Happy Birthday, Mr. Girard.
It is probably no big surprise that I’m a huge fan of designer (and all-around Renaissance man) Alexander Girard's quirky, geometric whimsy. In many ways, his joyful take on design stands in contrast to the cold machine aesthetic of the International Style, and as one of the most influential forces in postwar architecture, Girard managed to carve out his own modern aesthetic, creating colorful, structured, and meaningful spaces (well received by the public, no less). Here are ten things to know about Alexander Girard.
1. Born in New York City but raised in Florence, Italy. Alexander Girard (1907-1993), affectionately known as Sandro, trained as an architect in London and Rome before returning to the United States to practice architecture and interior design.
2. Curated the now iconic "An Exhibition for Modern Living" at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1949. The landmark exhibition featured work by legendary designers Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, George Nelson, and Alvar Aalto, just to name a few.
3. Designed Manhattan's La Fonda del Sol restaurant in 1959. The colorful and playful design electrified the public, cementing the designer's reputation as a visionary. Girard, who designed the entire restaurant experience from the interiors to the menus, place settings, and uniforms, might be best known for the restaurant's colorful range of stylized sun motifs.
4. Found his inspiration in folk art from around the world. An avid traveler and collector, Girard and his wife Susan amassed a collection of more than 100,000 objects.
5. Directed Herman Miller’s Textile Division for more than 20 years. From 1952 to 1973, Girard created over 300 textile designs for the storied company.
6. Worked on BOTH Miller Houses with Eero Saarinen. Girard brought his signature color, pattern, and texture to J. Irwin Miller's (now iconic) home in Columbus, Indiana, as well as Miller's vacation residence in Muskoka, Ontario. Both are considered masterpieces.
7. Selected to redesign Braniff Airlines’ corporate identity- "The End of the Plain Plane." In true Girard fashion, he designed 17,453 items for Braniff's new branding campaign, including logos, lounge seating, plane interiors, and uniforms.
8. Herman Miller produced a line of seating based on his Braniff designs. The furniture, only produced for a limited time, remains highly collectible.
9. Eventually settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1953, the Girards moved from Detroit to Santa Fe, expanding and remodeling a 200-year-old adobe house. The designer lived there until his death in 1993, and in 2000, his son subdivided the residence into four condos. The house can be seen here.
10. His exhibition design for Santa Fe's Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) was very personal. Approximately 10,000 pieces of folk art, textiles, toys, and other objects collected by the Girards are on permanent display at MOIFA. Girard created every aspect of the unorthodox, kinetic exhibit, insisting on a highly personal visual experience with items displayed within distinctive vignettes.
Happy Birthday Alexander Girard!
Photograph at top:
Balthazar Korab, photographer. Miller House, Columbus, Indiana, 1953-57. Dining area detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, krb2008000377.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.