Portrait of Milo Baughman
Image via Thayer Coggin, Inc.

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.

Early Start

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.

black leather Milo Baughman recliner in a modern room
DWR produces new Baughman furniture like this recliner to this day.

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.

Circular sofa in tan with black pillows
Baughman’s 1224-303 Circle Sofa is a design from 1968 for Thayer Coggin, Inc., which the company still produces. It has unique, curved lines that would make it perfect for a sunken den. Image via Thayer Coggin

Varied Partnerships

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.

Milo Baughman cradenza design against white background
The Tambour-Door Credenza with lacquered drawers is one of the pieces Baughman designed for Glenn of California in the 1950s, and which contributed to the West Coast “California Modern” look. Image via 1st Dibs.

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.

951 Chair design with black leather seat and metal arms
Milo Baughman’s “951-103” chair was designed for Thayer Coggin in 1966, and uses the mixed materials of leather and metal to create a laid-back, yet sleek MCM look. Image via Thayer Coggin, Inc.

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.

Milo Baughman's Goodman sofa in a mid cengtury modern living room with a stone fireplace.
Milo Baughman’s Goodman sofa is one of those peiecs that today feels ageless thanks to his visionary design. Via DWR.

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.

Learn more about mid century designers  with Herman Miller’s story! And of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!