Our guest blogger today is Brad Dunning, a designer known for working on architecturally significant properties, restorations and contemporary design. Besides his own designs he has worked on homes by such architects as Richard Neutra, Wallace Neff, Quincy Jones, Albert Frey, John Lautner, and many others.
I am much more of a fan of Alexander Girard’s than necessarily a scholar, but while I was researching my talk for the Miller House Symposium last week, I came across so many interesting facts that puts Girard firmly in the most important crosshairs of 20th Century design history. From his rarefied upbringing in Florence, Italy to somehow ending up in Detroit in the late 30s as a young man out of college, to his fortuitous meeting with Charles Eames (when both of them were designing modern bent plywood radio cabinets), his talent was always a leading beacon for the zeitgeist and trail-blazing he is now famous for. Probably because his interiors were more ephemeral (most are now gone), his product output was relatively small, and his humble lack of self-promotion generated less press, but Girard has, to date, been a bit more under the radar. However, his position at the top of the Mt. Olympus of Design is well-deserved and secure.
Girard was a master at organization and display, with impeccably balanced groupings and exhibitions which began in earnest with the legendary For Modern Design exhibition at Detroit’s Institute for the Arts after WWII. The exhibition showcased so much of the great design pouring forth into production after the long war, including Charles Eames’ groundbreaking bent plywood furniture.
From there he was appointed head of textile design for the pioneering Herman Miller Furniture Co., where with Eames and George Nelson they formed a great design triumvirate. His work on the influential La Fonda Del Sol restaurant in the Time-Life building and the Textiles and Objects showroom, both in New York City, were landmark moments of 20th century design, and continue to be cited and studied today. His op art and ethnic-influenced hand woven patterns softened and humanized the innovative and technologically advanced designs at Herman Miller.
His lifelong penchant for collecting folk art (he actually preferred the term “excerpter”) led to a massive hoard which he bequeathed to the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe New Mexico in a custom-designed wing. It’s still open to the public today and is a testament to his brilliant arranging eye and talent.
There is no better example of Girard working at the top of his interior designer game than in Columbus, Indiana’s Miller House, where he is credited for introducing the conversation pit, currently filled with pillows that are ablaze with color and pattern and a stunning site to behold. As I said during the Symposium, all the stars aligned perfectly for this project. Great talents merged and created a masterpiece.