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Milo Ray Baughman, Jr., born in Goodland, Kansas on October 7, 1923, was a modern furniture designer. His American designs were forward-thinking and distinctive, yet unpretentious and affordable. Contemporary furniture designers and dealers continue to copy, reinvent, and revive his work in the new and secondary decorative arts markets.
Baughman designed for a number of furniture companies starting in the mid-1940s until his death, including Mode Furniture, Glenn of California, The Inco Company, Pacific Iron, Murray Furniture of Winchendon, Arch Gordon, Design Institute America, George Kovacs, Directional, Henredon and Drexel, among others. He is most famous, however, for his longtime association with Thayer Coggin Inc., of High Point, NC, which began in 1953 and lasted until his death in 2003.
He also lectured broadly on the state of modern design, extolling the positive benefits of good design on the lives of human beings, and helping to define and shape the discussion for years to come.
Baughman moved with his family in his infancy to Long Beach, California. At the age of 13, Milo was assigned the task of designing both the interior and exterior of his family's new house. Following high school he served for four years in the Army Air Forces during World War II, during which time he was active in designing officer's clubs. After the war he returned to Southern California to study product and architectural design at the Art Center School of Los Angeles and at Chouinard Art Institute, which later became the California Institute of the Arts.
Upon completing his studies, he was hired to work at the Frank Brothers furniture store as an interior and custom furniture designer. The store had the distinction of being the first west coast all-modern specialty store, and proved to be a good launch pad for his career. While there, he met Georgia Christensen, who founded and published Furniture Forum,an important early publication on modern design complete with photos, dimensions, pricing, as well as designer photos and biographies. He left Frank Brothers in 1947 to establish "Milo Baughman Design Inc.," and quickly did commissions for Glenn of California and Pacific Iron, helping to place these companies at the forefront of a new California modernist design movement. The "California Modern" collection created for Glenn of California in 1948, along with Greta Magnusson-Grossman, used walnut, iron and Formica, and put forth a distinctive Los Angeles style.
Next, the large furniture manufacturer Drexel invited him to their North Carolina headquarters to create a major collection. Following this, Murray Furniture of Winchendon Massachusetts introduced "The Milo Baughman Collection" in 1952. An earlier desk design from 1948 for Winchendon was later included in the Whitney Museum exhibition "High Styles: Twentieth Century American Design," in 1985. During this time, Milo found time to run his own custom design shop with Olga Lee (his wife at the time) in Los Angeles from 1951-1953. Lee contributed hand printed fabrics, wallpaper, lamps and accessories to go alongside Baughman's furniture designs; both offered their services as interior consultants. The Baughman-Lee showroom was located at 744 1/2 North La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.
In 1953, his 50-year association with Thayer Coggin Inc. began. "In a way, Thayer and Milo got their start together," according to Dot Coggin, Thayer’s wife and spokeswoman for the 59-year-old furniture business success story. "Milo came here when the company was in its organisational stage. Thayer was looking for a designer and their relationship began with a handshake agreement." By the 1960s and 1970s, his new collection was eagerly awaited at the High Point Market every year. Some of his most famous and iconic designs come from this period, including the "951-103" chair, c. 1962, "820-400" chaise (1954), "989-103" Lounge Chair, and "955-304" Sofa. He was highly regarded among his peers, and his quick wit and clear reflection were always in demand as he spoke about modern design.
In 1965, Baughman converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and was active and passionate about his newfound Christian faith until his death. In 1969, he was invited by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah to establish the Department of Environmental Design, where he remained chairman and adjunct professor for six years while he continued his professional design business. He then moved to Virginia for twelve years, and then back to Utah, where he was a senior lecturer at BYU for another nine years. Baughman has also lectured at Rhode Island School of Design, the University of Tennessee, the University of Wisconsin–Madison and North Carolina State, among others. He remained in Utah where he maintained a professional design studio until his death on July 23, 2003.
In addition to the "High Styles" show at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, Baughman's furniture has been exhibited in museums and shows throughout the United States, including the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC; the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh. Milo Baughman was inducted into the Furniture Designer's Hall of Fame in 1987.
|“||Furniture that is too obviously designed is very interesting, but too often belongs only in museums.||”|
|“||When I left Art Center, I thought Modern design would change the world. Now, I no longer have such lofty hopes, but perhaps the world is just a bit better off because of it. In any event, good Modern has already proven to be the most enduring, timeless and classic of all design movements.||”|
|“||With an ongoing interest in 1950s and 1960s design, a lot of my work has been reintroduced and been very well-received. Increasingly, architects are using these mid-century classics from the pioneer producers of this period. I understand because I admire these as well, but it's a bit unfortunate for current designers with new interpretations of Modern. Going back to the 'classics' is playing it safe, which limits opportunities for new concepts in design.||”|
- "Pacific Coast Architecture Database". University of Washington Libraries.
- "High Styles: Twentieth Century American Design," The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1985
- Mid-Century Online Magazine, Milo Baughman, May 15, 2012