Design icon: Knoll Saarinen Tulip Chair
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?
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.
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.’
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.
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 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 wholeheartedly support.
How to spot a fake
Authentic Tulip Chairs are manufactured by Knoll International and handmade in Italy. They are stamped with the Knoll logo and have Eero Saarinen'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.
Where can I buy an original Tulip Chair?
Nest 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!