Historical image of Eero Saarinen, architect and designer

Eero Saarinen 1910-1961


The Tulip Table & Tulip Chair - A Design History

The Tulip Table and Chair were designed in the mid 1950's by Eero Saarinen, for the furniture house Knoll International and were initially called the 'pedestal group' owing to their remarkable base which grew 'like the flower' from the centre as opposed to having the more traditional standing legs.


Not So Humble Beginnings

It would be no accident that Eero Saarinen would end up an accomplished and enterprising designer and architect. He was immersed in creative design since early childhood, something that came naturally to the son of an already world renowned architect in his father Eliel Saarinen and mother Loja Saarinen, also a textile designer.


The Saarinen's emigrated to the US in the 1920's from their native Finland and it wouldn't be long before Eliel was proving successful within the field of architecture, which he had already excelled in previously in Scandinavia. Following stints as a professor at Michigan University and other notable architectural projects, Eliel Saarinen was set out with the task of designing the entire campus for the Cranbrook Academy, aided in part by his teenage son Eero. The Cranbrook Academy would prove pivotal in the life of and design future of Eero Saarinen.


Proving he was no mere 'fathers son' Eero Saarinen studied in Paris before returning to teach at the Cranbrook Academy of Art and Design in 1934. It was here that Eero found himself in the company of one Charles Eames and it would be in partnership with Charles that the duo (both with architectural backgrounds) would make their first venture into furniture design. Saarinen and Eames would go on to win first prize in the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) 1940 competition for organic design for the home, something that would be the kickstart for both their careers.


Historical image of The Cranbrook Academy based in Bloomfield Hills, MI


Designing For Knoll

Whilst Charles (with wife Ray) Eames went on to have a most distinguished furniture design career designing mostly for Herman Miller, Eero Saarinen would instead produce his renowned designs for the US company Knoll.


Saarinen would make the connection with Knoll through another of those he met and befriended during his time at the Cranbrook Academy, one Florence Schust, whom later become known as Florence Knoll after marrying and she herself became an esteemed and celebrated designer. Over a period of 15 years, Saarinen would create some furniture design masterpieces for Knoll including the Womb Chair, Executive series and of course, the Tulip Table and Chair range. Saarinen was renowned for being a perfectionist and it is believed that for each of the famous designs he presented, there were many prototypes and countless revisions. The hard work in his method would prove to be a highly successful way to work as the final pieces he produced are of the highest quality and have lasted the decades with increased popularity.


One of those famous designs Saarinen produced for Knoll was the Tulip Table and Chair range which consisted of two chair variants, a side and arm, and countless tables for dining, coffee and occasional use. The decades have been kind to the Saarinen Tulip range largely because time has not dated it. In fact, the Tulip range has a remarkable knack of blending in with the countless fashion changes we have seen through the years, from the space age 60's, garish 70's, techno 90's and curvy 00's. The tables were always available in tops made with natural stone or in white fiberglass that was replaced (in the environmentally aware 1990's) by more modern plastics but otherwise the design has never needed to be altered.


Unlike Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen would also turn his creative hand back to the discipline in which he started, architecture. In fact, Saarinen would produce a legacy even more famous than that of his furniture designs. Among others, Saarinen would design buildings for airports at JFK New York, San Francisco and Dulles Washington. He would also go on to design the arch of St Louis (beating Eames to the prize) as well as the headquarters for New York based CBS. Sadly Eero Saarinen passed away in 1961, aged only 51 years, but his design legacy lives on for us all to enjoy.


 Historical image of Eero Saarinen & Charles Eames at Cranbrook Academy


With thanks to eames.com for the valuable insight and information provided to aid in the understanding of the relationship between Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames.