We were saddened and shocked to hear of designer Charles Pollock’s death in a Queens house fire last Tuesday. It was a tragic story in its own right—MMQB has reported that Pollock was living in an illegally subdivided home before the blaze—but it also represented the loss of one of the industry’s most innovative and original minds.
His work laid a foundation for the Mid-Century Modern movement and influenced the evolution of the modern office, and yet never garnered him the name recognition as peers like George Nelson or Charles Eames. He was 83.
Pollock was raised in Michigan and honed his design talents at Cass Technical High School in Detroit before receiving a full scholarship to the School of Art and Design at the Pratt Institute in New York. It was there that Pollock discovered the arts of sketching and model-making—and in turn, the beauty of unbroken lines. “Designing using a continuous line leads you in one direction: toward simplicity,” he said.
Those techniques became an essential part of Pollock’s “discovery process,” allowing him to create and refine the curvaceous shapes found in products such as Herman Miller’s Swag Leg Collection, which he developed with Nelson after graduating from Pratt.
Nelson Swag Leg Chair for Herman Miller. Photo courtesy of Herman Miller.
With support from Florence Knoll, he repeated that process on a more exacting and intensive level during the five-year development process for the Pollock Chair, which he detailed in an article on the Bernhardt Design website:
“I made the chair over and over and over again,” said Pollock. “If Florence wanted to change it by ¼-inch, I would have to make a new chair by hand. I would load my Volkswagen with chairs and drive them to the factory in Pennsylvania to work with the Knoll engineers. It was very difficult, but Florence kept pushing us forward; she was wonderful; she made it happen.”
Released in 1965, the Pollock Chair went on to become his signature creation. The chair’s modern form and innovative aluminum extrusion—used to hold the upholstery and back shell together without any further support—made it an instant hit and a visual icon of the changing workplace. Priced affordably thanks to the ease of its assembly, it quickly became one of the best-selling office chairs in history, and is still produced by the company today.
The Pollock Chair. Photo courtesy of Bernhardt Design.
Pollock largely stepped away from industrial design following Knoll’s retirement, traveling to Europe and immersing himself in painting and sculpting, but flashes of his brilliance and innovative spirit could still be found by those willing to search for it. In 1982, he partnered with Castelli to introduce the award-winning Penelope Chair, which was the first to make use of mesh to create a passively ergonomic chair.
Penelope Chair for Castelli. Photo courtesy of Bernhardt Design.
Just last year, Pollock had partnered with Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design, to introduce his first product in America in over four decades, the CP Lounge—a sleek, sumptuous chair built on that lasting love of unbroken lines.
Pollock and Helling talking on the CP Lounge. Photo courtesy of Bernhardt Design.
“It was a true privilege to be able to work with Charles over the past three years,” Helling says. “We were especially grateful that we were able to bring new work by Charles to the marketplace and introduce him to a new generation of designers. He was a driven perfectionist, but balanced this with a most disarming sense of humor. He was having a wonderful time designing new products and we are saddened that he will not be with us to enjoy their introduction during the next couple of years.”