For many, Milo Ray Baughman (1923-2003) was a the kind of furniture designer inextricable from the the mid century era. He worked with a variety of different furniture companies, the most famous being his decades-long relationship with Thayer Coggin, Inc. But Milo Baughman was more than that. He was also a spokesman for MCM design and lifestyle, and helped train up the next generation of modernists.
Milo Baughman was born in Kansas in 1923, but grew up in Long Beach, California. At the early age of 13, his parents asked him to help redesign the family home (both interior and exterior). He both loved the challenge and excelled at the job. This small step set him in the direction of his life’s work.
Baughman served in the Army Air Forces during World War II, and furthered his love of design by helping to design officer’s clubs during that time. After returning from the war, he studied architectural design at the Art Center of Los Angeles and Chouinard Art Institute. Then it was time to start his career.
Milo Baughman started by working for the Frank Brothers furniture store in Los Angeles as a custom furniture designer. In 1947, he established Milo Baughman Design Inc. and began to do commissions for various furniture companies. Some of these included The Info Company, Mode Furniture, Glenn of California, Murray Furniture of Winchendon and Drexel. He created the “California Modern” collection for Glenn of California in 1950. This helped focus the design style we now know West Coast Mid Century Modern. He used materials such as walnut, birch and aluminum to make functional and sleek pieces.
In 1953, Baughman struck the deal that would define the rest of his furniture design career: his long-time association with Thayer Coggin, Inc. “In a way, Thayer and Milo got their start together,” said Dot Coggin, Thayer’s wife. “Milo came here when the company was in its organizational stage. Thayer was looking for a designer and their relationship began with a handshake agreement.” He designed furniture for Thayer Coggin until his death in 2003, and the company still sells his famous designs.
Form and Functionality
Milo Baughman’s furniture designs are best known for their functionality, and their subdued, yet sleek, aesthetics. One of his most famous quotes is, “Furniture that is too obviously designed is very interesting, but too often belongs only in museums.” His design philosophy was to keep furniture affordable and usable, yet in a way which enhanced people’s lives.
He took this philosophy not only into his designs, but into the classroom. After converting to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1965, he helped Brigham Young University in Utah establish their Department of Environmental Design in 1969. He became a guest lecturer there as well as other colleges and universities across the country.
“When I left Art Center, I thought Modern design would change the world,” he once said. “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.”