Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on October 13th, 2007

One of my favorite woodworker/designer/craftsmen is Sam Maloof. I think that his designs are truly unique. He seems to have created a woodworking and design style all his own with the furniture pieces he has created over his lifetime.

Recently I have been doing some reading on Maloof and some other designers – looking for guidance and inspiration. While doing so, I came across a couple of quotes from Maloof that are interesting to me and that seem to symbolize his work and approach. Maloof says:

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“Good furniture must convey a feeling of function but also must be appealing to the eye. I never make conversation piece furniture…”

“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.”

“I try to make my things aesthetically pleasing; but, if it isn’t functional, people will ‘oo’ and ‘aah’ over it in an exhibit but they won’t buy it. … My feeling is a chair has to be functional and comfortable for tall and short alike.”

What this says to me is that: for design, form follows function. It seems to me that Maloof believes that if you build something that is functional as well as beautiful, that design will endure changed viewpoints over time and always remain aesthetically pleasing. I think that I agree with this perspective as it relates to furniture design – which, I think was Maloof’s intent. Purely artistic pieces can certainly be beautiful but, they are rarely functional. While I think that developing art in wood is a valid pursuit, for furniture designs in wood, I believe that function is where we must start.

Another interesting – and fairly famous – quote from Maloof is:

“There’s a lot of work being done today that doesn’t have any soul in it. The technique may be the utmost perfection, yet it is lifeless. It doesn’t have a soul. I hope my furniture has a soul to it.”

To me, this quote is the epitome of Sam Maloof, his designs and his impact on woodworking in general. Somehow, when you look at Maloof designs there is an intangible but, unique quality that is there in the design… a soul. I’m not sure where this comes from or how to get it into my furniture designs but, I’m working on it! It would be great if there was a simple checklist that designers could go through for each design to assure that these qualities were present but, of course, there is no such thing. My sense is that that the best first step toward attaining these rare qualities in my own designs is through closer examination of those designs that seem to exhibit them.

I’d be interested in your take on what makes Maloof’s designs so timeless, functional and beautiful as well as any other designers that you feel achieve this quality with their work. Please feel free to e-mail me at thecraftsmanspath@gmail.com with questions or leave comments here using the comments link at the end of the posts.

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4 Responses to “Sam Maloof on design”

  1. Hi Mark:

    I’ll leave theses thoughts here, first time expressed openly with pleasure……..

    I’m a fan of Maloof, respect immensely all he’s been able to do in the craft, but view him more as our “Greatest Woodworking Mechanic”. Just think of what he’s done, his genius is that he has taken a rocking chair, analyzed its parts and over time found the most efficient (cost effective)way to manufacture a rational, aesthetically pleasing product. His approach is so efficient, that it allows many people to copy it.

    If you were to look at the work of Hans Wegner and compare Maloof and Wegner (both of the same time period), Sam would be the “mechanic” and Hans would be the “designer”. Compare their bodies of work and the separation will be evident as to who is the designer and who is the builder. Maloof is by definition a builder who got his que’s from the Scandinavian answer to the Bauhaus.

    As woodworker’s; it’s rare we see a Maloof designed Buffet being copied by someone, only his Rocker.

    In a true custom cabinet manufacturing facility, the most highly skilled individual preferrs to be called a “mechanic”, not a cabinetmaker. The term mechanic defines him as the most skilled individual at applying the use of tools.

    The “form”, “the function”, “the machine”, “the soul”, the words used to create a bit of mystery and thought around the object.

    Neil Lamens…………my thoughts 11/13/07

  2. Hey Neil,

    Thanks for the great comments!

    I understand your point about Maloof being a great “mechanic”. You’re right that he has perfected his techniques and methods for creating his rockers and chairs. In his body of work, the chair and table designs are definitely the signature works – and I agree that it would be rare to see any Maloof casework being copied. I will take a look at Wegner to see what he is all about.

    However, from my perspective, Maloof has defined a unique style of woodworking – the hard and soft lines of his chair designs are very distinctive and to me are most unique. Maloof’s style seems to be a blend of various things: Asian, Scandinavian, Art’s & Crafts, etc. I think that this blend, in itself is unique.

    Having said all of that, I think what I admire most about Maloof is what he has done, and continues to do for the craft of woodworking. He is truly an ambassador for the craft.

    Thanks again for the comments. It’s always great to hear your perspectives. I think I will be doing some more posts like this one on other designers – I’d love to hear from you on those as well!

    –Mark

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