Art Deco furniture designs bring celebrity clients to custom shop
August 15, 2011 | 2:35 am UTC

Frank Pollaro’s focus on producing high-quality French Art Deco furniture facilitated his goal to build a successful woodworking company.

The Cabanel writing desk shown above is from a 1919 Ruhlmann design. Made from Amboyna burl, it features more than 1,000 hand-cut ivory inlays, handles and sabots, as well as an eight-piece shagreen writing surface with inlaid ivory stringing.

Frank Pollaro’s high school yearbook reads “a career in fine woodworking lies ahead.” This otherwise accurate prediction fell short of prophesying just how successful that career would turn out to be.

“Fortunately, I’m one of those few people in life who knew what he wanted to do at a very early age,” Pollaro says. “I just stuck with it and never turned back. I was building furniture when I was 12. And the minute I got into woodshop in junior high I knew. I said, ‘This is it — this is what I want to do. I want to be a furnituremaker for a living.’”

Perhaps the most important catalyst in Pollaro’s professional emergence occurred in 1985, when the young woodworker discovered the work of French Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. “I looked at that furniture and said, ‘This is exactly what I want to do.’ There was something prescient about that decision, because I made it prior to the wave of awareness of Ruhlmann — and all of a sudden I became very busy,” he says.

The new-found interest in Ruhlmann-style furniture could not have come at a better time for Pollaro. Through his hard work and expertise in Art Deco furniture design, the company he founded in 1988 grew into a company that now employs 20 people, inhabits a 15,000-square-foot building, does millions of dollars in sales yearly and boasts a client list that includes some of the world’s richest individuals — Larry Ellison (Oracle), David Geffen, Michael Dell, as well as actors like Robert DiNiro, Steve Martin and Jerry Seinfeld.

The Collonettes table (above) is Macassar ebony with more than 500 pieces of ivory dots and dentil.

“Believe me, it was just luck,” Pollaro says about his good fortune. “It was just my time. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I had some complex strategic plan. You know what you focus on grows — and that’s the most concise way to put it. I focused. I didn’t think about anything else except making furniture. I’ve been locked up in my shop since I was 21, and I feel strongly that I have one of the most successful woodworking companies in the world. Certainly, the prices that we garner and the respect we receive speaks to that. I don’t think there is another firm that is getting more for a single piece of furniture than we are.”

One important reason that Pollaro’s work is so distinctive is the wood itself. He is a voracious collector of rare and unusual woods and has the largest private collection of Macassar ebony in the country, along with one million square feet of veneer and hardwoods, unique slabs and other rare woods. “We also collect stingray skins, goat skins and lizard skins,” he says, adding, “We have one of the most discriminating collections in the world. I reject 98% of the veneer we look at.”

The company only builds between 65 to 100 pieces a year, and Pollaro now spends much of his time away from the shop, flying around the world to meet with clients. But he is quick to give credit to his craftsmen for doing the actual building.

“This company exists and thrives because of the people who work here,” he states. “There is a difference with the people who work at my place. They are highly intelligent, business-minded, focused, highly skilled, surgical, accurate craftsmen. These guys are dedicated to their work, they are dedicated to making a profit, they are dedicated to client satisfaction. They want to do the best work possible. I’m very proud of these guys. I have a very unique group of people.

“And when an entire group of people is dedicated to a common goal,” he continues, “what you achieve is excellence. I think that is what is happening here: it’s not about the machinery; it’s not about the wood: it’s about the people.”

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