have designed more than 500 pieces of furniture in nearly 50 years of working wood. I have done furniture for homes, offices, churches, and schools, although I prefer designing for homes. Even now I take time to design and make at least five new pieces a year no matter how busy I am or how far behind 1 am in filling orders.

I do many drawings of pieces that come to mind but I also have hundreds more stored away mentally. I make drawings of case goods and tables for my clients, but chairs are designed as I make the prototype. I was asked some time ago to submit a drawing of a chair with dimensions for a publication. Because 1 did not have a draw­ing at hand I had to take measurements from a chair in our home.

When making a chair, I don’t follow any formula or template; each chair is slight­ly different. I like to use my own body as a pattern. I cut out spindles for my rock­ing chair on a bandsaw by eye, and then hold the spindle to my back in a sitting position. If it feels good, I have a pattern. So far, the chairs that come out of my shop seem to fit the users.

I believe my furniture is functional and for everyday use; I want every piece I make to be useful to the person who buys it. In a rocking chair, I like to shoot for a rocker that doesn’t tip too far back or pitch you forward. But 1 also want all of my chairs to be beautifully made. For instance, the joinery is always exposed. Why hide a beau­tifully made joint? When laying out legs for my rocking chair, I like to look for grain that follows the curve of the leg. A chair should invite a person to be seated, to embrace that person and make them comfortable. I want him or her to touch and feel the warmth and sensuousness of the wood, to relax.

I believe any person in the arts—in whatever medium—has a responsibility to share with others whatever knowledge he may have learned, something I have been able to do in my workshops. I always tell my students: No matter how beautiful the wood or how well made the chair, if it does not sit well it isn’t a good chair. I like to think that my chairs sit very well.

Sam Maloof designs and builds fine furniture in his Alta Lotna, California, workshop. He was the first wood­worker ever elected a Fellow of the American Craft Council, and his chairs are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He is the author of Sam Maloof: Woodworker, published by Kodansha International Books.


Arthur Mitchell talks about the

Updated: March 2, 2016 — 7:00 am