Going Glam with Milo Baughman

For years people have been asking me what the next big craze will be after mid-century modern. Although I truly believe that well designed modern classics will never go out of style regardless of era, I do think we’re going to see more and more people dabbling in the glamorous and sometimes extravagant modern design from the late 1970s and early ’80s. In the netherworld between modernism and post-modernism designers went bold, playing with exotic materials and revisiting modern design from the early 20th century. The result is often an unexpected contrast of disco-era decadence and pure Bahausian form. There’s nothing that sums this up better than this recent find:

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Chrome, caning, brass, exotic veneer, massive monolithic slabs balanced by impossibly delicate forms—this epic dining set has all of the design cues of its era. When I found this I had a hunch it was a Milo Baughman design, but the seller didn’t know the manufacturer—they only knew their interior designer had ordered it in 1981. So, I took a chance.

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I’d say about 90% of the time when I find something and wonder if it’s a Milo Baughman design, it’s not. And there’s good reason for this: Baughman was a highly prolific designer with a portfolio of work created for some of the best manufacturers of the mid-20th century including Drexel, Directional, Glenn of California, Henredon and many more. His most notable and most recognized work, however, was with Thayer Coggin for whom he designed collections from 1953 until his death in 2003. Many of these pieces were so well received that countless manufacturers began imitating his designs, still creating confusion in the marketplace decades later. It wasn’t until I began loading the chairs in my car that I saw the Thayer Coggin tags on the bottoms of the chairs.

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I have no idea what kind of wood the veneer is, but I know that I love it. The exotic book matched grain is beyond cool. Undoubtedly some irreplaceable corner of the rainforests vanished to bring this table to life. Sorry, Earth.

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What I liked just as much as the design was the accompanying story. The original owners had built a concrete dome house—much to the wonderment and sometimes chagrin of their suburban neighbors— as a test model for efficiency during the height of the energy crisis. The home was part of the “Home for All America” house plan series by Better Homes and Gardens, whose designers specified all of the furnishings and décor. Although the owners were unaware of it ever appearing in BH&G, I suspect photos of this table in situ exist somewhere in a period publication from Meredith publishing. Any readers out there have a 1981-ish copy of the Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Book?

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The only thing I’ll be changing about the design is the burnt sienna poly velour upholstery. Although it’s very 1981, it’s maybe too 1981. I’m thinking an off-white tweed or maybe something exotic like a jewel-tone velvet. What are your thoughts on material?

Draper Chair by Thayer Coggin

Draper Chair by Thayer Coggin

Oh, and if you’re hungry for more of Mr. Baughman’s work, many of his original designs have been re-released by Thayer Coggin including a full line of ready-to-ship as well as made-to-order pieces. Learn more about Milo Baughman and see a current offering of his work on the Thayer Coggin website.

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Before and After: Journey to the Bottom of the Seams

When I bought the chairs in today’s Before and After, I expected this post to have a much different ending. I fully expected this to be a “look what I found under this ugly 80s fabric!” post and I was going to title it “White Lies Beneath” and that was going to be clever and everyone was going to be all like, “Wow! Holy crap! I can’t believe that was under there!” And really, it was so, so close to being that kind of post. So close.

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Last fall I purchased a pair of 1950s loose cushion chairs. They were in great condition, but had been reupholstered in sadness in the late 80s. A nursing home in hell is missing four cushions. I planned to reupholster, but I soon discovered that behind the zipper lay another cushion cover. Into this magical fabric Narnia I gladly went.

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Ok. Less of a bummer. Actually in person the little blue, pink and yellow threads were pretty cool. I could live with this. But…there was another layer of fabric underneath. Could this be the original fabric? Pristine and preserved through the ages by layers of ghastly mauve swaddling? With great anticipation I peeled back the layers to reveal…

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This kind of terrible and definitely worn out barkcloth fabric with a greasy head stain on the back. Awesome. Jackpot. Fail. But hey, at least I could retreat to the white covers, right? All I needed to do was wash them up and put new foam in. Easy peasy. Unless, of course, the aged latex backing on the fabric disintegrates in the washing machine leaving a thick orange sludge and unreinforced fabric with the tensile strength of a paper towel. Which is exactly what happened. Sigh. Off to the upholsterer!

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Other than the unexpected expense of the upholstery, I have to say these look much better than they would have with any of the old covers. Converting the back cushions to box cushions and adding the button detailing gives them a much more tailored look. For the fabric I chose Hourglass from Knoll Textiles in the Aegean colorway. It complements the lighter wood nicely.

