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The Italian job

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Italy comes to Tucson next month with the opening of an ultramodern furniture showroom that’s set to put Tucson on the international design map. (Cover image courtesy of Poliform USA)


Photo by Madeleine Boos

When architect Kevin Howard opens a new furniture showroom next month, he’ll be causing a stir in Tucson’s design world, as well as bringing a hot international brand to the public.

The Poliform brand, born in Italy in 1970, has built a reputation worldwide on modern luxury and exquisite quality. Its collection of modular systems and furnishings cover the entire house: bookcases, wardrobes, beds, kitchens, sofas and armchairs.

You’ll find it in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. And there’s a small showroom in Phoenix. And so when news started circulating last summer that Poliform was coming to the Old Pueblo, it was a surprise – but a very welcome one.

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Kevin Howard. Photo by Madeleine Boos

Kevin discovered Poliform several years ago when he took some clients to the Los Angeles showroom. “We did our first Poliform kitchen installation for these clients and I fell in love with it.”

Kevin is known for an architectural style that’s modern but inviting, and so his connection to the brand made sense, he says. ’There was a warmth and sleekness that resonated with my aesthetic. That’s really what I’m in search of. The biggest compliment I get as an architect is if someone doesn’t like modern architecture and they walk in [to one of my homes] and say ‘This feels warm for a modern house, this isn’t cold at all’.”

But it was Kevin’s search for the right furniture that solidified the launch of his own Poliform showroom. “It’s difficult to find resources to furnish my houses,” he says.  A pet peeve of his is how the wrong couch can ruin the lines of a house. In a search for the perfect sofa with clean low-slung lines, he was led to the modular Dune model by Poliform.

Shortly after, on a similar Google search for the quintessential modern dining chair, Kevin arrived at the Scacchi chair, again by Poliform. “I thought ‘I see a pattern developing here’,” he says.

So last April he and business manager Jodi Bellah applied to Poliform USA to open a dealership. Despite there already being a Phoenix showroom, Poliform’s director of sales Luca Bizi saw the potential of the Tucson market. Luca was already a fan of Kevin’s work – how he “incorporated Poliform Varenna cabinetry into his homes as if it were part of the architecture.”

Luca added, “Some of our (Poliform’s) best relationships are with dealers who are designers, interior designers and architects. They often have the best solutions to offer the client.”


Photo by Gillian Drummond

The Tucson showroom will serve Southern Arizona and New Mexico, and feedback from designers here and in Santa Fe has been “extremely positive”, says Kevin. Already committed is the Tucson Racquet & Fitness Club, which is using Poliform cabinets and tables in the construction of its new bar.

It says a lot about Tucson’s aesthetic, style and design population that Poliform would choose to open a showroom here, says interior designer Lori Carroll. And being accepted into the Poliform family is no mean feat. The showroom and its setting has to come up to scratch. There are specific guidelines and instructions for assembly, and even display. Even faux cardboard books are staged according to Poliform guidelines. The dealer must fund the showroom and select and purchase the furniture and cabinetry to go in it.  And there is extensive training by Poliform in Milan, on the engineering and assembly of the product.


Photo by Madeleine Boos

The showroom is located next to Kevin Howard Architects in a building designed and owned by the firm, one with a glass and oxidized steel exterior and, on the inside, clean white walls, wood plank ceilings and limestone floors. The strong horizontal lines of a modular walnut wall system serve as backdrop to the expansive Dune sofa. Two sculptural leather chairs in dark leather, aptly named Snake, complete the seating area.

In a glass corner sits the elegant Wallace chair, a 21st century take on the classic Vitra La Chaise chair by Charles and Ray Eames. Instead of hard plywood, it’s molded flexible polyurethane shrouded in white leather.

Poliform also does kitchen cabinetry, sold under the brand name Varenna. The kitchen vignettes in the Tucson showroom are a mix of rift-sawn oak and glossy and embossed lacquers. Appliances are by Miele and countertops are either locally sourced Caesarstone quartz, thin Poliform glass, or solid-surface white Corian manufactured exclusively for Poliform.

Kevin is passionate about the organization of the systems and the precise engineering of the design details. “It’s like Tinker Toys for architects,” he says.


Photo by Gillian Drummond

State-of-the-art closet systems feature UV protected glass and leather handles. Cabinet hardware is integral to the door or disappears entirely. Appliances like fridges, washer and dryers are hidden behind seamless integrated panels. Kitchen drawers are designed to store every imaginable utensil; spice racks, kitchen scales and magnetic knife racks can all be worked into it. Drawers softly glide and doors gently close. “You can’t fight in a Poliform house,” jokes Kevin.

The showroom also includes premier outdoor furniture brand, Dedon; one of its vintage surfboards rests against a wall. Arizona Sound & Light designed the automated control system; window shades, lighting, the HVAC, and audio systems are all operated from an iPad mounted on a wall.

3 Story’s own Madeleine Boos, an architect and interior designer, says the arrival of Poliform to the Tucson desert makes sense, especially with Kevin Howard at the helm. “His homes are not stark white boxes in the desert. Poliform doesn’t just make furniture, it creates a lifestyle. It offers a sensual minimalism against the rigorous and harsh beauty of the desert.”


Photo by Madeleine Boos

But Poliform’s sleek, functional aesthetic comes at a price; plan on spending a little more than you might down the street.  Depending on dimensions and fabrics, sofas can start around $6000. Wall systems, closet systems and cabinetry run the gamut, determined by materials, configuration and hardware inserts. There are many imposters in the market offering a similar look, but Poliform fans say the same quality is not there.

A trained installer is a must. In order to train his own staff, Kevin flew in a seasoned Poliform installer from Italy. A stay at the Westward Look and a few rounds of golf and, says Kevin, this Milanese fell in love with the American west – and just might be back for the next install.

* For more information on Poliform and Varenna, visit The showroom is at Oracle Studios, 8339 N. Oracle Road. Contact the showroom for pricing and lead times at 520-322-6800.

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