Legendary Rocker by Sam Maloof
Sam Maloof, a world-class craftsman, has a new location for his shop but the same dogged attitude toward his work.
Most woodworkers are aware of who Sam Maloof is. The son of Lebanese immigrants, Maloof turned his skill for graphic design and a passion for woodworking into a career that has made him one of the most sought-after and successful craftsmen in the world. His signature pieces – sculpted chairs and rockers – are made using intricate joints and have lines that draw you from one detail to the next, while the shape invites you to sit in perfect comfort.
What many woodworkers don’t realize is that Maloof now has a new shop. His old shop in Alta Loma, Calif., was relocated because his shop of 50 years was in the way of progress – or more correctly, in the way of the 210 Freeway. Because of Maloof’s stature, the property was considered worthy of preservation, and the house and shop were moved intact to a new location three miles north of the original site. The shop space continues in use, while the original house now serves as a gallery and museum, displaying a dizzying array of pieces from throughout Maloof’s career, as well as a glimpse into his 50-year marriage with his late wife, Alfreda.
On the day before his 87th birthday, Maloof took time out of his hectic schedule to lead a tour of his new workshop, home and lumber-storage facilities. During the tour, what was striking was that despite his fame and success, Maloof even today still simply thinks of himself as, “Just a woodworker.”
Sam and the Boys
Though acknowledging his advancing age, Maloof continues to have an active part of every piece of furniture. “Any of the boys (his three employees) can do what I do,” he says. “But I just don’t want to walk out and do nothing. I’d die! So I still work.”
The “boys” are Larry White, Mike Johnson and David Wade. White was 19 and looking for a summer job in 1962 when he became Maloof’s first employee. He spent seven years with Maloof then went out on his own. In 1992, events conspired to allow White to come back to work with Maloof.
Johnson was an industrial arts major in college when he and his wife saw Maloof at a local mall. His wife encouraged him to go talk to Maloof, which he did. It just so happened that Maloof had a job opening and told him to stop by. That was in 1981 and Johnson has been with Maloof since.
“If you like wood,” she said to Wade, “you should meet my grandfather, Sam Maloof.” Well the budding woodworker knew a good thing when he saw it and is now a solid member of the Maloof shop.
Always After Amazing Wood
Maloof always has been picky about who works in his shop – just like he is picky about his wood. After a visit to his shop you can see how it is a never-ending obsession.
Maloof’s pieces are made predominately from walnut, though maple and zircote are also strong sellers. While beautiful, Maloof doesn’t really like working with zircote because of the toxic dust.