A listing for this tulip table and chairs appeared on Craigslist. Our son, Michael, discovered it and arranged acquisition. I can safely say that it’s an Eero Saarinen design, but I can’t verify Knoll as the manufacturer. If only I could do that.
The white pearlized chairs match the table base. The pearlization process gives them a high sheen — elegant and modern. The aluminum bases suggest the set was manufactured before plastic polymers became strong enough to support a person’s weight.
While the table top looks like pale pink granite, it’s actually a synthetic product — perhaps corian.
Saarinen’s Tulip Table and Chairs
The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again. — Eero Saarinen
That conundrum — the slum of legs — led Saarinen to design his Tulip Tables and Chairs, aka Pedestal Collection, in the mid-1950s. Described as part flower, part stemmed wineglass, the single pedestal of each piece perfectly represented the Space Age. Check out this Knoll ad by graphic designer Herbert Matter:
Saarinen, however, couldn’t achieve his “one piece, one material” goal. Although each table or chair appears made from a single material, the aluminum stem — covered with fused plastic — supports the fiberglass seat shell and, ultimately, a person.
As late as 1958, three years before his death, Saarinen mused, “I look forward to the day when the plastic industry has advanced to the point where the chair will be one material, as designed.”
Cranbrook Educational Community
Eero grew up among elite designers. In 1923, thirteen-year-old Eero emigrated to the United States from Finland with his mother and sister to join his father. Architect Eliel Saarinen already possessed an impressive portfolio.
Invited to design the Cranbrook Educational Community outside of Detroit, Eliel went on to serve as Cranbrook’s first resident architect and first president. An educational, research, and museum complex, Cranbrook was to be to be the American equivalent of The Bauhaus. Read about Bauhaus and the Wassily Chair here.
Among the many Cranbrook buildings Eliel designed, he actually lived in the Saarinen House, a harmonious composition that combines the Arts and Crafts Movement with Art Deco. Here’s a peek at the Dining Room:
Loja Saarinen, Eliel’s wife and Eero’s mother, founded and directed the Department of Weaving and Textile Design at Cranbrook. She designed and wove the textiles in their Living Room:
While Eliel taught and administered at Cranbrook, Eero formalized his studies in architecture and sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and Yale University.
Returning to Michigan, Eero taught at Cranbrook Academy and worked in his father’s architectural practice. The Saarinen family became close to many of Cranbrook’s students, specifically Florence Schust (later Florence Knoll), Ray Kaiser (later Ray Eames) and Charles Eames.
As an instructor, Eero collaborated with Cranbrook student Charles Eames to create modern, multifunctional furniture. They wanted to bring contemporary designs to the working class. Quite simply, their furniture had to be functional and affordable. They experimented with molded plywood chairs. That is to say, in a pre-plastics world, they painstakingly molded plywood to create a chair with comfort and strength.
Their entry won first place in MoMA’s Organic Design in Home Furnishings in 1940. Despite their vision of bringing this chair into middle-class homes across the U.S., the Organic Chair couldn’t be mass-produced because the technology didn’t yet exist. This failure shaped the subsequent work of Charles Eames.
Today German furniture manufacturer Vitra produces the Eames-Saarinen Organic Chair.
Remember Florence Schust from Cranbrook? She honed her design skills by studying under architectural stars of the 20th century: Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Florence moved to NYC, where she met and married Hans Knoll, who was developing a fledgling furniture company.
Florence Knoll became a dynamic force in designing mid-century corporate interiors. Here’s an example of her work:
At Knoll, Florence pulled in her designer friends. She asked Saarinen for “a chair that was like a basket full of pillows – something she could really curl up in.” His innovative Womb Chair answered Florence’s request.
Knoll still manufactures Saarinen’s classics: the womb chair, and the pedestal table with tulip chairs.
Here’s a last look at our pedestal table with 4 tulip chairs patiently waiting in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. It’s gorgeous, but I’m still pained to say that I can’t verify that Knoll manufactured it.
Read 5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture here.
Let us know what you think of Saarinen’s tulip tables and chairs.
Ann Marie and David