Helping organizations create, strengthen and
align with their brands to create value.
Insights. Ideas. Results.


Design Classics

Tulip Table, 1956

Designer: Eero Saarinen
Manufacturer: Knoll

Eero Saarinen had design in his genes. His father, Eliel, was a Finnish émigré architect and the first president of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in suburban Detroit. His mother, Loja, was a textile designer and teacher who created the rugs and fabrics for the house her husband designed as the president's residence on campus. Not surprisingly, their son followed in the family business. He studied art in Paris and architecture at Yale. He returned to Michigan where he set up a studio that designed some of the icons of modern American architecture, including the wing-shaped TWO terminal at Kennedy Airport in New York and the expressively whale-shaped Ingalis hockey rink at Yale University.

Saarinen once observed that “the undercarriage of typical chairs and tables makes a confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again.” To do this, he pursued what his student Niels Diffrient called “a solution by process of elimination ... you got what you got by throwing away everything that wasn't good – but you tried everything.” What Saarinen ended up with was an exquisitely cast and painted aluminium pedestal base that he used for chairs as well as side and dining tables. Because of the fluid form of the base, these pieces are often called the “tulip” series. A graceful central support means no legs to entangle feet. And, the beveled edge of the table tops – my favourite is marble – further lightens the appearance of the table.

Saaarinen's aim in both his architecture and in furniture was to find the essential idea and reduce it to the most effective solution. He told a group of industrial designers that he learned from his father to think about any design problem in terms of “the next largest thing ... if the problem is a chair, then its solution must be found in the way it relates to the room.” The Tulip series is part sculpture and part functional solution to the problem of legs. While it acknowledges it mid-century context, the elegantly synthesized and enduring design would be a surprisingly versatile addition to any period interior.

National Post, May 11, 2006.