Passport to Italy

Meet the man who’s bringing Italian style direct to Minneapolis.

Robert Kelen of Bentavo with his Italian chairs
Photo by Caitlin Abrams

For more than a decade, Robert Kelen has been shuttling between Minneapolis and Milan to seek out the best Italian furniture lines. Having spent years curating a collection of imported dining chairs and tables to sell online, he’s now expanded his company with endless made-to-order possibilities and a brick-and-mortar showroom.

Bentavo, located at International Market Square, is small yet striking with sleek pieces from lines such as Riva 1920 and Tonon. Designers and shoppers can peruse what’s currently on the floor, but the real beauty lies in the possibilities. Since Kelen visits Milan’s design week and furniture fair every spring, he knows what’s new, hot, and easily customizable, making it well worth it to sit down with him and describe your dream piece of furniture.

“I like to think Robert has an ‘Italian passport’ because his access is so much greater than the average designer or client in that he gets to know the producers better and better every time he visits and understands their lines,” says his wife, Tasya.

“Going to Italy to find something unique for a client, having it produced just for them, and then knowing that they’ll want to show it off to their friends is really cool,” Robert says. “Also, working with small suppliers and getting to know the multiple generations of family that do everything from running their businesses to doing the actual production work makes it even more special.”

Not surprisingly, Italian furniture-making is a family affair and Kelen has begun to spend more time, beyond the fair dates, getting to know the suppliers, such as his marble tabletop source, a 70-year-old patriarch whose daughter runs the day-to-day business and son leads production. Becoming first-hand with the “making” side of the business has lead to more creative custom possibilities for clients—and to some unforgettable home-cooked Italian meals.

“Really long tables can be hard to find, and are something that our Italian suppliers tend to do quite well. We’ve had multiple requests for tables to seat 20 people and up, and did one table for a client that was 19-feet-8-inches long,” Robert says.

Whether it’s a wooden Old World table or modern, metal racecar chair, one peek at what’s happening in the Italian design scene is enough to jump-start the imagination on the endless custom options. Adds Kelen: “Getting furniture made to order in Italy will never be the fastest or least expensive way to go, but Minneapolis is home to a lot of clients with an appreciation for both the look and quality ‘Made in Italy’ has to offer.”

vibrazioni art design secca chair ($679), billiani numbers chair ($499), tonon up chair ($839), eumenes euphoria chair ($679)