Tom Polucci - Design Bureau

Tom Polucci

Tom Polucci

Tom Polucci

HOK Chicago

HOK Chicago

HOK Chicago

HOK Chicago

HOK Chicago

Jackie Rush says:

The fact that Tom acknowledges that his greatest compliment is being told by his client that he listened to them proves that he is a fantastic and talented designer. We are so lucky to have him in our Chicago design community.

michael cook says:

Tom Polucci is a bright light in the design industry-I like him even more after reading this!

Tom Polucci

Monday, January 10th, 2011

After more than two decades designing interiors, Tom Polucci has racked up a prolific list of achievements. Design Bureau recently caught up with the HOK Chicago group president and design director to talk about a few of his favorite things—Glee, for one.

What design means to him:
“For me, it’s a couple of things. First and foremost, it’s about creating a solution to a problem. And problem isn’t necessarily a bad word—all kinds of things need to be solved.

Design is also about humanity. We’re designing space for people. People have to feel good about it. They need to be energized and excited when they walk into an environment. It needs to inspire them. They need to feel emotionally connected to it…there’s nothing worse than walking into a big, beige box.

Design is also fun because you get to know people when you’re working with them. There’s an intimacy between the designer and the client. You get to really understand their needs and issues and work together to create the best possible solution.”

“I’m really proud of my relationship to the group of people I’m very lucky to work with every day. Design is not a single vision or approach. It can’t be. It takes many people to create the right kind of solution. Each person has a different specialization or expertise, and every person is passionate about something that can be brought into that project. Orchestrating that is probably my greatest thrill.”

His personal theme song:
“Right now, anything from Glee!”

Sustainable design:
“I like to use materials that people can ask questions about and point at but not just look at and say, ‘That’s sustainable.’ I don’t want them to say, ‘Oh, that’s bamboo.’ I want them to look at something and question it and go, ‘That feels like it has authenticity and character to it.’ I want them to wonder how it became part of the environment they’re in.”

What offices should be like:
“It’s exciting to see people own the  environment and be behind the message. [In HOK’s new office, which Polucci helped design], when World Cup soccer was going on, there would be a dozen and a half people in the café, cheering when the USA games were on. That is really cool that there is a place blow off steam.”

Where he would go if offered a free plane ticket anywhere in the world:

His favorite spaces:
“I like that spaces tell stories. It creates ownership not only for the team but also for the client. At the Washington University School of Medicine [Farrell Learning and Teaching Center] open house, the class president of the medical school got up and talked about how the building we had designed worked, even though he was never part of the design process. To hear him describe that was so thrilling. He completely got the building. He owned the story. He got the space and knew why things were there. It was intuitive enough.”

Favorite websites:
“,,,,,, and”

The greatest compliment he’s ever been given in his work:
“Probably that we listened to the client and exceeded their expectations.”

What he doesn’t leave home without:

I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir

I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir
by Josh Kilmer-Purcell
“Great memoir. Anyone that can live such a big life (nice Midwestern boy takes a turn as a New York drag queen) and tell their story with grace, humor and humility, I’ll get hooked.”

The Help

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
“At the dawn of civil rights in Jackson, Mississippi, [The Help] is told from the perspective of African American women working as domestics. The stories they tell are eye-opening, tragic, and yet warm and loving. These women are brought together by one woman trying to find her own voice, who is white. She convinces these ladies to tell their stories by collecting them for a book. I could not put it down.”

Story of a Marriage

The Story of a Marriage
by Andrew Sean Greer
“A story about a woman who falls for a beautiful man who could be in a relationship with another man. Takes place after the war in San Francisco. The couple are black, the possible lover is wealthy and white. It’s a story about assumptions and miscommunication and that we all need not to be afraid to share our thoughts and feelings in the most important relationships we have.”


by Kent Haruf
“This is a compelling story of grief, bereave-ment, loneliness and anger, but also of kindness, benevolence, love and the making of a strange new family in a small town in the plains of Colorado. It is a depiction of courageous, decent, troubled people, going on with their lives. It is so beautifully written and moving. I read it years ago, and I still can’t forget it.”


by Bill Buford
“Total foodie book! The author quits his job to take an internship at Babbo, Mario Batali’s famous New York restaurant. He then travels to Italy to learn from the chefs, farmers and restaurateurs Batali learned his craft from. Love it. It was an exciting read. I was jealous; who doesn’t want to fly to Italy and eat and cook!”

Text by Jamie Hartford
Photos by Jane Gaspar


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