3 Alexander Girard design 1

Clockwise from left: Alexander Girard-designed living room for Miller House, Columbus, Indiana (1953-1957), photo Balthazar Korab, courtesy Library of Congress; matchbook design for La Fonda del Sol (1960); Daisy Face, Environmental Enrichment Panel #3036, Alexander Girard for Herman Miller  (1971); Love Heart, Environmental Enrichment Panel #3017, Alexander Girard for Herman Miller (1971); matchbook design for the restaurant La Fonda del Sol (1960)

Four examples from Alexander Girard: A Designer’s Universe give a sense of the versatility — and yet the sustained vision — of Girard’s designs.

Miller House, Columbus, Indiana, 1953-1957

Girard designed an ultra-hip “conversation pit” with architect Eero Saarinen for the influential Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, in 1953. The conversation pit plan, which was popularized by this particular house, incorporates built-in bench or couch seating in a depressed section of flooring for maximum lounging purposes. The Girard-designed pillows and slipcovers were changed seasonally, with fabrics from a wide range of countries. In the wall across from the conversation pit, Girard built a 50-foot rosewood storage wall with box-like sections of varying widths. Behind its shelves, he used materials such as book endpapers, burlap, and gold tea paper; the grid scheme of this modernist shelving creation was a motif he would return to over and over again in his interiors.

Design for matchboxes for the restaurant La Fonda del Sol, 1960

“The sun (el Sol) seems a suitable common symbol familiar in all corners of this vast area, and one which played a powerful role in the great civilizations which preceded the Spanish Conquistadores,” Girard wrote of his fascination with sun motifs. For La Fonda del Sol, a Latin American-themed restaurant in the Time & Life Building’s lobby, he mutated the sun to appear in various modes on serving carts, menus, dishes, and matchboxes. He even put a sun on a faucet handle, with a complementary moon for cold water. A critic in the Architectural Record praised his creative yet judicious use of the emblem: “What might have been merely garish or quaint is in actuality restrained, yet joyful, highly controlled, yet free.”

Daisy Face, Environmental Enrichment Panel #3036, Alexander Girard for Herman Miller, 1971

Noted Michigan-based design house Herman Miller pioneered the cubicle design with the introduction of Robert Probst’s Action Office System in 1968, which was intended to foster a new sense of openness, collaboration, and democracy in the contemporary office. As Herman Miller invested more and more in creating modular systems for healthcare and office environments, the company began employing engineers and efficiency experts, turning its focus away from interior designers like Girard. To inject humanity, color, and fun into the new open-plan offices, Girard created his Environmental Enrichment Panels, introduced in 1971. The wildly graphic panels are prized by collectors. Of Daisy Face, an emerald-green anthropomorphized tree, Museum of International Folk Art curator Laura Addison writes, “a smile on her face, she seems to gaze directly at the viewer — who, in light of this textile’s intended use, would have been a corporate employee working in his or her cubicle. Daisy Face ... is seemingly indebted to folk art. In this case, it is the tree of life.”

Love Heart, Environmental Enrichment Panel #3017, Alexander Girard for Herman Miller, 1971

Girard returned to the heart motif throughout his career, always using bold red lines and clean curves in his textile representations of the universal symbol of unity. The heart belongs to a collection of archetypal symbols Girard consistently repurposed, including the sun and the moon, the tree of life, and his man and woman figures. His Love Heart, with its linked typography, represents the connection he felt to humanity around the world. A wooden version of Girard’s International Love Heart, which features the word “love” in 19 languages, adorns the entrance of the Compound Restaurant in Santa Fe. 

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