Sam Maloof (1916 – 2009) American furniture designer and maker

Sam Maloof's furniture was prized for its simplicity and practicality in the 1950s. He turned down multimillion-dollar offers to mass produce his original designs. His hi-fi cabinets, cork-top coffee tables and other pieces were praised by home magazine editors. Former President Jimmy Carter signed a photograph "to my woodworking hero". Sam Maloof was the first craftsman to receive the MacArthur Foundation's "genius" grant, in 1985.

He matched an image in his head with hand tools to make the finished piece of furniture comfortable, functional and beautiful. Maloof considered the appearance of every angle of the piece, even chair backs and cabinet interiors, as well as grain pattern.

Sam Maloof, Drop-leaf Dining Table with Wood Hinges, 1975, Brazilian rosewood, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Sam Maloof, Drop-leaf Dining Table with Wood Hinges, 1975, Brazilian rosewood, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Sam Maloof (1916 – 2009), whose simple, elegant wooden furniture he designed and handmade, made him a central figure in the American post-war craft movement. His studio was located in Alto Loma, near Claremont, CA. In high-quality woods (black walnut, ebony, rosewood, teak), Maloof’s sculpted furniture was distinguished by fine craftsmanship and comfort for the customer. Such celebrities as Ray Charles (who admired his tactile qualities) and Jimmy Carter have publicly praised his rocking chair, and it has become a classic of American design.

Self Taught

Maloof, who was self-taught wood worker, created a distinctive aesthetic design that fused traditional and modern styles in practical furniture; his elegant, curving, gently sculptural forms made him highly sought after by private clients and museum curators.

Sam Maloof double rocker
Sam Maloof double rocker

The Maloof ‘Rocking Chair’

His signature piece, a rocking chair whose long, inwardly pointed rockers vaguely resembled antelope horns, became part of the White House arts and crafts collection after a donation to Ronald Reagan, and his work is part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

There is a distinctly sculptural quality to Maloof’s rockers. At the same time, they are also noted for their incredible comfort. Maloof truly reinvented this classical American design by identifying the inherent problem of the rocking chair form and reworking it. Most standard rockers have a grain of sawn wood that weakens the ray of the chair. Maloof cleverly solved this flaw by laminating seven layers of wood to create the rocker structure, making Maloof’s rocking chairs incredibly sturdy, and gave him the ability to elongate the chair’s runners outward. Fans of Maloof’s rockers include several United States Presidents and Vice Presidents. When Maloof heard of President Kennedy’s love of rocking chairs, he decided to build a rocker to ease the President’s chronic back pain. However, Kennedy was tragically assassinated before Maloof could finish his rocking chair.

Biography

Samuel Solomon Maloof was born in Chino, California, to one of the nine children of Lebanese immigrants. A woodworking enthusiast, he made his mother a wide spatula for turning bread and, more ingeniously, carved dollhouse furniture, cars and a toy revolver with a spinning chamber.

Low-back Side Chair 1995 by Sam Maloof
Low-back Side Chair 1995 by Sam Maloof

After winning a high school poster contest, he was hired to do graphic design work for a company that produced air filters for heavy-duty internal combustion engines. He also did printing and poster work for the Padua Hills Theater in Claremont, nearby, and later went to work for a small industrial design company that built displays for Bullock’s department store.

“America’s most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman”

Smithsonian Institution

He was drafted into the Army in 1941 and made engineering drawings for the placement of guns in the Aleutian Islands. After the war, he worked as an assistant to Millard Sheets, head of the Department of Art at Scripps College in Claremont. There he met Alfreda Ward, an art student he married in 1948.

Maloof made furniture out of recycled oak planks from broken packing crates and plywood sheets for the house he purchased in Ontario, California.

Maloof built an approach by instinct that drew parallels to Shaker and modern Scandinavian styles. Using no nails or metal hardware, he worked almost entirely by hand, the design emerging as he worked. Precise joinery and repeated sanding and polishing gave his work a solid rock integrity and silken lustre that sold for $51,000 for one of his rocking chairs.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Eastman, J. (2009, May 25). SAM MALOOF: 1914-2009: MASTER WOODWORKER ADMIRED FOR FURNITURE. Chicago Tribune

Sam Maloof, Furniture Craftsman, Dies at 93 – The New York …. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/27/arts/design/27maloof.html

Advertisements

Furniture Books – Amazon

* This website may contain affiliate links, and I may earn a small commission when you click on links at no additional cost.  As an Amazon and Sovrn affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

More Furniture Designers

  • Léon Jallot (1874 – 1967) French designer and artisan.