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So I guess I can’t be too mad at these chairs. They turned out nicely, even if they were a big tease. And no, this doesn’t stop me from dreaming. Every time I see a great piece of furniture doused in pastel Southwestern fabric or floral tapestry, I’m still going to take a peek underneath. And someday I am going to find the original fabric. And someday it isn’t going to look or smell like a man made of cabbage died on it. Someday.

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Before and After: A Forum in Hell

Whenever I tell people that I buy furniture from Craigslist often, they get kind of squirmy and ponder about the weird things I might encounter or the probability that it will end in some kind of shirtless, toothless Cops-style drama. It never has. Even the strangest places I’ve ever gone to buy something have turned out to be fairly benign. So, I never think much about answering an ad and hopping in the car. At least I didn’t before I bought this:

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And I bet I know what you’re thinking, “Why did you buy that?” Let me  paint you a picture. The scene, as I pull up to a not-so-great house in a not-so-great neighborhood, is a running truck with two dudes parked in the driveway and a woman hanging out of the front door screaming back and forth with an unseen man inside the house. Cool. I wait by the front door, in the rain, until the screaming stops and the woman leads me to a garage behind the house—followed close behind by the man from the house and the two dudes from the truck. Oh…cool. But, I’ve made it this far, I’m either going to buy a credenza or get murdered in what appears to be a shed built for that purpose. I was informed they had just painted the floor and that’s why there was paint on the legs. And painty foot prints on top. Because why wouldn’t there be? Despite the ready-for-death condition of the piece, I decided to pity buy it—because there’s not a single other person on this entire Earth that would. One of the guys from the truck helped me carry it—informing me along that way that he could carry it by himself if I wanted because he had spent 25 years in prison power-lifting. Not terrifying at all.

At the end of the day they turned out to be OK people with a really beat up credenza. But I knew this credenza was from Stanley’s American Forum line and I knew that, despite appearances, it would clean up nicely. So how did I pull this off? Sanding, to start. Lots and lots of sanding. I had just bought a new random orbit sander that I had been wanting to try out. I figured this nothing-left-to-lose credenza was the perfect guinea pig.

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I’ve always used a quarter sheet palm sander and I’ve always been annoyed by the little swirly marks it leaves. The random orbit sander is supposed to do away with that issue, and it did to a significant degree. But it can also chew through veneer pretty quickly, so be careful. Fortunately the sanding went well, but there were some ink and water stains that I knew I couldn’t strip or sand out and normal stain wouldn’t hide. My next resort was a major color shift to a darker tone to hide any minor flaws. For this I like to use General Finishes dye stain.

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Dye stain is amazing. It’s water based, has no odor and imparts a deep, uniform color in one coat on practically any type of wood. No splotching. No resistance. Just even color. It takes a little technique though. Pro tip: work wet. Flood an entire surface and then wipe it all off with a rag—quickly. Dye stain dries fast and lap marks will show and can’t be corrected. It’s also worth noting that dye stain is permanent, like permanent permanent. So test on a scrap first. I was pretty happy with the results on this piece.

After sanding and one coat of dye stain.

After sanding and one coat of dye stain.

The dye stain helped, but there were still little nicks and flaws that needed some coverage and the color overall wasn’t quite right. My next go to is General Finishes gel stain. If you remember my post on refinishing Broyhill Brasilia, then you may remember that this product is a key step in that process. I used antique walnut because it’s what I had on hand (and was about the right color for this piece anyway).

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One coat of this. Wipe it on and off evenly with a cotton rag. Then on to topcoat. My favorite product is General Finishes Arm-R-Seal satin urethane. It’s a strong finish that goes on like a poly but looks more like lacquer or a finer finish. And it’s super easy to apply. Wipe on evenly and thinly with a folded cotton t-shirt rag. Sand to 320 grit between coats. Usually three coats.

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After the last coat, I used a 3M 7445 white polishing pad to knick off any specs of dust and give the finish a super smooth feel without scratching it. And with that…voila!

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Sadly the super cool original American Forum pulls were long gone when I bought this, so I used some replacement porcelain knobs that I keep around for Drexel Declaration pieces. I like the contrast, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

IMG_8891 So often I hear people say, “the finish was beyond repair so I painted it.” And I can just about guarantee that whatever “beyond repair” means to them is not nearly as bad as this piece was. I’ll be brutally honest that I don’t like most painted mid-century furniture when restoration is viable. Aside from professionally applied, commercial quality paints, most hand applied latex and chalk paints don’t produce long lasting finishes. They build up thickly and chip and peel and repainting only builds up thicker and nastier. Paint also changes the original design intent of a piece of furniture. That’s not always a bad thing—but it’s almost always a bad thing. The beauty of quality wood—in this case gorgeous American walnut—is as timeless as a tree itself and the effort required to restore it properly isn’t much worse than painting. And it looks better. And it lasts longer. And that’s the end of my rant.

