Color Icon : Alexander Girard

 “Art is only art if it is synonymous with living” – Alexander Girard

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) designed vast volumes of textiles, wall paper, furniture, and interior architectural details that brought together color and function to enhance quality of life.  His confident use of vibrant colors and playful patterns defined a generation, and still remain relevant today.

Miller House and Garden. Interior designed by Alexander Girard in 1953. Girard’s design included custom furniture, seasonally rotating textiles, chair cushions, and rugs.

An Italian-American born in New York, Girard spent his childhood in Florence.  He studied architecture in London and Rome before moving back to New York City in 1932. Though formally trained in  architecture, Girard is best known for his textiles, which incorporate rich colors and folk-art references.

Alexander Girard at Herman Miller

In 1937, Girard opened a second studio in Detroit.  His involvement in the Detroit Institute for Art “For Modern Living” exhibition introduced him to Charles and Ray Eames’s, who were exhibiting their molded plywood chair.  With Charles Eames’ influence, Girard became the founding director of the Herman Miller Textile Division in 1952.  He served as its director until 1973, producing more than 300 vibrantly hued fabric and wallpaper designs in that time.

Girard completed projects independent of Herman Miller.  In 1959, he was commission to design the interior for La Fonda del Sol restaurant in New York City’s Time-Life Building.  Girard called the design concept for the restaurant a “significant group,” where design momentum is achieved because each individual piece is enhanced by its relation to the group.

Braniff International aircrafts featuring Alexander Girard’s color design.

Braniff Airlines Aircraft Interior

In 1963, Braniff Airlines selected Girard to redesign their entire visual persona.  His design included seven final schemes for the plane exteriors and a new logo in the shape of a dove.  Girard originally wanted each aircraft painted all one color with a tiny “BI”, however the company’s advertising department wanted a bigger logo and bigger type, so the design was modified.  In the end, Girard initiated over 1700 design changes to plane interiors, logos, stationery, condiment packages, dishes, blankets and playing cards, among among numerous other aspects.   


Ottomans by Girard for Braniff Airlines.  Featured in the “Alexander Girard : An Uncommon Vision” Exhibit in New York May of 2014.  Photo courtesy of Herman Miller.

“Alexander Girard : An Uncommon Vision” showcases textiles, furniture and other objects that Girard designed as head of Herman Miller’s textile division and for other private clients.  Photo courtesy of Herman Miller. 

As Architectural colorists, we share Girard’s vision of a world that uses color to articulate form and energize function.  His approach to design was whimsical, and yet practical.  He produced spaces that people wanted to be in, using bright colors and folk art reference to create comfortable and welcoming environments.