Milo Baughman: Good Design is Enduring Design
“Furniture that is too obviously designed is very interesting, but too often belongs only in museums.” So said Milo Baughman (1923-2003), a leading modern furniture designer of the mid and late 20th century. Perhaps no other statement he made about design can better encapsulate and convey the characteristic restraint and uncompromising good taste that pervaded his work throughout his career.
Baughman’s uniquely American, forward-thinking interpretations of furniture–including sofas, tables and chairs–displayed a breezy and timeless quality. His tendency was to let chosen materials like sleek, flat-bar chromed metal and shaped wood veneers carry the aesthetic weight. He was incredibly thoughtful and had a vision for the future of furniture design.
“I believe there is a substantial new market emerging for good modern design,” he said. “It is comprised of people who have had enough of timid, conforming ways, who are no longer unsure of their status and who are willing to experiment. And which dispels the idea that you have to be an architect or intellectual to live with it.” Baughman’s uncompromising modern standards, which eschewed any form of novelty, would result in highly influential works that would pave the way for other designers around the world.
Starting in 1953, Baughman began a long, storied and fruitful collaboration with Thayer Coggin, a maker of custom, American-made modern furniture in High Point, North Carolina. Thayer Coggin and the estate of Milo Baughman have entered into a lifetime licensing agreement. So the design classics of Milo Baughman can continue to be authentically built by Thayer Coggin according to original specifications.
Though the vast majority of Baughman’s designs are emblematic of the 1960’s and ’70s, some seem to be extra-infused with the sleek, assured and scintillating design influence of the time. Case-in-point are his Stainless Steel Drum Tables, which distill the notion of an occasional table into its simplest form. Welded, ground and polished by hand, Baughman’s cylindrical design is rather seductive in its smoothness and warmth. Coated in a bronze or stainless steel finish, oxidized and then hand-relieved for an eye-catching patina, each table is the epitome of form meeting function.
Baughman had a range of talents when it came to furniture design, with a particular affinity for lounge chairs. Why? Perhaps it was because they are the most sociable pieces of furniture, and Baughman enjoyed setting the stage for people’s enjoyment and entertainment. After all, he once said, “The structure of a living environment must create well-being for its human inhabitants. It must offer social and emotional benefits. It cannot simply look good.”
His Viceroy Recliner Chair blends classic and modern design aesthetics to create something that’s both eye-catching and inviting. A hand-upholstered and hand-tufted high back cushion complements an exposed solid American walnut frame. As for functionality, Viceroy’s recliner function kicks back to reveal the chair’s back position, along with an elevated leg rest for when it’s time to relax.
Some furniture pieces simply create an interesting focal point within a room, while others are the very heart of the room. Baughman’s Drop In Sectional Sofa is of the latter variety, making an ideal addition to a stylish, mid century modern living room. Lending its wow factor to open floor plans, Drop In’s form and modular elements–with one module offering an open-ended chaise element–is ideal for entertaining. Artful hand-upholstered fabric and a minimal metal frame result in a look and feel that is as timeless today as it was when introduced in 1968.
“I want a room to be more than an assemblage of doors, windows, furniture and lamps,” Baughman once said. “A room must do something to you as well as for you. It must be an experience.” Undoubtedly, he would want the people who enjoy his furniture pieces to aspire to the same ideals.