Modern Icon: Alexander Girard

Alexander Girard has been called the best colorist and textile designer of modern moment. He started his career as an architect and interior designer in the 1920s. In 1949 he had been tapped to design the Detroit Institute of Art’s exhibition For Modern Living. He worked at Herman Miller and eventually became involved with the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and his interest in Indian handicraft led to designing the 1955 exhibition Textiles and Ornamental Arts of India there.

Among his major projects comprised rebranding Braniff International Airlines. His motto was”the end of the plain plane,” and he redesigned everything out of the playing cards into the gates, lounges and airplanes. He also brought in fellow textile master Emilio Pucci to design the flight attendant uniforms.

Girard worked at Herman Miller before the 1970s. In 1978 he donated his and his wife’s extensive folk art collection to the Museum of global Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He passed away in 1993, but his layouts will live on for several years to come. Here’s a sampling of those.

Design Within Reach

Alexander Girard Wooden Dolls – $160

Inspired and influenced by folk art, Girard’s work kept a feeling of playfulness and not taking things too seriously. “I think that I saw [folk art] as a means to recapture all the wonderful enthusiasm and the spirit of discovery which we experience as kids but normally drop as we grow old,” he once said.

Johnson Berman

Girard became Herman Miller’s manager of design to its textile division in 1952 (he had been pals with Charles Eames, who introduced him to George Nelson, who hired him), and he worked in the firm until the 1970s. Eames and Girard shared a love of folk art and color, and so were equally experimenting with bent yarn in precisely the same moment.

This black and white textile is an”environmental enrichment panel” Girard made for Herman Miller in 1971. It had been one of the last of his 300+ layouts for the company, and you can still find classic versions of it today. You can also buy a smaller variant on plywood.


Alexander Girard by Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee – $126

Surprisingly, Girard was one of the lesser-known greats in Herman Miller. He may be more popular today than ever, particularly since Todd Oldham’s newest giant picture design lover’s must-have is the megabook that pays tribute to Girard’s work.

Rethink Design Studio

Girard’s layouts pop up anywhere, from classic panels to background, from throw pillows to notebooks. Recently we have seen Girard’s layouts on FLOR tiles, Kate Spade bags, Urban Outfitters cushions and Vitra dolls, just to mention a couple. This room sports his Alphabet background, which can be created by Maharam in partnership with Herman Miller.

Girard believed in maintaining the fun and wonder he saw in folk art in his designs. He said”the hope for good design is located in those designers who believe in the things they do, and who will only do what they believe. … Contrary to hearsay, it’s possible to produce a living like that.”

This cheerful pillow with a Girard sunlight on it brightens up blogger and retro-style aficionado Jenny Mitchell’s seat.

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Jessica Lagrange Interiors

According to the Herman Miller site,”Girard saw his job simply as making life a bit better through fabrics.” The uterus chair on the ideal side of the photo is coated in a well known Girard quatrefoil cloth, currently available via Maharam. It’s interesting to find that people who select Girard designs carry on his desire to see more playfulness in design. I think he would have enjoyed this space very much.


La Fonda del Sol-Azul Printed Carpet Tile 3′ x 5′ Rug Set – $159.99

In 1959, Girard was brought in to beautify the La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York. He made everything from the menus to the matchbooks, such as tiles, murals and even the uniforms. These layouts have been some of his most recognizable work. There was one exception: Girard brought in Charles and Ray Eames to design the La Fonda seats.

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Alexander Girard Block Puzzle – $17.95

This cube mystery (available May 2012) catches that childlike playfulness Girard desired to give folks of all ages.

Vitra | Suita Retrospective Repeat Pillow – $495

An architectural picture print is interesting to throw into the pillow mixture.


Suita Snake Pillow – $375

This snake design has powerful geometry that combines a coil with diamonds. The icing on the cake is the bright yellow pop of color.

Modern Wallpaper – $250

It’s no surprise that Jonathan Adler’s well-trained eye was captured by Girard’s graphics. This background is available in

Design Within Reach

Girard Table – $925

Girard also made furniture, for example this coffee table. The part with the angle can face the seating or face away from it, depending upon your mood.

Checker Split: Black/White by Alexander Girard – $129.98

This black and white print has been frequently imitated. Its timeless modern appeal never goes out of style.

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