Remembering Charles Pollock
Charles Pollock, renowned Knoll designer, 2013 winner of the prestigious Rowena Reed Costello Award, passed away on August 20 in a fire in South Jamaica, Queens. He was 83.
Pollock is best known for his sleek and functional 1960s executive chairs and side chairs designed for Knoll. The Pollock Executive Chair was designed for Knoll in 1963 and is among the best-selling executive chairs in the history of office furniture design. Pollock’s connection with Knoll began when he (quite literally) bumped into Florence Knoll on an elevator.
Pollock shared the story with Jonathan Olivares in an interview on designing the perfect chair.
“I had a crummy little apartment on West 25th Street starting in the 1940s,” Pollock reminisced. “With hardly anything to build anything, I built this damn chair with my bare hands. One day, I carried it on an elevator–it’s heavy!–and I was getting off the elevator, and I knocked Florence Knoll down! I just left, I was so embarrassed. I told my psychiatrist, and he said, ‘This is perfect! Now you write her a letter and you say you were so embarrassed and how much you love Knoll and how you worked so hard on this chair.’ And she hired me.”
And that’s the beginning of Knoll and the infamous chair designer, Charles Pollock.
But that’s not the beginning of Pollock.
Charles Pollock was born in Philadelphia in 1930. When Pollock was a child, his family moved from Philly to Toledo, Ohio, and finally settled in Detroit, where Pollock entered Cass Technical High School. It was there he received an education in Academics and Art Design and won numerous awards. Pollock received a full scholarship to the School of Art and Design at Pratt Institute in New York where he focused on sketching and model-making.
After graduating, Pollock was drafted into the army and stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was selected to be the art director of Infantry Magazine. He later returned to New York and worked stints with designers Donald Deskey (designer of Radio City Music Hall) and George Nelson before opening his own studio in Brooklyn. Following his run in with Florence Knoll, she invested $20 a month in Pollock — enough to pay his rent and provide a small development allowance for him to continue creating new products.
In 1965, the Pollock Chair for Knoll was first released. It was an instant success and became one of the best-selling office chairs in history. The original Pollock Chair is still produced by Knoll.
When asked what his goal was in designing chairs (other than to make a profit), Pollock responded: “Just like if you buy a brand-new Porsche and you just love that car and you get in and you want to drive it, I want people to love to sit in my chairs. You gotta want the people to buy it because they love it.”
Charles Pollock made his mark on modern furniture design, and his legacy as a significant contributor to modern office design will live on for generations to come.