SAM MALOOF: Rocking Through the Decades

Sam Maloof with his Free Standing Cradle - Photo by NPR

Sam Maloof who was born on January 24, 1916, was adjudged a self-taught master of modern American furniture. He has created pieces all through the 20th century and combined the art of design with the necessity of comfort. To crown his creativity effort as a woodworker and furniture designer, he was the first craftsman to be awarded a fellowship.

The work of Maloof is in the collections of more than a few American museums. As a matter of fact, Sam Maloof was said to be a significant figure in the crafts movement of the American postwar by the N.Y. Times.

Maloof was described as the most celebrated contemporary furniture craftsman in America by the People magazine and Smithsonian Institution. However, woodworker was what was written on his business card. Maloof refused to be called and identified as an artist. No wonder Sam Maloof Woodworker was the title of his autobiography.

Samuel Maloof Early Life and Education

Sam Maloof Leather Lounge Chair and Ottoman – Photo by 1stDibs

Samuel Solomon Maloof came from a big Maalouf family in California. Maloof learned Spanish even before he learned English. He started his woodworking career when he was still a kid, and designed many pieces for his mother such as cars, carved dollhouse, turning bread, and other toys.

He went for his high school education, first in Ontario, California. This was the place he took his maiden woodworking class. From his performance, his teacher celebrated him for his exceptional skill.


Maloof started working in the art department of a manufacturing company in California, immediately after his high school. He was later enlisted in the US Army on October 11, 1941. It was not long that he was promoted to master sergeant from private when he was performing display work.

Maloof was among the few soldiers who had cameras. Even as he was not a trained photographer, Maloof took a lot of clear, alive, and informative photographs. In 1945, Maloof left the army for Southern California when he completed his service.

On June 27, 1948, Maloof got married and the couple moved into a house in Ontario, California, where he organized a furniture workshop in the garage.

The Furniture of Samuel Maloof

Sam Maloof polishing his famous rocking chair – Photo by Faena Hotel

The instinct and craftsmanship of Samuel Maloof made him remained remarkably consistent in his designs, for the period of his sixty-year career as a woodworker. He developed style hallmarks such as organic forms, articulated joinery, and a commitment to clean and swooping lines. Maloof worked and hand-sketched all of his designs. He was also involved in each step of the construction process.

In order to make the height and curves he needed, Maloof adjusted elements of his furniture by look, and not the dimension, thereby making each piece exclusive. A signature piece of the work of Maloof was their smooth soft surface. This was attained through a combination of beeswax, tung oil, and linseed oil left on the outside of the wood for 3 days and later polished with steel wool to make a soaring sheen.

One great thing about Maloof was that he committed both time and attention to each piece he made, just allowing rush orders for only baby cradles. On the average, he produced 80 pieces in a year, making his output left every minute.

The rocking chair first made in 1958 was Maloof’s most famous piece of work. There is a distinctive sculptural quality to the rockers from Maloof, and they are also noted for their incredible comfort at the same time. Maloof really recreated this traditional American design by discovering the intrinsic setback of the rocking chair form and modified it.

Nearly all the available standard rockers were made with grains of sawn wood that deteriorates the ray of the chair. But this man called Maloof cleverly rectified this fault by laminating seven layers of wood to make the rocker structure. This was what made Maloof’s rocking chairs extraordinarily strong and offered him the ability to lengthen the runners of the chair outward. Quite a lot of Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States are the enthusiasts of Maloof rockers.

A walnut rocker by Sam Maloof is donated to President Reagan and his family for use – Photo by American Craft Council

Maloof made up his mind to create a rocker for President Kennedy when he heard that he (Kennedy) feel affection for rocking chairs. This was done to alleviate the chronic back pain of the President. Unfortunately, Kennedy was sadly eliminated before Maloof could complete this rocking chair.

This first chair created by this designer was later presented to President Jimmy Carter and later made another one for President Ronald Reagan. Rockers designed and produced by Maloof were the first official pieces of craft furniture to go into the White House.

The Pedestal Tables

These tables bring to mind Shaker candle stands, as the two of them made use of a sophisticated form, soaring curving spider legs and the utilization of maple wood. But Maloof declared that there was no express influence from any of these movements.

The designs of Maloof were an organic process of his craftsmanship and instinct, getting no official training in woodworking. His handmade creations are extolled for being a true melding of art, elegance, creativity, and craft.

Pedestal Table by Sam Maloof – Photo by Artnet

Sam founded a non-profit organization known as Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts. It was meant to support and encourage artists and craftsmen and women for all over the world. The foundation also maintained the historic masterpiece belonging to both Sam and Alfreda, his wife, for nearly half a century.

The grounds displayed carefully kept acres of lemon, gardens, olive and fig trees planted by Sam himself, in addition to his workshop. Sam’s work can also be found in various museums, institutes and the White House.

The Death of Sam Maloof

Sam Maloof died on May 21, 2009.