Sam Maloof (January 24, 1916 – May 21, 2009) was a furniture designer and woodworker. He was born Samuel Solomon Maloof, He attended high school first at Chaffey High School in Ontario, California, where he took his first woodworking class and was recognised by his art teacher as having extraordinary skill. Later he attended Chino High School. Shortly after completing high school, he began working in the art department of the Vortox Manufacturing Company in Claremont, California. He was drafted into the United States Army on October 11, 1941. After serving in the Pacific theatre and then transferring to a post in Alaska, Maloof left the army in 1945 to return to Southern California.
Maloof married Alfreda Louise Ward on June 27, 1948 and the couple moved into a house at 921 Plaza Serena, Ontario, California, where Sam set up a furniture workshop in the garage. Mostly from necessity, Maloof designed and built a suite of furniture for his home using salvaged materials. Commissioned pieces followed and, from 1949 to 1952, Maloof continued working in the garage of his Ontario home. In 1953, Maloof relocated to Alta Loma, California. Over time, he added 16 rooms, including a furniture-making shop and studio, to the original 6-room house. In 2000, when the path of the new CA-210 freeway extension included the Maloof property, the home was moved about 3 miles to its current location at 5131 Carnelian Street (at the northeast corner of the intersection with Hidden Farm Road; 34.1612°N 117.6157°W), where it serves as the office of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts as well as the Sam Maloof Historic Residence and Woodworking Studio, which offers tours.
Maloof’s work is in the collections of several major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 1985 he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have both owned Maloof rockers.
He was described by the Smithsonian Institution as “America’s most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman” and People magazine dubbed him “The Hemingway of Hardwood.” But his business card always said “woodworker.” “I like the word,” he told a Los Angeles Times reporter, his eyes brightening behind large, owl-eyed glass frames. “It’s an honest word.”
In 1985 Mr. Maloof became the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur fellowship; and despite such recognition, he declined to identify himself as an artist. His autobiography was titled Sam Maloof: Woodworker.