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Magazine    April 2001

Frank Pollaro, who has been making museum-quality furniture, fitted cabinetry and paneling for some of the finest homes in the United States since 1988, will give insights into his craft in a lecture and slide show entitled “A Cabinetmaker’s View of Ruhlmann” at the Beverly Hills Library Auditorium, 444 North Rexford Drive, on Saturday, May 12, at 2 p.m.

While viewed as a respected source for custom furniture in the Art Déco style of Jacques-Emile Ruhlmann, Pollaro has also paneled rooms—he recently was commissioned to sheath the walls of a bathroom in parchment (goatskin), a favored material in the 1920s and 30s—and he builds limited-edition Steinway pianos that run well into six-digit dollar amounts. His own dining tables, which he will build to an architect’s or interior designer’s specifications or design himself for a private client, start at $15,000 and go up to about $80,000 and chairs range from $3,000 to $6,000 apiece, depending on the materials and the amount of inlay and other detail.

The furniture is produced by a highly trained staff of cabinetmakers and finishers, and the materials, particularly the veneers and inlays, are exceptional in both quality and rarity. (Veneers are thin layers of a fine wood, such as ebony or rosewood, that are applied to ordinary wood as decoration. An inlay is a piece, often a strip, of valuable wood that is fitted into a groove cut exactly to fit the size of the strip.)

“I found a company in Paris that had supplied Ruhlmann with rare wood veneers from Ceylon and other exotic places in the 1920s,” recounts Pollaro, “and I asked this very old employee if he had any satinwood crotch, which is the coveted part of a tree trunk that splits into two huge branches. He got on a ladder, climbed into very dusty rafters and pulled out some bundles of veneers with 1913 newspapers stuck to them. I paid $10,000 for a 16-inch square box full of beautiful wood, and I used some of those veneers for the console table that takes center stage in the Hotel Bel Air lobby.”

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For Pollaro, the cache of satinwood in Paris is the stuff of dreams because so many of the richly grained, exquisitely patterned woods that were used as inlays and veneers for furniture designed during the Art Déco period are on endangered species lists.

“I have 60 species of exotic and domestic woods—about 500,000 square feet—in the warehouse next door to my workshop,” the New Jersey–based furniture maker notes, listing off such peculiar names as Cocobola (an orange and purple veneer with an interlocking grain laced with black lines that looks a bit like bulls eyes and monkey ears), Black Gabon Ebony (that’s what King Tut’s chair was made with) and Quilted Maple from the Pacific Northwest (there's so much undulation in the quilt pattern it’s like watching a 3D movie, Pollaro says). “I just walked over there with Charlie Gwathmey, and he chose a figured cherry that has a lot of curly mottles for a dining table.”

In order to craft the Ruhlmann- and Art Déco–style furniture that he is known for in certain important circles, Pollaro has to have the fancy woods. “We’re at the level where people want ivory inlaid into ebony,’’ says Pollaro, who counts among his clients architect Charles Gwathmey, interior designers Harry Schnaper and Rose Tarlow, and film and music industry bigwigs David Geffen, Ron Meyer and Clive Davis. “They don’t want wood that’s readily available.”

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Pollaro Custom Furniture and
Flamingo Specialty Veneer Company
356 Glenwood Avenue
East Orange, NJ 07017
Phone: 973-675-7557
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