Fathers of American Furniture Making

“I want to be able to work a piece of wood into an object that contributes something beautiful and useful to everyday life.” –Sam Maloof

The roots of American furniture go back to the 17th century with the arrival of European immigrants to the New World.  The vast forests of native hard-woods and the prohibitive cost of shipping heavy items across the Atlantic meant that people only brought what they absolutely needed and other items were built in the Colonies.  This necessity of making one’s own furniture, in one man shops was the start of what would lead to the fine tradition of American woodworking and furniture making that we all know today.  This blog is the first in a series focusing on the great tradition of American furniture making.

There are many names that stand as giants across the twentieth century and while I can’t go into detail about all of these wonderfully talented individuals I have selected a few notable people: Same Maloof, George Nakashima, Wendell Castle and James Krenov.  Each has been an innovator in his own unique style and each has set the standard for quality to the highest caliber of furniture craftsmanship and creativity.

In today’s blog I will be examining Sam Maloof, delve into his history, and style of furniture building.  

Sam Maloof

Sam Maloof (January 24, 1916--May 21, 2009) was a self-taught furniture designer and woodworker and probably the most celebrated and awarded builder of the twentieth century, having garnered the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship—the coveted “genius” grant typically awarded to scientists. The Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the White House Craft Collection all have his pieces on hand. 

At the age of 34 Sam put together a basic wood-shop in his home garage and began making simple furniture out of fir plywood.  In 1950 his work was featured in The Sunday Home Magazine of the Los Angeles Times and two years later famed industrial designer, Henry Dreyfuss commissioned him to produce furniture for his home. The rest is history!  Sam’s work is often described as Danish Modern or Shaker.  However, both of those traditions were really antithetical to Maloof’s belief that furniture should be shaped and formed by hand; not mass produced.  While his pieces from the 1950’s had the angular style and minimalist approach seen in Modern and Shaker, the flowing rounded edges, and curves were definitely all Sam; as was the satin smooth polishing each piece received and his own innovation, a polymerized finish. Sam would speak emotionally about how you should be able to feel the “soul” of his furniture.

At T.Y. Fine Furniture we have endeavored to be good students of the master builder, Sam Maloof.  His influence extends to our own “Sunrise Rocking Chair”  which is a Contemporary styled tribute to the famous Maloof rocker Sam built for Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton.  As in the Maloof shop we select each piece of wood for a specific purpose, it is then shaped and allowed to comfortably ease into its’ own natural place within the furniture.  Nothing is forced.  We endeavor to honor Sam Maloof, his incredible talents and his passion, in each piece we produce.  

By Wes Miller




Leave a comment