    Léon Jallot (1874 – 1967) French designer and artisan.

    Léon Jallot (1874­-1967), a scion of the French Art Nouveau, stood out within the movement as an ébéniste, or cabinet maker.Read More →

  • Helen Abson (b.1942) Australian Architect and Fabric Designer

    Helen Abson (b.1942) Australian Architect and Fabric Designer

    Helen Abson, who trained as an architect, is an Australian designer. She pursued architecture for five years; founded ZAB Design where she designed fabrics that exhibited a preoccupation for texture achieved through pattern and colour.Read More →

  • Chaise Lounge by Marcel Breuer

    Chaise Lounge by Marcel Breuer

    Marcel Breuer designed this chaise lounge during his influential period in England (1935-37). His work for the London-based design and architectural firm Isokon is the most recognizable of this period. The chaise was designed for the 1936 Seven Architects Exhibition for Heal & Sons Department Store.Read More →

  • Charles Pfister (1938 – 1990) was an American interior and furniture designer

    Charles Pfister (1938 – 1990) was an American interior and furniture designer

    Charles Pfister (1939 to 1990) was an American interior and furniture designer and architect. He was professionally active in San Francisco.Read More →

  • Dovetail – design term

    Dovetail – design term

    Dovetail is the name for a shape that looks like a dove’s tail and is used in woodworking. Joints are made up of tabs in the shape of a dovetail that fit into holes in the other part. Dovetails are often used to join the corners of cabinet drawers and box shapes.Read More →

  • Sam Maloof (1916 – 2009) American furniture designer and maker

    Sam Maloof (1916 – 2009) American furniture designer and maker

    His work is part of the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boston MFA and Philadelphia MFA. The ‘Rocking Chair’ became part of Ronald Reagan’s White House arts and crafts collection. Maloof built an approach to woodworking that drew parallels to Shaker and modern Scandinavian styles. Using no nails or metal hardware, he worked almost entirely by hand. One of his rocking chairs sold for $51,000; he married Alfreda Ward in 1948.Read More →

  • Francis H. Bacon (1856 – 1940) American Furniture Designer

    Francis H. Bacon (1856 – 1940) American Furniture Designer

    He was a designer for furniture maker Herter Brothers, commissioned by the company to furnish the New York William H. Vanderbilt House, 1881-83.Read More →

  • John Mascheroni (1932- ) American furniture and industrial designer

    John Mascheroni (1932- ) American furniture and industrial designer

    John Mascheroni is an American furniture and industrial designer. He studied at the Pratt Insitute in Brooklyn New York. He opened his own design office and furniture factory in New York. Mascheroni designed furniture for manufactures in High Point, North Carolina. From 1990, his furniture designs were produced by Swaim and, from 1991, others by Jeffco.Read More →

  • Reuben Cary (1845 – 1933) American furniture designer

    Reuben Cary (1845 – 1933) American furniture designer

    Cary’s father moved to the Adirondacks area of New York State in the year 1845. In 1874, Brandreth asked Cary to make him 24 chairs with slatted backs, plain turned legs, and splint seats in a traditional style. Cary may have made some of the rustic furniture in the cottages at Brandreth Park.Read More →

  • Vico Magistretti (1920 – 2006) Italian architect/designer

    Vico Magistretti (1920 – 2006) Italian architect/designer

    In 1920 Vico Magistretti was born in Milan, Italy. First recognition of his work came in 1948, at the 8th Triennale. He started designing for Cassina in 1960, and from that date on his signature is to be found on many products.Read More →

  • James Evanson (b.1946) American furniture and lighting designer

    James Evanson (b.1946) American furniture and lighting designer

    James Evanson has been at the forefront of the “functional art” movement around the world. His work has travelled worldwide since his first exhibition in 1979 at the Art et Industrie Gallery in New York. For the Memphis Collection in Milan, new work was created just for the occasion. The “Lighthouse” lamps gained international acclaim and became an icon of the 1980s.Read More →

