three years at Kaufmann's, she opened her own business, Bettelou Sorci Interiors, and later a shop named The Guiding Light. Lighting has been her lifelong passion.
"Anything I could make a lamp out of, I'd buy it," she said during a recent interview at her home.
Mrs. Sorci's face is familiar to patrons who dined regularly at Nino's, a popular Oakland restaurant that has since become Legume. When Mr. Sorci ran Nino's, gold 19th-century French sconces hung in the restaurant's entryway; later they adorned the couple's living room.
In 1980, she opened The Guiding Light on Shady Avenue, later moving to a triangular East Liberty building on Penn Circle South, where she stayed for 26 years. Six years ago, she moved her business to 815 Allegheny Ave. in Oakmont.
A friend who sold antiques urged her to visit Italy in the 1980s, and Mrs. Sorci traveled there six years in a row, sending container loads of her purchases back to the United States.
"People could not afford originals but wanted reproductions of fine antique lighting," the decorator recalled, adding that she and her husband crisscrossed Italy with her friend, Sandra Chicarelli, at the wheel of a Fiat.
The trio stopped in Florence, Venice, Verona and Milan, always on the lookout for copies of old Russian chandeliers that Italian craftsmen rendered exactly in wood or bronze. In Portofino, Mrs. Sorci paid $500 in cash for a sterling silver crucifix, which annoyed her husband. Days later, at a shop in Switzerland, another proprietor wanted $3,500 for a similar crucifix.
"I stuck my tongue out at Nino," Mrs. Sorci said.
The auction runs from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today at Concept Gallery, 1031 S. Braddock Ave., Regent Square (15218), 412-242-9200 or www.conceptgallery.com.homes
Marylynne Pitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1648.