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Sam Maloof's first commission

comments (2) June 3rd, 2009 in blogs

Tom Tom McKenna, Managing Editor
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Maloof in 1956. This pic was taken by his first wife, Alfreda. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Maloof in 1956. This pic was taken by his first wife, Alfreda.

Yesterday I was browsing old issues of Fine Woodworking for a project I'm working on. I came across a profile of Sam Maloof written by Rick Mastelli (FWW #25). In that article Sam wrote a small piece describing his first commission. It's classic Maloof.  

Maloof's first commission
I'd been working as a graphic artist since I got out of high
school; I was 32 and we had a baby. I'd made furniture for
myself and my parents using night-school facilities. And I got
this offer from an interior decorator to furnish a dining room.
The hardest part was telling Millard Sheets, my friend and
mentor in art, I was going to quit, make furniture for a living,
really on the strength of this one commission. I remember
agonizing over it for days. Finally I admitted to myself I
wasn't indispensable to him.

The order was for a dining table, 10 chairs and a buffet.
When I asked for a down payment to buy wood, the decorator
looked at me askance. "You don't ask for a down payment,"
he said. "Only people working on a shoestring ask for
a down payment." Well, of course that's exactly what I was
working on, but I bought the wood myself—birch it was. I
built a prototype for the chairs. I'd built chairs before, but
not for sale, and I wanted to make sure these were going to be
strong. So I made the prototype of birch, got up on the roof
and dropped it on the driveway. It lit on the back leg and shot
up like to knock me off the roof. The leg broke, but not any
of the joints, so I went ahead and made the chairs. The buffet
was all solid stock with triple-mitered corners, very tricky
joints. I made the drawers of solid wood too, 16 of them. I
got $1,200 for that job, which turned out to be exactly what
the materials cost me.

But what was worse was that the decorator had me stain
everything this awful grey-brown. "Are you sure that's what
they want," I asked. "I'm the decorator," he said, "they'll
take what I give them." When I delivered it, the woman
stood by the whole time with her hand sort of touching her
mouth. When everything was in place I asked if she liked it.
"It's beautiful," she said, "but I don't like the color." I
reminded her that that's what the decorator had picked out.
"The decorator doesn't have to live with it," she said, "I do."
Well, I ended up having to haul everything back out, scrape
it all down and do it the way she wanted.

I don't use stains any more, and seldom interior decorators.
—S. M.


posted in: blogs, maloof, rocker, chair making, chair maker, Mastelli

Comments (2)

CaseyO CaseyO writes: I hate stain. I'm a production cabinetmaker by day and an actual woodworker by night. I've tarnished some beautiful woods with stain. Stain makes me sad, so to make up for my transgressions against wood I don't stain anything I make in my garage at home. I once made mahogany mud room locker that was stained to look the color of some dark walnut. Why not just use dark walnut? It beats me.
Posted: 7:41 pm on January 16th

Blue_Rocco Blue_Rocco writes: I don't use Interior Decorators either, and Architects even less. Why is it there is this whole group of industries that have a primary function of telling people what they really want, when they haven't a clue, just ego? I guess if you have enough money you don't need common sense, you just try and buy someone else's.
Posted: 12:59 pm on January 14th

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