  • Harry Bertoia (1915 – 1978) Italian sculptor, furniture designer

    Harry Bertoia (1915 – 1978) Italian sculptor, furniture designer

    Harry Bertoia was a sculptor, printmaker, jeweller, and furniture designer. He was born in San Lorenzo, Udine, and worked in the United States professionally. During World War Two he worked with Ray and Charles Eames on moulded-plywood technology. He worked primarily as a sculptor from the mid-1950s onwards. His sculpture was prominently featured in many of Eero Saarinen’s buildings.Read More →

  • Antonia Astori (b.1940) Italian designer co-founded Driade

    Antonia Astori (b.1940) Italian designer co-founded Driade

    Antonia Astori co-founded Driade with her brother Enrico and Adelaide Acerbi in 1968. She was able to create a unique network of furniture designers, galleries, and shops.Read More →

  • Oscar Onken (1858 – 1948) and the ‘The Shop of the Crafters’

    Oscar Onken (1858 – 1948) and the ‘The Shop of the Crafters’

    Oscar Onken (1858 – 1948) was an American entrepreneur. He was professionally active in Ohio. Onken was a prominent businessman and philanthropist. Impressed with the Gustav Stickley and Austrian stands at the 1904 St. Louis ‘Louisiana Purchase Exposition,’ he founded The Shop of the Crafts in Cincinnati in 1904. Read More →

  • Jasper Morrison (b.1959) British Designer quirky, understated furniture

    Jasper Morrison (b.1959) British Designer quirky, understated furniture

    Morrison produced quirky, satiric, understated furniture. His 1986 South Kensington flat was widely published in design magazines. He designed 1988 Door handles I and II, and a 1989 range of aluminium handles produced by FSB in Germany. Read More →

  • George Sowden – British/Italian Designer

    George Sowden – British/Italian Designer

    George James Sowden is a British designer. He was born in Leeds and active Italy. Between 1960-64 and 1966-68, he studied architecture, Gloucester College of Arts. Read More →

  • Bill Stumpf, inventor of the modern swivel chair

    Bill Stumpf, inventor of the modern swivel chair

    In 1976, the Ergon chair was introduced by Bill Stumpf, a designer for Herman Miller. It had a foam-filled back and seat, gas-lift levers to change the height and tilt. The Ergon was based on the new science of ergonomics, first used to design aeroplane cockpits.Read More →

  • Henry Van de Velde (1863 – 1957) Belgian artist, architect, interior designer

    Henry Van de Velde (1863 – 1957) Belgian artist, architect, interior designer

    Henry van de Velde was a Belgian architect, industrial designer, painter and art critic. He worked in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.Read More →

  • Marcel Guillemard  (1886 – 1932) French Decorator & designer

    Marcel Guillemard (1886 – 1932) French Decorator & designer

    Marcel Guillemard (1886 – 1932) was a French decorator and furniture designer. He was born and professionally active in Paris.Read More →

  • George Nelson (1907 – 1986) American voice on design

    George Nelson (1907 – 1986) American voice on design

    George Nelson (1907 – 1986) was an American industrial designer. His Storagewall shelf system, which he made in 1945, changed the way offices worked. The Marshmallow sofa from the 1950s is one of his best-known pieces.Read More →

You may also be interested in

Vivian Maier: Lost Photographs Of 1950s New York – Encyclopedia of Design

Courtesy the Maloof Collection/Howard Greenberg Galleries Found after her death, Vivian Maier’s photographs capture New York City in motion. Two years before Vivian Maier died in 2009 at age 83, 30,000 of her negatives were bought at a Chicago thrift auction by former estate agent John Maloof.

Steen Østergaard Danish furniture designer – Encyclopedia of Design

Steen Østergaard is a Danish designer. He studied Kunsthandvraekerskolen, Copenhagen to 1960. 1962-65, he worked with architect Finn Juhl and, in 1965, set up his design studio. 0stergaard ‘s first plastic object, the 1970 Chair 290 in polyamide, was produced by France & Son in Denmark.

More design articles

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.