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Famed designer dies in fire

AP Photo/Knoll
By Christina Santucci

He was an internationally renowned furniture designer who spent the last year of his life living in a studio apartment in a South Jamaica house.

And on Tuesday, 83-year-old Charles Pollock died after a fire broke out in his first-floor residence, neighbors and his former partner said.

Pollock, who designed the Pollock Executive Chair in 1963, had lived in an illegally sub-divided four-family home on 157th Street near 115th Avenue, according to fellow residents and the city’s Department of Buildings.

In a statement, a Buildings spokeswoman said, “Violations were issued for work without permits to create illegal apartments; plumbing and electrical work performed without a permit; defective or exposed electrical wiring and an illegal gas stove in the cellar.”

Constance Smith, who had been Pollock’s partner at Charles Pollock Design, described it as possibly the best selling chair of all time.

“It’s a great shock,” Smith said, after wiping away tears. “We were still working on furniture today. He has paintings hanging that he just completed last week. His ideas went on and on. He’s a wonderful designer.”

A spokeswoman for the Fire Department confirmed Tuesday that an unidentified person was killed in the blaze and two firefighters suffered minor injuries. Fire marshals were investigating the cause of the blaze.

Residents said they had tried to check on Pollock, who uses a walker.

Mary Kayulu, who lives in the apartment below Pollock’s, first heard repetitive loud sounds before she smelled smoke at about 7 a.m.

“That banging was coming from Charles, maybe asking for help,” Kayulu said, explaining that as she and her two children evacuated, she asked her daughter to check on Pollock, who used a walker.

“I’m thinking, he’s dead. He’s dead. We cannot get in,” Kayulu said.

Her daughter, 20-year-old Naomi Ebouki, then used a key to open the door to the senior’s apartment and was met with a wall of smoke.

“I saw black smoke and a fire up to here,” she said, pointing to about a foot and a half off the ground.

The family feared the worst and headed outside to wait for emergency responders.

Hours later members of the city medical examiner’s office removed Pollock’s body from the home.

A Michigan native who graduated from Pratt Institute, Pollock had garnered acclaim from the executive chair’s design, and it was put on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art andthe Louvre in Paris, among other locations.

He had recently collaborated with Jerry Helling, president of Bernhardt Design in North Carolina, to create a new chair — the CP Lounge Chair, which was unveiled last year.

Ebouki said the renowned designer often visited his long-time girlfriend, Sheryl Fratell, on the Upper East Side and traveled by Access-a-Ride around the neighborhood.

“It is sad,” Ebouki said. “My mom was just complaining, how it was unfair … how he needed needed someone to take care of him.”

Pollock encouraged his downstairs neighbor to pursue her dream of becoming a singer by playing jazz classics like those sung by Ella Fitzgerald.

“He basically talks about his char, how you design them,” Ebouki said. “I was surprised. This man is famous. I said to myself, ‘What is he doing here?’ He is supposed to be in a better place.”

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