Saarinen Tulip Chair

Saarinen Tulip Chair

Are futuristic and classic and mass-produced and organic all terms that can be used to describe just one chair? Let me introduce the Tulip Chair. Mostly defined by its formal unity and unique organic shape, this chair has been a symbol of futuristic thinking in furniture design since it was first introduced and mass-produced by Knoll as part of Eero Saarinen’s pedestal series in the 1950s. Can a Chair Have Just One Leg? With its pedestal base, the Tulip Chair made history as one of the first one-legged chairs. Saarinen was well aware of the nonexistence of a one-legged chair, so he deliberately took upon himself the challenge of creating one. The Tulip is a pedestal swivel chair with an aluminum base and a molded fiberglass shell. The use of fiberglass was very innovative at the time, and the material provided a lot of flexibility with formal expression. This allowed Saarinen to achieve a fluently organic piece. Its overall form is evocative of a flower that seems to grow out of the ground. To emphasize the unity of the piece, both the base and the shell are finished in a similar way. However, it denies the nature of its materials. In contrast with the flower that inspired the piece, the metal base and fiberglass shell appear as though they are made of the same material. This was a challenge that the architect tried to avoid in hopes of producing a single-piece chair made of fiberglass. However, this design proved to be structurally unsound, and Saarinen did not adjust the design to reflect this change but instead forced his original vision onto the new materials. Can a Piece That Evokes the Future Enter the Modern Domestic Realm? Saarinen’s desire to clear the interiors of American homes from the “slum of legs” inspired him to create this series. At the time, this was an idea so advanced that it was parallel only to visions of the future. For example, interiors in the 1960s space-age animated series The Jetsons were furnished with one-legged chairs. Obviously, the futuristic design of the Tulip suited high-tech settings, and it inspired the standard chairs on the sets of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise in the television series Star Trek. More recently, Tulip Chairs were spotted in an airplane scene in the movie Frost/Nixon. Despite these nontraditional and futuristic associations, the Tulip Chairs that were mass-produced several decades ago are today considered highly valued antiques. Furthermore, they can be incorporated into a wide variety of settings, including contemporary and traditional rooms. The Tulip is as popular today as it was when it was first introduced. Not many one-legged chairs have achieved the recognition of the Tulip, nor have they proven to be successful objects of design. Recently, Konstantin Grcic with his Chair One enthusiastically addressed some of these issues. Like the Tulip, Chair One evokes images of the future. Nevertheless, in contrast to Saarinen’s chair, Grcic’s chair honestly expresses the nature of its materials: a concrete base and an aluminum seat with a shape that emphasizes its ability to swivel. Despite all of these contradictions and unique associations, the Tulip Chair has successfully integrated itself into American interiors and is considered a classic in furniture design. What other pieces of furniture have posed these questions in the world of modern design, or does the Tulip Chair stand alone? Want to learn more about modern furniture design? The Berniece Bienenstock Furniture Library and the Salem College Chair Library are perfect places to start. We welcome students, and design professionals to investigate and to be inspired towards future design.
saarinen tulip chair 1

Saarinen Tulip Chair

Eero Saarinen (USA, 1910-1961) Learn More About Eero Saarinen Eero Saarinen (USA, 1910-1961) Through his work as an architect and designer, Eero Saarinen was a prime mover in the introduction of modernism into the American mainstream. Particularly affecting were the organic, curvilinear forms seen in Saarinen’s furniture and his best-known structures: the gull-winged TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy airport in New York (opened 1962), Dulles International Airport in Virginia and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri .      Saarinen had a peerless modernist pedigree. His father, Eliel Saarinen, was an eminent Finnish architect who in 1932 became the first head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Detroit. The school became synonymous with progressive design and decorative arts in the United States, and while studying there the younger Saarinen met and befriended several luminaries of mid-century modernism, among them Harry Bertoia, and Charles and Ray Eames.      At Cranbrook, Saarinen also met Florence Schust Knoll, who, as director of her husband Hans Knoll’s eponymous furniture company, would put Saarinen’s best designs into production. These include the “Grasshopper” chair, designed in 1946 and so named because its angled bentwood frame resembles the insect; the “Tulip” chair , a flower-shaped fiberglass shell mounted on a cast-aluminum pedestal; and the lushly contoured “Womb” lounge chair and ottoman . In his furniture as in his architecture, the keynotes of Eero Saarinen’s designs are simplicity, strength and grace.
saarinen tulip chair 2

