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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.