The Knoll Tulip Chairs from esteemed designer Eero SaarinenThe Knoll Tulip Chair, from esteemed designer Eero Saarinen.

Finnish architect, sculptor and designer Eero Saarinen is known worldwide for his curvy architectural masterpieces, but his collection of Tulip chairs and tables are what has cemented his name into the design hall of fame. Today we take a look at the man behind the entire Pedestal collection, his inspirations for the range, and how to spot a genuine Tulip design amidst the flurry of fakes.

Who designed the Tulip Chair?

Eero Saarinen working in his studio with the Tulip Chair and Womb ChairEero Saarinen working in his studio. Image credit.

The Tulip Chair was designed by Eero Saarinen exclusively for Knoll in the mid-1950s. It is part of the designer’s Pedestal collection which includes the Tulip Armchair, Stool, Dining Table, Coffee Table and Side Table, which were completed by 1958.

How did the design come about?

Eero trained as an architect, so he designed the Tulip Chair in terms of its position in a room, rather than by look or shape. ‘In any design problem, one should seek the solution 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…’ He first sketched his chair designs out on paper, working with hundreds of ideas, and then turned them into 1/4-scale models set up in a room the size of a dolls house, so he could visualise how they worked in space.

Original sketch for the Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen next to the finished productOriginal sketch for the Tulip Chair by Saarinen next to the finished product. Image credit 1.

As well as wanting the chair to work spatially, Saarinen was also keen to create a beautiful design that would streamline the number of legs underneath a dining table to make it more visually appealing. ‘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.’

Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen discussing the Tulip family baseFlorence Knoll and Eero Saarinen discussing the Tulip family base.

In time, Saarinen’s miniature models became full-sized furniture items and were put to the test in his own dining room in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. They were an instant hit, and in 1957 Knoll put the Tulip Chair into serial production.

What are the key elements of the design?

The most notable characteristic of the Tulip Chair is its futuristic shape. It has a singular flute-like base and a sculptural moulded fibreglass seat reminiscent of the flower it is named after. It is available with either a single upholstered seat cushion or with a fully upholstered inner shell and seat cushion. The Tulip Armchair also comes with the same options.

The Tulip Chair is available with a cushioned base and a fully upholstered shellThe Tulip Chair is available with a cushioned base and a fully upholstered shell.

A lot of thought went into producing this chair so that it was not only aesthetically pleasing but also suitable for daily living. This is the reason it has a swivel base. Instead of constantly moving the chair in and out to access the table, like most conventional designs, you would twist to the side to get in and out, keeping the base flat on the floor.

The swivel mechanism of the Tulip Chair allows you to move from sitting to standing with easeThe swivel mechanism of the Tulip Chair allows you to move from sitting to standing with ease.

The chair’s seat cushions are also removable so that if you decide to change your room’s colour scheme, or if the fabric starts to fade, you can replace them without having to buy a whole new chair. It’s this buy once, buy well philosophy that we here at Nest.co.uk wholeheartedly support.

The Knoll Tulip Chair upholstery is created with a careful attention to detailThe Knoll Tulip Chair upholstery is created with a careful attention to detail.

Spotting a fake

Authentic Tulip Chairs are manufactured by Knoll International and handmade in Italy. They are stamped with the Knoll logo and have Eero Sarrinen’s signature engraved on their underside, as seen below. Knock-off designs will not have any of these original markings and will be plain underneath.

The mark of authenticity is found on the underside of the Knoll Tulip ChairThe mark of authenticity is found on the underside of the Knoll Tulip Chair.

All authentic Tulip Chairs have specific measurementsAll authentic Tulip Chairs have specific measurements.

Where can I buy an original Tulip Chair?

Nest.co.uk is proud to only sell licensed original Tulip Chairs and Tulip Armchairs, either fully upholstered or with a seat cushion. Take your pick from a range of colours and fabrics, then finish your space with a matching Tulip Dining Table, Coffee Table or Side Table. Once you’re done, be sure to share a snap with us – we’d love to see how you’ve styled yours!

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