From Michael Bay’s private residence in Bel Air to the Mexican pavilion at Expo 2015 to an exclusive hammam in Russia, Roberto Polvani’s marble and travertine creations adorn some of the most lavish sites across the globe.
Words by Jennifer Papa
In 2008, during the worst financial crisis since the ’30s, Roberto Polvani took a leap of faith. His father’s business, Pietre di Rapolano, specializing in marble, travertine, and granite for interiors and exteriors, was suffering enormously because of the crumbling economy. Roberto, then age 26, was torn between temporarily abandoning Italy to try his luck abroad (as did most of his peers) and listening to his heart in a valiant attempt to save the family business. Roberto chose the latter. His bold belief in a distant vision he could not guarantee, along with his decision to challenge one of the long-standing pillars of the business, “Made in Tuscany,” by launching “Made Worldwide” on the uncharted waters of online commerce, has proved to be a winning combination.
Despite his status today as an ambassador for the travertine stone of Italy’s Tuscan region, Roberto risked being accused at the time of rejecting tradition. But, as he explains, “The select cut stone and the exclusive designs of Pietre di Rapolano exemplify a sense of grace and elegance that has only been achieved over time and through the most meticulous craftsmanship. I was convinced that to be able to survive the crisis and make a meaningful contribution to the continuing heritage of Italian stonework, we had to advance by combining tradition with innovation.” As it turned out, Roberto was right. Besides introducing advances in the production process, he has managed to establish a thriving international customer base by focusing on online communication and e-commerce rather than relying solely on traditional trade shows. Today, the stone and exquisite craftsmanship of Pietre di Rapolano are sought after by architectural and interior design professionals around the world.
Your company is located in the tranquil hills of Florence, a place associated with a glorious distant past. What’s the source of your inspiration when it comes to building a thriving business that fits in with the modern world?
My workplace is my source of inspiration. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by young and talented designers and colleagues—their creativity and commitment gives me an endless supply of energy and motivation.
What has been your greatest satisfaction professionally?
Providing the travertine stone for the Mexican pavilion at Expo 2015 and having the opportunity to work with some of the world’s most acclaimed architects are real pinnacles in my career.
Can you tell us about a favorite project you’re working on right now?
I’m afraid it’s a secret venture, something connected to the Florentine food scene.
How would you describe Florence’s influence on your life and on the choices you’ve made?
Living in this city is a huge privilege, because of its great beauty and deep culture, and also because of the many treasures throughout all of Tuscany. It’s no coincidence that our products are created in the region of Italy that has inspired more artists than any other down through the centuries.
What are you like at a dinner party?
I’m a very curious and open-minded dinner guest, always on the lookout for new experiences and interesting stories.
How would you describe your style?
When I’m not meeting with clients, I go for rather a casual and informal look—a well-tailored jacket with a shirt, my favorite jeans, and a good pair of loafers works for most occasions, in any season. Either way, the quality of a garment is crucial for me, and I definitely tend to buy “Made in Italy.”