Saarinen Tulip Chair

Eero Saarinen (USA, 1910-1961) Through his work as an architect and designer, Eero Saarinen was a prime mover in the introduction of modernism into the American mainstream. Particularly affecting were the organic, curvilinear forms seen in Saarinen’s furniture and his best-known structures: the gull-winged TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy airport in New York (opened 1962), Dulles International Airport in Virginia and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri .      Saarinen had a peerless modernist pedigree. His father, Eliel Saarinen, was an eminent Finnish architect who in 1932 became the first head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Detroit. The school became synonymous with progressive design and decorative arts in the United States, and while studying there the younger Saarinen met and befriended several luminaries of mid-century modernism, among them Harry Bertoia, and Charles and Ray Eames.      At Cranbrook, Saarinen also met Florence Schust Knoll, who, as director of her husband Hans Knoll’s eponymous furniture company, would put Saarinen’s best designs into production. These include the “Grasshopper” chair, designed in 1946 and so named because its angled bentwood frame resembles the insect; the “Tulip” chair , a flower-shaped fiberglass shell mounted on a cast-aluminum pedestal; and the lushly contoured “Womb” lounge chair and ottoman . In his furniture as in his architecture, the keynotes of Eero Saarinen’s designs are simplicity, strength and grace.
saarinen tulip chair 3

Saarinen Tulip Chair

Through his work as an architect and designer, Eero Saarinen was a prime mover in the introduction of modernism into the American mainstream. Particularly affecting were the organic, curvilinear forms seen in Saarinen’s furniture and his best-known structures: the gull-winged TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy airport in New York (opened 1962), Dulles International Airport in Virginia and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri .      Saarinen had a peerless modernist pedigree. His father, Eliel Saarinen, was an eminent Finnish architect who in 1932 became the first head of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Detroit. The school became synonymous with progressive design and decorative arts in the United States, and while studying there the younger Saarinen met and befriended several luminaries of mid-century modernism, among them Harry Bertoia, and Charles and Ray Eames.      At Cranbrook, Saarinen also met Florence Schust Knoll, who, as director of her husband Hans Knoll’s eponymous furniture company, would put Saarinen’s best designs into production. These include the “Grasshopper” chair, designed in 1946 and so named because its angled bentwood frame resembles the insect; the “Tulip” chair , a flower-shaped fiberglass shell mounted on a cast-aluminum pedestal; and the lushly contoured “Womb” lounge chair and ottoman . In his furniture as in his architecture, the keynotes of Eero Saarinen’s designs are simplicity, strength and grace.
saarinen tulip chair 4

Saarinen Tulip Chair

SFGIRLBYBAY What’s Not a Tulip ChairWhile similar to Saarinen’s chair, the cousin clone shown here has a different base shape. A Dallas company called Burke made these chairs in the early 1960s. While the seat shape and pedestal leg are similar to Saarinen’s design, the Burke design has a four-sided star-shaped base instead of a round base.Burke’s design was clearly inspired by Saarinen’s chair. Although a lookalike, the Burke version has also become a collectible. In fact, the Burke chair, not the Tulip Chair, was part of the Star Trek television series set.As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and there are many replicas on the market today. As with any replica, the quality is usually compromised and the lines, or form, aren’t the same. “Every ‘reproduction’ of the design sacrifices something — proportions, materials, functionality, quality etc. — in pursuit of the form,” says Knoll’s communications associate, Todd Cooke. Only products stamped “Knoll” are representative of Saarinen’s intended design. While the price tag for a new, authentic Tulip Chair is hard to swallow for many (discussed later), a much less expensive replica will likely lead to disappointment. If you can’t buy new, holding out for the real deal by looking for authentic vintage pieces is probably your best bet.

Saarinen Tulip Chair

Saarinen Tulip Chair
Saarinen Tulip Chair

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