Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Style Files: Milo Baughman

Welcome to The Style Files (no relation to the great blog of the same name), an occasional look at the luminaries and movements that helped shape the current design landscape.

Like a lot of the things I wind up obsessing over, I first encountered Milo Baughman's work not in a fancy showroom, chic shelter magazine, or sophisticated coffee table book (though I'm sure he's well-represented in those as well) -- but on eBay. I like to just randomly click around, following one link to another. It's an excellent way to kill what would otherwise be productive work time, of course, but it also has the happy side effect of teaching me about design styles, designers, and design history.

I doubt that I had ever even heard of Milo Baughman when I first spotted a picture of one of his furniture designs during my daily eBay wanderings. It was a credenza, I believe -- incredibly chic and clad in Baughman's signature burlwood veneer, with sleek and shiny chrome legs. I'm pretty sure that I sucked in my breath at the sight of it, and knew immediately that whoever this guy was, I needed to find out more about him pronto.

Here's what I discovered: Baughman was born in western Kansas in 1925, but moved with his family to Southern California as a baby. When he was 13, the Baughmans built a new home, and -- amazingly -- gave the barely-pubescent Milo carte blanche to design the interior and exterior. After a stint designing officer's clubs in the Army during World War II, Baughman returned to Los Angeles to attend art school before being hired at Frank Bros., the first "modern" furniture store on the West Coast.

The designer established his own firm in 1947, and quickly made a name for himself in the then-fledgling "California Modern" movement, with his designs for companies like Glenn of California and Thayer Coggin eventually becoming synonymous with the Los Angeles style. (Indeed, no Hollywood Regency room would be complete without a Baughman piece or two.)

Though he first came to prominence in the late Forties and early Fifties, Baughman's designs are often associated with over-the-top Sixties and Seventies fabulousness, since that's when his most famous creations emerged. Baughman's hallmark designs are square and streamlined, simple yet sinfully luxe, with a juxtaposition of earthy natural elements like wood burl and leather and sleek, space-age materials such as chrome.

After establishing the Department of Environmental Design at Brigham Young University in 1969 and being inducted into the Furniture Designers Hall of Fame in 1987, Baughman continued designing for Thayer Coggin into the Nineties. He died at age 77 in 2003.

Though one of Baughman's goals was to bring "good, affordable" design to the masses, well-preserved examples of his most iconic work now fetch thousands of dollars from high-end showrooms and at auction. Today, you can find Baughman's furniture on eBay, of course, as well as Architonic, artnet, 1stDibs and R 20th Century.

(Images from artnet, eBay, Florida Design Magazine, and 1stDibs.)


katiedid said...

What a wealth of information. Very interesting. I can see looking into this further and looking on ebay for myself!

Eric R. Rickert said...

funny, this is exactly how i discovered milo, too, and i search for him almost daily on ebay.


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