Bringing Back Baughman

A limited number of the California Modern designer’s original furnishings are again available through a Brooklyn retailer.

A mint-condition, never-sat-in, never-spilled-on Milo Baughman chair from the 1960s is difficult to come by. Finding a chair of this ilk that also happens to be upholstered in your favorite fabric: next to impossible. Yet this is exactly what the owners of Fresh Kills, a new home store in Brooklyn, are offering.

Fredrick Spendlove and John Agujar have collected the work of Baughman—considered one of the originators of the California Modern movement—for years. After the designer’s death in 2003, the price of his furniture—mostly seating, credenzas, and tables—began to shoot up since it had become increasingly rare. That scarcity was evident when the two collectors visited Florida, where many of Baughman’s vintage works are found, to stock up for their store opening in January 2006.

Driving along Alligator Alley, Spendlove came up with an impromptu solution. “I just called Thayer Coggin out of the blue,” he says, referring to the North Carolina furniture manufacturer where Baughman became a principal designer in the 1950s. Spendlove reached COO Royale C. Wiggin, whose father started the company in 1953, and asked if any vintage Baughman pieces were secreted in their High Point, North Carolina, warehouse.

Baughman created many of his eccentric yet balanced pieces for the solid family-run company. Although he worked with other manufacturers, such as Glenn of California, Thayer Coggin produced the majority of his designs. Days after the Alligator Alley phone call, Spendlove and Agujar got the news that Thayer Coggin had found 163 original chair frames from the late 1960s. “My dad grew up in the Depression era, so he never threw anything away,” Wiggin says. “He must have known these chairs would come back into style again.”

In total there were four available styles—two dining and two club chairs in bronze, brass, chrome, and wood finishes—and Thayer Coggin was willing to give Fresh Kills an exclusive on the limited stock. The company is allowing customers to choose from its selection of upholstery fabrics or even supply their own. “We are really looking forward to seeing a sky blue leather and chrome combination that is coming in next week,” Agujar says.

“It has been great to hook up with Fresh Kills,” Wiggin says. The store now carries a selection of Baughman designs that are still in production at Thayer Coggin, so the relationship will continue beyond this experiment. The retailers are also negotiating with the company to produce a Baughman credenza. But once this vintage cache is exhausted, it will be back to Alligator Alley for Agujar and Spendlove.

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