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How To: Date Your World Globe

Hello! It has been so long since I’ve posted, but I’m back and ready to share my vintage inspiration.

Enter my globes. They sit on top of my hutch, cropped here so you can’t see the disaster that is our dining room. Please don’t mention that my silver candlestick holders need to be polished.

Hutch_CloseupI’ve always wanted to date them and had dreams of figuring out a way to share an easy way to do just that by using outdated country names and I always got overwhelmed. But never fear, someone has done it already with far more accuracy, attention to detail and humor. Enter xkcd.

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Image from xkcd.com

Quick! Run to your hutches and grab your globes! Hat tip to my husband who has been reading xkcd for ages while I think most of it is yawn-inducing and goes way over my head.

For my three globes, two worked really well with this method.

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This globe was one of the first vintage things I ever purchased for $5 at a flea market. Mainly the colors got me, also this little detail on the top sealed the deal:

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And no, there’s usually not a copyright date anywhere on a vast majority of the gloves I’ve seen. Here’s what this globe has:

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I had no trouble dating it to 1941–1945 by using the chart above. Success!

1950s Globe

This globe was my grandpa’s and I love the pop of black. It is pretty sun-bleached and the base needs to be polished but I still love it. The worst problem I had here was determining what country controlled the Sinai Peninsula. Perhaps this globe wasn’t detailed enough, but I did get the probable date narrowed down between 1949–1952.

1970s Globe

Just from the colors and the base I had already guessed this was a late 1970s model, and could get close to 1976–1981. This was more of a geographic globe, so the level of detail wasn’t enough to be even more accurate.

What do you think? Are you going to date all your globes? Let us know what you find out!

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Weekend Finds: Invasion of the Pod Sofas

In case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to—aside from roving around in search of vintage greatness—I’ve been attempting to organize the vintage greatness I’ve already got. I’ve got a new larger storage area and I’ve finally installed some shelving to help wrangle the chairs that seem to be multiplying like rabbits.

When there's nowhere left to go, go up!

When there’s nowhere left to go, go up!

But even all of this work has not stopped me from dragging more in and last week featured some particularly fortuitous dragging. It all started with spotting an ad for this:

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I always love finding Broyhill Brasilia, even if it does need a little work. It came from the estate of a centenarian who, I was told, wore suits up until the day he died and always drove a Cadillac—he owned 38 of them over the course of his driving years. A man after my own heart.

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That would have been a great enough find for any week, but then I spotted two of these:

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That’s right, two. Who could say no to these pods? And the best part is the shells are lightweight—you can pick the entire couch up with one arm. Still riding this high, a mid-week trip to the thrift store yielded this:

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An Adrian Pearsall dining table! What. Is. Happening? At this point I was feeling like some sort of wizard, conjuring great mid-century pieces with mystical powers that even I couldn’t fully grasp. Though I was excited about the table, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if it had been donated with chairs and, if so, could they be out there at a different store? That thought ate away at me until the next night when I literally visited EVERY THRIFT STORE IN THE METRO after work in a two hour span. That level of insanity did not yield the matching chairs, but I did find these cute sectional pieces:

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This time I didn’t get carried away with the notion that the rest of the sofa could be out there somewhere. I’m content with these. But I still decided to do a little research online to learn more about the Pearsall chairs. As I did, I managed to find a set of four and another table for sale locally. Boom. Instant gratification. Granted I had to pay about 20 times what I paid for the first table to get this set and from previous experience that pretty much guarantees that I’ll find four more chairs for free very soon. I’m ok with that.

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Don’t worry, that terrible fabric is going away (and with it the petrified foam dust that keeps pouring out of the extremely open weave fabric). Of course, on my way to pick these up, I happened to stop at a garage sale a block away. And, of course, I bought the two biggest, heaviest, most ridiculous things at the sale.

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These definitely qualify as my most questionable purchases of the weekend, but I think they’ve got kind of a luxe look. And because each one weighs more than a Cadillac, the price per pound was very, very reasonable. But if I needed to rebound from this decision, a trip to the thrift store later that day had just what I needed.

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More Broyhill Brasilia! Plus it was half price furniture day—these set me back a whopping $3.99 for the pair. I will have to do a total restoration on them to match the rest of the chairs in a set I’m slowly building. Although I may have lost track of how many of these I actually have. I’m hoping this makes 12, but I may be up to 14. Obviously I have more organizing to do in my storage. I might need a few more shelves…

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