Fire that killed Queens designer sparked by cooking mishap

NewsCopter 7 over the scene of a fire in Queens where a man was killed on Tuesday, August 20, 2013.

August 21, 2013 3:41:23 PM PDT
Investigators say the fire Tuesday that killed Charles Pollock, designer of the Pollock officer chair, was sparked by a mishap while someone was cooking.

Fire Marshals say this is the third cooking-related fatal fire this month.

The fast-moving fire on 157th Street in Jamaica Queens, was reported just after 7:01 a.m. in the basement of Pollock's two-bedroom home.

Firefighters had the fire under control at 7:36 a.m.

The 83-year old Pollock was pronounced dead at the scene.

Another person suffered minor injuries.

Authorities say the building is an illegal subdivision. The Buildings department has issued a vacate order for the first floor and the basement as the investigation continues.

Pollock introduced his chair in 1963. Set on rolling wheels, the chair was visually distinctive with tufted upholstery and an aluminum band around its edges. It's still in production and is considered one of the best-selling office chairs in the history of design.

But in the decades that followed, Pollock moved away from furniture design.

He returned to it recently. After being sought out by Jerry Helling of Bernhardt Design, Pollock created a lounge chair that was introduced last year.

"He was pounding on the door trying to get out," says Constance Smith, Pollock's business partner and long-time friend, who says the eccentric designer was a brilliant man who was still busy with new projects.

"We come here and we did work and we made models and made sketches and he could do what he wanted," Smith said.

Some living here had no idea who their neighbor was, others were aware but say Pollock always kept a low profile.

"He would tell you things like, encourage you not to give up in life, if you have a dream to pursue," said neighbor Naomi Ebouki.

"He was just an amazing talent, he didn't care a damn about the money, he cared about people knowing he did the beautiful work he did," said Lucia DeRespinis, who went to school with Pollock at Pratt.

But she explains, Pollock wrestled with demons.

He was bipolar, on medication but was never comfortable with being in the spotlight.

A humble man, whose talent, she believes, largely went unrecognized.

"He said, the thing that keeps me alive and involved is my work, he said without my work I wouldn't even be here," DeRespinis said.