Ultra-Mek's innovations help designs take shape
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, February 18, 2013
DENTON, N.C. - The exterior of the Ultra-Mek building here is unassuming, much like many of the long-established North Carolina factories that once served as economic hubs for the surrounding communities.
However, the atmosphere inside Ultra-Mek - a motion furniture components designer and manufacturer - is anything but old-fashioned.
Instead, some pretty impressive innovation is taking place on an almost daily basis on the Ultra-Mek factory floor, and it is shaping product design - one shiny metal mechanism at a time.
Steve Hoffman, Ultra-Mek's CEO, and Bill Bencini, vice president of sales, are easygoing and unpretentious, flipping furniture over on a moment's notice to show visitors some of their latest work. In one room, an Ultra-Mek employee is testing one of the company's latest components by raising and lowering a recliner for hours on end. And nearby, a vintage Milo Baughman red leather mid-century recliner sits slightly askew, with a permanent marker "x" offering the only hint that something important is happening with the chair.
"We had to recreate the mechanism for that chair," said Hoffman. "It was a two-way mechanism when the chair was designed, but that cannot be produced the same way now. So we created a three-way mechanism that is acceptable for today's standards, and now the chair is being reproduced by Thayer Coggin for Design Within Reach."
The ongoing and growing popularity of mid-century modern style has introduced a new consumer to the iconic designs of Baughman. However, like many products produced to earlier safety code standards, the Baughman recliner could not be manufactured without a new mechanism.
Baughman worked for Thayer Coggin for 50 years, and many of his designs are sought after by mid century collectors and Millennialage devotees of the genre. Coggin's wife, Dot Coggin, and his daughter, Royale Wiggin, continue to operate the company, which they say has experienced a significant increase in sales over the past few years.
Both attribute Ultra-Mek with playing a crucial role in the continued success of the Baughman collection.
"We're still building to the original designs and still using the original raw materials with the exception of foam," said Wiggin. "Design Within Reach is looking at 10 or 12 more designs of Milo's, and they really get what he was doing. But if it weren't for Ultra-Mek, this wouldn't be happening. Nobody else could've done what they did in recreating this mechanism - it took a year of trial and error."