Maloof died Thursday at his home in the Alta Loma section of Rancho Cucamonga, his longtime business manager Roz Bock confirmed. No further details were given.
His hi-fi cabinets, cork-top coffee tables and other modern pieces were instantly praised by home magazine editors and trend-setting interior designers. His walnut chairs and bar stools were installed in several of the so-called Case Study Houses -- the modernist, experimental homes in the Los Angeles area built between 1945 and 1966 by Richard Neutra, Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen and other progressive architects.
Even after Maloof was recognized as an influential pioneer of contemporary California decor, and even as his furniture was reselling for 100 times its original price, Maloof referred to himself simply as a "woodworker."
"He was trying to make other people appreciate what it was like to live with a handcrafted object in which there was a kind of union between maker, object and owner," said Jeremy Adamson, who wrote "The Furniture of Sam Maloof," published in 2001 to coincide with a retrospective exhibition of Maloof's work at the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
President Carter, a woodwork hobbyist and friend who visited Maloof's home, signed a photograph "to my woodworking hero."
Carter and subsequent presidents used Maloof's signature rocking chairs in the White House. Elongated rockers on the chairs look sculptural, like an archer's bow, but they were made for a very practical reason: to keep the chairs from tipping over.
The seventh of nine children born to Lebanese immigrants, Maloof in 1985 became the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur Foundation grant. His designs could not be categorized as Arts and Crafts, modern, Scandinavian or Italian. The self-taught designer would select a piece of wood -- walnut was his favorite because of its texture and durability -- and cut out parts freehand on a band saw.
Instead of following plans, he matched an image in his head. He refined the shape with hand tools to make the finished piece of furniture comfortable, functional and beautiful. He carefully considered the appearance of every angle of the piece, even chair backs and cabinet interiors, as well as grain pattern and his innovative joinery.
Pieces were assembled without nails or metal hardware. Even hinges and underbracing were wood. Once, to test the strength of the joints for a set of chairs, he made a prototype and dropped it from the roof of his garage onto his driveway. The joints survived.
Maloof's modern furniture fit handsomely in the post-and-beam dwellings blanketing new suburbs after World War II. In the postwar housing boom, the wood, leather, cork and other natural materials he used softened the hard edges of emerging minimalist architecture.
"Taut and muscular and yet most elegant" is how Jonathan Leo Fairbanks, curator emeritus of American decorative sculpture for Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, described Maloof's furniture in 2002.
Later, Fairbanks told a Times reporter: "He is mighty generous with his time and talent in many ways. Sam is drenched with more humanity or love of humanity and out-flowing generosity than can be found in a dozen other people. Don't you sense this 'soul' in his works?"
Singer Ray Charles also felt Maloof's presence in his work.
"Ray Charles couldn't see my furniture," Maloof told a reporter. "But he said he could feel that it had soul. When he asked about my rocker [at a friend's house], his host told him, 'That's a chair made by Sam Maloof.' Ray ran his hands over the wood shouting, 'I know this man! I know this man!' On his next visit, the first thing Ray Charles said was, 'I'd like to touch that furniture again that Sam Maloof made.' "
Maloof was a tireless lecturer at gallery exhibits, woodworking shows and crafts contests. In the late 1970s, he urged a congressional panel to increase grants to full-time craftsmen who were finding it hard to survive in an industrialized society.
He didn't believe in keeping trade secrets and was eager to share knowledge earned through trial and error to save what he called "a struggling craftsman" hours of frustration. He turned his 1983 autobiography, "Sam Maloof: Woodworker," into a how-to book with more than 300 photographs. It was followed by a popular instructional video, "Sam Maloof: Woodworking Profile," by Taunton Press, which also publishes Fine Woodworking magazine.
When admirers made pilgrimages to Maloof's home workshop, he would interrupt progress on orders that were backlogged for years and take them on an energetic tour of his six-acre property. Inside two large buildings, he stored a half-million board feet of rare lumber and timber from trees that were hundreds of years old, including Macassar ebony, Brazilian rosewood, tiger-stripe maple and Claro walnut.