The Alexander Girard Round Ottoman has special design meaning for me. Upon graduation from the University of Michigan School of Art and Design I joined Herman Miller Inc. I was a a staff designer there from 1972 to 1978. My initial duties included showroom and exhibit design.
Though in their elder years, Alexander Girard, Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson were still designing various products for HMI during that period. I was fortunate to assist all four of those amazing modernist designers with various showroom installations and product launches of what would be their final HMI designs. They had all worked collaboratively for over 30 years for Herman Miller and others, from their vibrant separate studios….Nelson in New York City, The Eameses in L.A. and Girard in Santa Fe. I was able to closely study and compare the beauty, sculptural qualities, function, similarities and differences in their products and their creative processes.
George was a gifted writer as well as designer. Charles and Ray were masterful at applying new materials and processes such as molded plywood, molded fiberglass and cast aluminum. Sandro, as Alexander Girard was always called, was masterful at color, texture, pattern, textiles, and expressive graphics. Raised in Italy and based in Santa Fe, NM, he had a keen interest in Latin American culture, with its flamboyant use of color, pattern and decorative expression. This was a wonderful counterpoint to the modernist approaches of George and Charles. Ray seemed more expressive in her attitude, in the limited time that I spent with her. There seemed to be a special simpatico between Sandro’s approach and that of Ray.
All this leads me to the marvelous Girard Collection Round Ottoman. This expressive “concentric ringed” piece is from the large Girard Collection that Sandro designed for HMI in the mid 1950’s for the famed La Fonda del Sol Restaurant in NYC. In my opinion that collection was sculpturally more animated, playful and expressive than anything HMI had ever manufactured before. Sandro added a very important aesthetic input that enriched the amazing body of work that Herman Miller manufactured from the 1940’s to the 1970’s.
The fact that the Round Ottoman is from D.J. DePree’s personal residence in Zeeland, MI makes it even more special to me. I was very fortunate to design D.J.’s retirement office in HMI’s corporate headquarters building. He worked in that office well into his late 90’s. I visited the DePree house on several occasions and recall seeing the marvelous Round Ottoman.
Tom Newhouse, Principal
Thomas J. Newhouse-Design