When Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design, received a phone call from Charles Pollock in November 2010, he had been on Pollock’s trail for an entire year. Why spend so much effort to track down a designer whose last piece of furniture in the United States—the Pollock Executive office chair for Knoll—was produced almost a half century ago? For one, Helling’s obsession with that very chair ("It’s so sleek and yet kind of overstuffed, a combination that doesn’t seem to go together but jells into this iconic image") and for another, his unwavering opinion that Charles Pollock’s name and oeuvre should be hallowed in the halls of mid-century design.
Bernhardt encouraged the designer, now 82, to give shape to "what comes naturally," which in the CP Lounge Chair takes the form of a low-slung seat, upholstered with hand-sewn panels for a quilted effect, lightly propped on a polished stainless steel frame. Helling explains that rather than revisiting aluminum tubing to highlight the outline of the chair, as Pollock had done in previous designs, they decided to do something "more tactile and craft-oriented"—hence, a large loop stitch around the entire perimeter. The piece, which was released in May, exudes the polish of a luxury car, with an aerodynamic profile and richly textured material detail.
Born in 1930, design wunderkind Charles Pollock spent four summers during his teenage years working on the floor of the Chrysler factory in Detroit, where he later graduated from the Motor City’s illustrious Cass Technical High School. He then attended Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute as a scholarship student and received a bachelor's degree in industrial design. While in college, he happened to meet George Nelson, for whom he would end up co-designing the now-iconic swag leg silhouette. (While licensed manufacturer Herman Miller lists George Nelson as the chair’s sole creator, we spoke with Pollock’s Pratt classmate-turned-Nelson studiomate Lucia DeRespinis, who says that Pollock came up with the concept of tapered furniture legs using the swaging process. "He started designing it when he was sitting behind me [in the office]," she recalls.)
In the 1960s, Pollock worked for Florence Knoll until she retired, and the sketches, wire models and prototypes of his practice gave shape to one of Knoll’s seminal office chairs with a purely commercial application. That design was so successful that Pollock lived off royalties for almost two decades while traveling around Europe and refining his own body of work. While skiing in Italy, he met the Castelli family, who produced his steel-mesh-and-wire frame Penelope chair for the company in 1982. Though he has been designing for himself in the intervening years, the passive ergonomic structure he created for Castelli was Pollock’s last produced idea to hit the retail market until 2012, when Bernhardt Design introduces the CP Lounge chair in leather, suede, and felt.
Kelsey Keith has written about design, art, and architecture for a variety of print and online publications.