Alexander Girard

Herman Miller: A Way of Living

Every once in a while, I purchase a book based on the reviews I’ve read and fully expect the actual product to not live up to the hype. Usually, it’s that thing where my expectations were inflated due to glowing reviews that tout the quality of the layouts, the editorial, photography and more. With my recent purchase of “Herman Miller: A Way of Living” I have to say the reviews were spot on. (Amazon has this for about $20.00 less)

This book chronicles more than 100 years of Herman Miller’s history and the key events that have made it a cultural icon. Broken out into 10 chapters, the book creates a timeline that highlights key achievements, people, and events that have made the Herman Miller company the powerhouse that it is today.

Thanks to exhaustive research done by Herman Miller archivist Amy Auscherman, Sam Grawe and Leon Ransmeier the book is 614 pages of history, illustrations, photography, and essays that add up to a comprehensive history that in my opinion is the best book on Herman Miller to date.

Auscherman, Grawe and Ransmeier, spent the better part of four years combing the design collections at the Vitra Design Museum, UCLA Libraries, the Eames Office, Museum of Modern Art, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation included for Herman Miller-related documents, photographs, archives, and illustrations for the new book and it paid off. They have gone into historic detail that not only delves into the company history but the influence that the products, architecture, and people brought to Herman Miller culture over the last 100 years.

The 10 chapters that go in-depth on everything from key figures in the company’s history (Nelson, Eames, Girard, Frykolm) to pivotal moments in popular culture that shaped Herman Miller’s trajectory, this book is the summation of Herman Miller’s existence thus far—the most expansive one to date.

“Even the nerdiest nerds and Herman Miller fans and people who have spent their whole working life at the company will have something to learn from this book,” she says. “I sit in this interesting position at the company where I kind of know the genesis of ideas that have proliferated and made the company what it is today. These ideas have been revisited and refined over and over again—not in a bad way. Usually, people aren’t coming up with something totally new, but they’re new iterations on something that’s already existed and making it better.”

Amy Auscherman

The book covers everything from furniture design, advertising materials, design research, human factors company culture, textile development and more. Each section or chapter is prefaced with an in-depth essay on the influence that this portion had on the company as it grew from a small Michigan based furniture manufacturer into an international powerhouse.

Design Friday. Alexander Girard.

Yesterday I was looking for information about the 1960’s interior design of Dallas Love Field airport. Specifically the lighting and seating that was used in the Branniff terminal from 1965 to 1998 when American Airlines gutted the facility. What I had forgotten was the connection that Branniff had with Alexander Girard, and this brings me to the topic of this weeks Design Friday post.

Girard was born in New York to an American Mother and a French-Italian father in 1907. Early in his childhood the family moved to Florence Italy where Girard was raised. After training at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London and at the Royal School of Architecture in Rome. he returned to the United States forming offices in New York, Michigan and New Mexico in the early 1930’s. During this period Girard began designing textiles that complimented the innovative furniture that was beginning to help shape the look of what would become known as mid-century-modern. These furniture that he was designing textiles for combined metal and colored plastics to create a new aesthetic that called for new showroom and household treatments. Girard injected an uninhibited use of color and playfulness into an industry known for cool conservative looks. To do this Girard turned to countries like Mexico and India where handicraft, folk art, and tradition still thrived. And their processes, motifs and colors having never been threatened by an industrial culture were incorporated into daily life. These pieces inspired Girard to develop a new method of coloring and patterning that proved to be a vibrant counterpoint to American modernist furniture.

In 1952 Girard developed a partnership with Herman Miller that encompasses the main body of his work. He was brought to Herman Miller by Charles and Ray Eames after the two of them worked on the 1956 film “Day of The Dead” (not the zombie movie people). His sense of style was shocking and exciting for the time. Recognizing that for most palates “a brilliant pink or magenta carried a connotation of double-barreled horror,” Girard continued to introduce these shades triumphantly into his designs.

In 1965, Girard, was hired by Jack Tinker to redesign “every aspect” of Braniff. ( the “End of the Plane”. campaign) This project gave Girard the opportunity to work on a grand scale, redesigning everything from the sugar packets to the ticket counters to the color of the aircraft themselves. He used colors like light and dark blue, beige, ochre, orange, turquoise, and muted yellow to make the planes recognizable from the ground. In addition Girard hired Italian fashion designer Emilio Pucci to design the complimentary attendant uniforms.

In 1967 Girard began the interior design of Branniff’s terminal at Love Field designing a line of furniture for Braniff’s ticket offices and customer lounges, as well as all signage, graphics, and interior spaces. The furniture that he designed was made available to the public by Herman Miller in 1967 for one year only.

His work also includes designing the La Fonda del Sol Restaurant in New York (1960), the Herman Miller Showplace: T&O (Textiles and Objects) (1961), and the Girard Foundation (1962), which houses his extensive folk art collection. He and his wife, Susan Girard, amassed a remarkable collection of artifacts comprised of folk art, popular art, toys, and textiles from around the world.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in his work fueled by companies like Design Within Reach and Flor reissuing iconic pieces of his work.