The Francis Files
The Notebook: Milo Baughman's Mid-Century Style for All
AUGUST 15, 2023 - Written by Kevin O'Gara
It’s hard to peruse any vintage store (or website) without coming upon a Milo Baughman original or inspired piece of furniture. Baughman, who was born in Kansas, had a remarkable six-decade career that left an indelible mark on modern design, and especially mid-century style. Baughman's collaborations with High Point manufacturer Thayer Coggin and his blend of aesthetics and function were created for the everyman, not just high-end homes, making his impact substantial. As he succinctly put it, "Function and pleasing design go hand in hand." I love that aspect of his design philosophy, and the signature blend of luxe materials with modern silhouettes that he brought to the market throughout his career.
Milo Baughman's signature style is characterized by a balance of curated materiality and accessibility. His designs have an enduring appeal for design-lovers, but at the time were really manufactured for everyday homes. Baughman began his journey with collections featuring clean lines, iron frames, and walnut finishes. These collections played a pivotal role in shaping the postwar Californian aesthetic, part of the defining features of mid-century furniture design. Towards the 70’s, he started incorporating chrome and burl wood (reminding me of Karl Springer), and this ability to blend contrasting materials became a defining aspect of his work.
Baughman's design philosophy was shaped by a blend of influences, including the practical principles of the Bauhaus movement and the midcentury exploration of materials. The Bauhaus emphasis on combining functionality and form resonated deeply with Baughman. This philosophy drove him to create furniture that was both visually appealing and practical, a balance that defined his work. His background, including a brief time in seminary and his role in founding the environmental-design department at Brigham Young University, contributed to his holistic approach to design, where aesthetics, functionality, and human experience converged.
Baughman's impact extended beyond theory into manufacturing partnerships, particularly in High Point, North Carolina. His most notable collaboration was with Thayer Coggin, spanning an impressive 50 years until his passing in 2003. This partnership allowed Baughman's design concepts to come to life, resulting in many enduring pieces that captured the essence of an era. His designs for Thayer Coggin managed to stand the test of time, remaining relevant and appealing even as design trends evolved. His influence even reached popular culture, with his wood-paneled tuxedo sofa design inspiring a piece on the set of "Mad Men" (probably my favorite TV show)!
Milo Baughman's legacy in furniture design is a testament to his ability to marry aesthetics with functionality. His work from the inception of iron and walnut collections to the mastery of chrome and burl wood showcases his commitment to creating pieces that combine elegance and purpose. His partnership with Thayer Coggin solidified his impact, producing designs for all Americans that continue to be manufactured and reproduced today. His dedication to accessible elegance and his skill in transforming materials into functional art are some of my favorite aspects of this design legacy.