Instinct and Craftsmanship
Throughout his sixty year career as a woodworker, Sam Maloof remained remarkably consistent in his designs, developing style hallmarks which include articulated joinery, organic forms, and a devotion to clean and swooping lines. Maloof hand-sketched and worked all of his designs, and he was involved in every step of the construction process. He adjusted elements of his furniture by look, not measurement, to create the curves and height that he wanted, making every piece unique. A signature part of Maloof’s work was their silky soft surface, achieved through a mixture of linseed oil, tung oil, and beeswax that was left on the surface of the wood for three days, and then polished with steel wool to create a high sheen. Maloof felt that this labor-intensive method of finishing imbued his furniture with warmth and quality. Despite a long waiting list for his pieces, Maloof’s output remained small. Only creating on average 80 pieces a year, Maloof devoted time and attention to each piece he created, only allowing rush orders for baby cradles.
Maloof’s most famous form is without question his rocking chair, the first of which he created in 1958. There is a distinct sculptural quality to Maloof’s rockers, and 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 runners of the chair 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 and the designer gifted his first chair to President Jimmy Carter, and later another to President Ronald Reagan. Maloof’s rockers were the first official pieces of craft furniture to enter the White House.
Critics have noted the similarity of Maloof’s work to Shaker furniture, modern Scandinavian woodwork, and even Ancient Egyptian furniture. Maloof’s pedestal tables recall Shaker candle stands, as both employ a refined form, high curving ‘spider legs’ and the use of maple wood. However, the designer claimed no direct influence from any of these movements. Receiving no formal training in woodworking, Maloof’s designs were an organic process of his instinct and craftsmanship. His handmade creations are lauded for their simplicity and elegance, a true melding of art and craft.
My goal is to make furniture that people can be comfortable living with. If you’re not preoccupied with making an impact with your designs, chances are something that looks good today will look good tomorrow.