21 Ultimate Gifts: Ruhlmann Rules

  • Pollaro estimates that the replica will take him about 3,000 hours, or more than one year, to complete. He and an assistant will perform the work.
<< Back to Robb Report, December 2005

Frank Pollaro adores Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann’s Art Deco furniture, but there are days when he curses the Frenchman’s name, for the details that make a Ruhlmann piece so appealing also make it such a challenge to reproduce. Pollaro, a largely self-taught 38-year-old furniture maker who has crafted more than 100 Ruhlmann replicas at his studio in East Orange, N.J., explains that the designer was just that: a designer. “I think he had the best eye of any furniture designer in history, but he never did any woodworking,” Pollaro says. “He would drive his cabinetmakers crazy by asking for things that couldn’t easily be done.” Decades later, Pollaro, who uses woodworking equipment that mostly was made from 1890 to 1940, feels those craftsmen’s pain. “There are times when I say, ‘My God, this is impossible,’ ” he says, chuckling.

The Elysée sideboard that Pollaro proposes to replicate promises to be one of his most challenging projects because he and his assistant will have to inlay by hand the thousands of ivory circles that appear on its surface. Pollaro says that no one has attempted to remake the unique piece because “there’s no one crazy enough to do it.” The original, completed in 1920 and exhibited at numerous fairs for the ensuing five years, was two years in the making. After it was featured in the French Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the 1925 exhibit from which the term Art Deco derives, the French government purchased it for the presidential Palais de l’Elysée, and it now resides in the permanent collection of Paris’ Mobilier National museum.

In addition to employing tools that Ruhlmann’s cabinetmakers would recognize, Pollaro relies on some of the same vendors that supplied the designer with such rare woods as the amboyna burl from which he made the sideboard. (Pollaro assures that he obtains his ivory legally.) Although he estimates that the replica will consume more than a year of his time, Pollaro is eager to begin building it. “I’ve done all the steps many times before, and I’ve done interlocking circles in smaller areas on other pieces,” he says. “I think I’m to the point now where I’m ready for this.”

The sideboard will measure 7.9 feet wide by 6 feet high and 1.7 feet deep.

Almost 2,000 ivory circles, or bubbles, will appear on the sideboard’s face. Pollaro believes the circles on the original were meant to mimic the appearance of a magnified section of stingray skin, a material that Ruhlmann often incorporated in his furniture veneers.

Amboyna burl wood, from which Pollaro will craft this sideboard, is rare but not endangered.


It is grown in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burma, and other Asian countries and varies in color from light tan to deep orange. Pollaro believes that Ruhlmann liked working with the wood “because of the purity of the grain and the richness of the natural color of the wood.”

Pollaro sometimes relies on antique ivory, because, he says, material harvested at least 100 years ago poses no legal problems (unless it has been modified with newer ivory). He also employs bleached mastodon ivory, which is culled from the remains of a species that became extinct more than 10,000 years ago.

Pollaro decided what he wanted to do with his life in middle school, after taking a woodworking shop class. The Bloomfield, N.J., native first encountered Ruhlmann’s furniture at age 16, when he saw a woodworking magazine cover featuring one of the French designer’s pieces, an ebony cabinet inlaid with ivory flowers. “That looked like what I wanted to create,” Pollaro recalls. “I didn’t know it was French Art Deco, and I didn’t know who Ruhlmann was, but I knew that the juxtaposition of ebony against inlaid ivory was very striking. I did a lot of inlay work after that.” Pollaro enrolled in the Art Institute of Philadelphia to study interior design but left because, he says, “there was not enough hands-on work.” To receive the type of training he wanted, Pollaro took a job at a local cabinetmaking shop before establishing his own shop at the age of 21.

PRICE
$1 million

Delivery will require a minimum of 24 months.

CONTACT
Pollaro Custom Furniture, 973.675.7557, www.pollaro.com 

Photo by Eric Stoner
The artist’s works will be on display at the Hirschl & Adler gallery in New York City this...
Auction items will include early comics, collectibles, and Simon’s The Simpsons pinball machine…
Ferrari’s track-only hybrid supercar is now available in 1:8 scale…
Photo by Estate of Pablo Picasso Artists Rights Society, New York
Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger selling for $179.4 million in May is one of many recent examples…
Photo by Randall Cordero
How an Internet entrepreneur assembled a world-beating collection of arcade games…
Photo by Cordero Studios/www.corderostudios.com
A Southern California homeowner has an incredible 1,200-square-foot shrine to America’s pastime…
Photo by Iwan Baan
This September, a highly anticipated contemporary art museum—the Broad—will open in downtown Los...
How much does baseball outpace other sports memorabilia? A look at the record-setting prices for...
Photo by Tom Forsyth and Ron Jarrell
With more than 275 million game sets sold in the past century, Monopoly is the most popular board...
Shell refueled Logano’s career, so to speak, and the the connection between this driver and his...