The recent foray of Hollywood’s enduring heartthrob into the world of furniture design has produced about a dozen pieces – tables, chairs and a bed – designed in collaboration with Frank Pollaro, whose New Jersey-based firm is esteemed for its exquisite reproductions of Art Deco furnishings. The partnership was born out of a shared obsession with quality craftsmanship and, it turns out, fine wine. But Brad’s zeal for architecture and design is longstanding – when Pitt received his first paycheck from his acting career he spent it on a period Craftsman chair and a Frank Lloyd Wright-style lamp. The award-winning actor’s passion is further evidenced by his Make It Right foundation venture, which enlists prominent architects to create quality affordable housing in post-Katrina New Orleans. We caught up with Frank who let us in on the Pitt Pollaro collection’s process.
Q: How did the collaboration with Brad Pitt come about?
I met Brad in 2008 when I visited his chateau in France to install a piece of furniture. We immediately became friends because of our shared passion for art, design and perfection. The conversations regarding a collaboration in which Brad would design and I would build happened within three months of our initial meeting.
Q: What did the process with Brad involve?
Brad conceives the initial designs through hand sketches. He has many sketchbooks, which he fills with thousands of conceptual drawings of furniture of all sorts. He would show me the books and we would together select the pieces to be built. In the case of his continuous line tables, he built three-dimensional scale models with his own hands. He would make 20 or 30 models and we would select the strongest designs over a few bottles of wine. Our meetings lasted eight to 12 hours and were highly productive. Once we started building the pieces, Brad would make monthly visits to our workshop to select the exact woods to use, inspect the pieces, revise the designs, alter the colours, and test the comfort. He was involved in every level of the process and is deeply committed. The pieces are 100% designed by him and built by myself.
Q: Where would you have meetings and how often?
Brad and I meet at his houses in LA, France or New Orleans, or at my home or office. We met once a month for several consecutive days.
Q: How long did it take?
The conception, development and production of the currently released pieces happened over a four-year period.
Q: What was Brad like as a design partner?
Our inspiration began with a shared passion for great design and perfect execution. In each piece, we seek to impart the same standards. Brad’s vision guides the designs, I guide the execution. Brad has a vision of what good design is, and I liberate his thoughts by transforming those designs into three-dimensional objects employing craftsmanship that is the finest in the world. When those two elements merge, the results are stunning.
Q: What is Brad like as craftsman? What is he particularly focused on?
Brad is a designer. He is focused on form, materials and aesthetics. I am focused on ergonomics, comfort and perfect execution.
Q: What were his strengths in the process?
He has a great eye for lines and a particular strength for seeing in three dimensions. Brad also has a good understanding of physics, so it made it very easy for me to outline what I needed from him with respect to maintaining structural integrity in the pieces. Instead of me making the needed changes to accommodate the construction of any design, he insisted that the problem be presented to him and that he provide the solution. I respect his intellect and his tenacity. He is a talented designer and we work very well together.
Q: What is your favourite piece from the collection?
It would be hard for Brad or me to select a favorite piece. Kind of like selecting your favourite child; they are all interesting and beautiful in their own way. The public who have seen the pieces in our private exhibitions seem to like The Long Run table and the Toi et Moi bathtub, and they loved the chairs. But all of the pieces have had a good reception.
Q: Was the general trend for this collection to go for the Art Deco look?
The look is less about Art Deco and more about the modern expression of someone who respects the masters of design.
Q: Which periods in design history are you influenced by?
Brad and I both have a healthy respect for many different periods of furniture and the strengths that they brought to the world of furniture. We may be particularly interested in a line from one period, materials from another period and a certain design sensibility from yet another. Our interest is less about periods and more about great design.
Q: Who are your favourite designers?
I am influenced heavily by Ruhlmann. I see him as the high master, the pinnacle of furniture design. I love his use of line, the combinations of materials and the tenseness of the shapes. I also am a fan of other designers from Chippendale to the Shakers. Again, it’s about great lines and less about periods. I love some modern designers as well.
Q: What is your at-home style like?
In a word, eclectic. We have some Deco pieces, some modern pieces, some Indian pieces – all in a mid-century modern ranch house. I am even more interested in the trees that surround the house than the house itself. I love the backyard.
Q: What is your favourite thing about being a designer-maker?
I love seeing the finished piece when it is completely assembled. It is so gratifying to see something that a few months ago was a drawing, realised into a three-dimensional piece of art that will be alive long after I am gone.
Q: How did you get into furniture design and making?
I knew that I wanted to be a professional furniture maker when I was 12 years old. I started making ice-cream stick boats at five and was selling my work by 13. I started Pollaro Custom Furniture shortly after my 21st birthday.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your company?
Over the past 25 years, we have become the pre-eminent leader in the creation of handcrafted, museum-quality art furniture for residential, yacht and executive office applications. We now have 25 master craftsmen, finishers and draftsmen in our organisation.
Q: What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury is the state that has been achieved when you have surrounded yourself with the finest things that can be acquired in the world; pieces that merge art with perfect function. We provide people with the opportunity to own the very finest of something – luxury furniture.