A beautiful handcrafted chess table by Sam Maloof, originally designed for Millard Sheets.
THE STORY BEHIND A UNIQUE SAM MALOOF TABLE AND THE THREE MEN WHO CREATED IT - Millard Sheets, Sam Maloof, Mario Buffalini
This story begins in the studio of Millard Sheets in the mid-1940s when Sam Maloof was hired by Millard to do his silk screen reproductions. Sam lived in Millard’s studio for some time and became an assistant on projects that Millard was doing. What began as a mentor/teacher and student, became a lifetime friendship.
As time went by Sam talked increasingly about the two loves he was eager to pursue; making furniture, and Alfreda Louise Ward. He spoke endlessly about these passions, but was doing nothing to pursue them. Millard offered encouragement, but was at odds on how best to assist Sam to his goal. Finally, with the offer of support to both ends, Millard fired Sam and told him to go and follow his dreams. Sam married Alfreda in 1948, and became a furniture maker known worldwide.
Now we move on to the Mario Buffalini part in this story. In the early 1950s Millard began designing bank buildings for Howard Ahmanson’s recently purchased Home Savings and Loan chain. These buildings with travertine clad exteriors with integrated artworks, both inside and out, became an instant success. They lead to his designing bank buildings throughout California and Texas, over 50 buildings in all.
The great majority of the marble, travertine and granite stone came from a large quarry in Northern Italy owned by a wonderful Italian man named Mario Buffalini. Over the twenty plus years he and Millard worked together they became close friends and had many adventures together. Each opened up new worlds for the other here and abroad.
As a thank you for their friendship, as well as supplying many, many tons of stone for Millard’s buildings, Mario presented him with a unique and precious gift. A gift made from marble pieces from all over the world, some 80 pieces in all, formed into a square marble chess table, set into a circle of marble. Mario presented it to Millard in person at Millard and Mary’s new second home “Barking Rocks” on the Northern California’s Coast.
Millard at once envisioned this irreplaceable gift set into a table. But it needed to be an equally unique table, and he knew exactly who should build such a wonderful piece of furniture. Upon returning to Southern California with the chess board, he quickly contacted Sam Maloof and set up a visit to Sam’s studio east of Los Angeles in the Pomona and Chino area, where they both grew up, and Claremont where Millard and Mary were living. Sam was indeed impressed, both with the craftsmanship, and the marble pieces within this round treasure. They both readily agreed that the table should match the round shape of the game piece, which in turn should be set flush into the table top. The rest of the design was left to Sam’s own creativity, and became a first of its kind design for Sam.
Two months later Sam called Millard to announce the completion of his new game table. It quickly became the center piece of the Sheets Family’s play and meal time, first at the Padua Hills home and later at Barking Rocks where it lived until Millard and Mary’s passing, after which it resided for many years in a Sheets sibling’s home.