Born in Chino, California, Sam Maloof was a self-taught master of handcrafted furniture. His pieces combined the art of design with the necessity of comfort.
His practical handmade wooden furniture is regarded as some of the best in the world. His signature piece is the rocking chair with elongated rockers that jut backward, preventing it from tipping over.
Sam Maloof’s Early Years
Born in 1916 to Lebanese immigrants, Sam Maloof grew up tinkering and making wood objects like spoons and dollhouses. He later worked in the graphic design department of the Vortox Manufacturing Company and was drafted into the army during World War II.
When he was out of the army, Maloof moved to California, where he became a fixture in the art community in Claremont. There, he found an academic environment characterized by talent and optimism and support from artists who shared their work in a way that nourished his own fierce independence.
As Adamson writes, Maloof “turned away from the mass-manufactured goods that had enthralled American consumers in the 1940s and 1950s,” choosing to focus on a style independent of commercial designers and the contemporary craft movement. The result was a sculptural style that has become known for its tactile qualities. His furniture is admired by collectors around the globe, including former President Jimmy Carter and Ray Charles, a blind singer who ran his hand over a Maloof chair and said he could feel its soul.
Sam and Alfreda Maloof’s Home
Sam and Alfreda Maloof’s home in Alta Loma, east of Los Angeles, was a haven for art. Throughout the years they collected, traded and bought works of art from all over the world, as well as pieces made by local artists.
They were an active force in the California art community, encouraging other artists and promoting their work. They often hosted thousands of visitors to their home.
Today the home and the workshop are part of a nonprofit foundation that protects and conserves Maloof’s art, furniture, structures and grounds. The Maloof Center is open to the public and is a wonderful place to visit.
The foundation also maintains a water-wise Discovery Garden. In addition, a gallery features Maloof’s furniture and art. The foundation also offers workshops where people can learn to make Maloof-style furniture and other woodwork.
Sam Maloof’s Furniture
Sam Maloof’s furniture is known for its simplicity, practicality and creativity. His work has been exhibited throughout the world and is a staple in private collections and museums, including the White House.
Throughout his career, Maloof worked with wood in a way that is reminiscent of traditional Japanese carpentry. He considered the appearance of angles, chair backs and cabinet interiors, as well as grain pattern.
In 1985, he was the first craftsman to receive the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant. His woodwork has a calm and sure quality, and his creative joy in finding ways to let wood speak is clear and apparent.
This book is a wonderful glimpse into the life and art of this master craftsman, and includes personal stories from family members, friends and neighbors. It’s an excellent resource for anyone interested in the history of California modern arts. You won’t want to miss it! If you’re in the area, don’t forget to stop by Maloof’s home and workshop.
Sam Maloof’s Legacy
Maloof was an artist whose work transcends the realm of woodworking. His work has been recognized internationally and is in the permanent collections of some of the world’s leading museums.
His design philosophy was to make furniture that people could sit in and enjoy – and he achieved this by creating structures that were strong, structurally durable and visually pleasing. He eschewed industrial fabrication and instead designed and built his furniture using hand tools.
He also shaped his work to suit the needs of his clients, bringing elements of art and architecture into his furniture designs. His chairs are sensuous and elegant, with a slender back and flattened arm forming a fluid and flowing shape that evokes nature.
After his death, Sam’s home and workshop were saved from demolition, relocated to Alta Loma, California and now operate as a museum. The Maloof Foundation was established in 1994 to preserve the legacy of this master craftsman and foster the arts and crafts movement.