La Fonda del Sol

In 1960, notable textile artist and interior designer Alexander Girard brought to life La Fonda del Sol, a Latin-American-themed restaurant located on the ground floor of the Time & Life Building in New York City. Commissioned by innovative restaurateur Joseph Baum, Girard designed the opulent interior, evocative of a contemporary branded space­, to transport guests to an imagined world through extraordinary decoration and attention to detail.  

La Fonda del Sol was a symbol of Latin America visualized through bold geometric patterns and vibrant color combinations. Girard designed nearly all the visual elements of the restaurant from matchboxes and tableware to menus and typography among many others.

He drew inspiration from personal interest in Latin culture and history, and his passion for the art and ritual of dining. In collaboration with Girard, Charles and Ray Eames designed the La Fonda pedestal chairs for the space with a shorter seat height to allow direct view of the tableware.

The restaurant featured a melding of cultures represented through elements including a Mexican ceramic tile fountain, marble from Cuba, carved wooden doorways from Brazil, and a Pre-Columbian stylized sun motif that hung above the adobe-enclosed cocktail lounge. Objects from his extensive personal collection of Central and South American folk art adorned the walls and he insured great care was taken to represent the cultures with detail and respect.

In 1962, the Architectural League of New York awarded Girard for his execution of La Fonda del Sol. While the restaurant closed nearly a decade later, Alexander Girard continues to be celebrated for his unique design sensibility and the lush, immersive environments he produced.

Interior View of La Fonda Del Sol, 1961, The LIFE Picture Collection,
Getty Images (Photo by Yale Joel/Yale Joels)

What I like to call ‘aesthetic functionalism’ is indispensable in any surrounding where the average individual is to live—not like a human machine merely sleeping, eating, drinking—but also seeing, touching and remembering familiar associations; all of which I believe are of far greater importance than our purely practical functions in life.

Alexander Girard

A Life Lived with Herman Miller

The Collection of Betty Gorecki

Betty Gorecki's husband Richard worked for Herman Miller from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s—a defining era in the company's history, when the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and Alexander Girard changed the look of modern American design. 

Richard Gorecki was a traveling salesman that worked for the interiors department, consulting offices on furnishing their spaces with the adaptable and optimistic furniture and textiles that would become iconic of the era. Betty, a hairstylist who owned a salon, fell in love with the modern designs of Herman Miller and outfitted their home with the colorful and inviting aesthetic (even making custom curtains and pillows out of Girard fabrics). 

Art is only art if it is synonymous with living.

Alexander Girard

Along with classic Herman Miller designs, Betty also decorated her home with items purchased from Girard's Textile & Objects shop, including the delightful handmade dolls of Marilyn Neuhart and folk art from South America. This collection also features Herman Miller Summer Picnic posters by Stephen Frykholm, timeless Nelson and Eames furniture, and Girard works ranging from an important collection of over six hundred fabric samples to his good-humored Environmental Enrichment panels.

Though Betty and Richard divorced in the early 1970s, Betty continued to live with these designs, seamlessly integrating their ease, optimism and resilience into her home and life for over forty years—just as Eames, Nelson and Girard had hoped they would be.

What makes a design unique, original, inventive, imaginative, and compelling? What are those attributes that really make your design really stand out amongst the crowd? I think the dimensionality comes from the person designing it, if that makes any sense. The design has to have presence.

Stephen Frykholm

Alexander Girard 1907–1993

Born in 1907 in New York to an American mother and French-Italian father, Alexander Girard and his family soon moved to Italy where he was raised in a Florentine villa surrounded by art and antiques. As a boy he filled notebooks with creative design sketches displaying an early attention to detail and interest in other cultures even imaging his own country with regional flags and unique symbolism. Inspiration from international folk art became a staple of his artistic legacy as he amassed thousands of artifacts from around the world. Girard studied architecture in Rome, London and New York as his influential and celebrated career began.

Girard designed and directed the groundbreaking show For Modern Living at the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts in 1949, a predecessor to the Good Design shows hosted by the Museum of Modern Art in New York which he eventually participated in and juried. While living in Michigan in 1952, he was hired by friend and collaborator Charles Eames at Herman Miller eventually establishing the company’s textile division as Director of Design until 1973. In addition to his collections of fabric and wallpaper, his “Environment Enrichment Panels” promoted humanization of the corporate workplace and in 1967 he released the “Girard Group” collection of furniture.

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