Who Was Charles Pollock?

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Chair Of The Month

Charles Randolph Pollock is the legendary furniture designer who – in one elegant design – modernized the humble office chair. His name is synonymous with modern office design.

His greatest work and the chair he will be most remembered for was the Pollock Executive Chair, a comfortable, beautiful, and highly functional leather chair that has become ubiquitous among offices over the past 50 years.

Pollock’s concept was to create a chair that would remain visually appealing across generations, never fading and never rusting. Among the most ingenious parts of the design was to include a chrome finish on the edge of the chair, preventing damage no matter how the chair was handled.

The design simply wowed the furniture world, as nothing like it had previously been seen.

Young Charles Pollock
All images courtesy of Bernhardt Designs.

The chair features what he called “rim technology,” a single aluminum band around the chair’s perimeter to hold the design together structurally and visually. The base allows for a 360 degree swivel, tilt with tilt tension, and pneumatic seat height adjustment.

All of these features have since become standard on virtually all office chairs, but were well ahead of their time in the 1960s.

Released in 1963, soon virtually every modern office owned a Pollock Executive Chair. And 50 years later it remains a timeless classic, a staple of executive offices across the world.

Pollock once recalled that even at 15 years of age, he knew he was a workaholic. When not on the production line at Chrysler, he found himself traipsing the halls trying to learn every skill he could, eager to make the most from his experience with the car manufacturer.

During high school, Pollock was awarded a full scholarship to the School of Art and Design at Pratt Institute in New York, where he learned to focus on sketching and model-making. Fellow student Lucia DeRespinis remembers Pollock as having “such an eye, he didn’t need to take the course”.

When acclaimed industrial designer George Nelson toured the Pratt Institute, he stumbled across one of Pollock’s sculptures and was highly impressed. Later, Pollock presented Nelson with the sculpture and expressed his desire to one day work for the soon to be founder of American Modernist design.

With a little help, Pollock’s dream became reality five years after he graduated from Pratt Institute. It was his fellow student Lucia DeRespinis who suggested that Nelson hire Pollock, citing – in prescient fashion – his “timeless” designs.

Taking up the position, Pollock made his first impact on the furniture design world with his Swag Leg Collection, which he developed with Nelson for Herman Miller. The designs are defined by curved metal legs that give the piece a sculptured look. The success of this collection is what first attracted famed American architect and furniture designer Florence Knoll to begin working with Pollock.

Knoll had a vision for a clean and uncluttered modern office, and the corporate boom of the 1960s landed her in good stead. In 1960, Pollock — who was now working for himself out of a tiny studio in Brooklyn — presented Knoll with his 657 Sling Chair.

Seeing the designer’s potential, Knoll then began investing in Pollock’s work, beginning with paying $20 a month in rent for his studio.

Pollock spent the next five years working on a new design he believed would revolutionize the modern office – his Pollock Executive Chair. The chair was an instant success and became a visual symbol of the modern corporate workplace.

On August 20, 2013, a fire ripped through Pollock’s tiny and cluttered Queen’s apartment, killing the 83-year-old designer.

Former intern for Pollock, Judy Yates, said of him, “I learned that a timeless design was a lot of patience and perseverance, a sense of humor, a touch of brilliance and maybe a little bit of good fortune with being in the right place at the right time. In speaking about the economics of being an industrial designer Chuck said, ‘All you have to do is create just ONE good chair, and you will never have to have another.’”

Pollock left behind his partner of 27 years, Sheryl Fratell. He also leaves a timeless legacy that will see him regarded as one of the century’s most important industrial designers.

The Pollock Executive Chair has been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre in Paris and many additional prestigious locations. It is sure to be celebrated for years and years to come.

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