Maloof-inspired Sculpted Chair and Ottoman

A chair and ottoman inspired by Sam Maloof.

OK, this is a big one.  There are many brilliant architects, sculptors and builders throughout American furniture and woodworking history: Frank Lloyd Wright, the Greene Brothers, Louis Tiffany, Gustav Stickley… America has a rich history of craftsmanship and design, but there are few craftsmen who are more distinctive and unique than the iconic Sam Maloof.

Sam Maloof: Icon and man with super cool glasses.  (Photo Credit: Popular Woodworking)

To go into detail here would be more than redundant given the amount that has been written about him, but I wholeheartedly encourage any reader of this to spend a few minutes researching this incredible designer.  It’s one thing to develop a signature and recognizable style (which he did, profoundly) but the man invented his own JOINT.  The Maloof joint is an elegant, incredibly strong way to join perpendicular pieces of wood.  And while it’s not the easiest to form, it’s amazing useful, variable and strong.

Four Maloof joints hold the legs of the ottoman and are reinforced with screws, then covered with shop-made walnut dowels.

For many woodworkers, building a Maloof replica is a rite of passage, like cutting your first dovetail or buying your first block plane.  (Ok, maybe a little more challenging than those…)  His iconic rocking chair is among among the great designs of the last century.  (And perhaps someday I’ll have a turn at that as well.)

Currently, a rocking chair isn’t something we have a need for in our home.  Instead, I chose to tackle a lowback armchair (inspired by Sam Maloof, with actual plans by Charles Brock.)  This was to be a Christmas gift for my wife, Susie.  She’s been after a mid-century chair for some time and there’s nothing better than building something to give to a loved one.

Maloof-inspired lowback chair as designed by Charles Brock, built by Shy Dog Designs

It was only a few days after Christmas, when the new chair had taken up residence in our family room, when Susie suggested it would be nicely complemented by an accompanying ottoman.  The small footstool borrows stylistically from the chair and utilizes the Maloof joint, but the design itself is original to me as far I can tell.

Shy Dog-designed, Maloof-inspired ottoman, in cherry with a poly/oil/wax finish.

As with any furniture than leans so heavily on a unique design, it’s hard to take credit for much beyond the execution of a piece like this.  Anyone who makes a piece in the style of Greene and Greene or Sam Maloof is standing on the shoulders of giants.  But taking the ideas and adaptingthem  to a unique piece like the ottoman pictured here is immensely satisfying.  Turning rough cherry into sculpted pieces with flowing lines is gratifying, almost a way to let the wood return to its natural shape.  We look forward to using these pieces in our own home for years to come.