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Mid Century Mastery: The History of the Tulip Table

How do classical pieces fit in a modern home? Can these work when the contemporary eye often looks for simplicity and neutrality in its design? 

Putting something modern would easily come to mind. But a classic design featuring modern elements is difficult to find.

That changes when you consider the Tulip table.

This modern classic surfaced back in 1956. Regarded as being “space-age” in its design philosophy, the sleek curves, textures, and colors made it stand out. People considered this set ahead of its time.

But that was then. How does this midcentury piece fit in a postmodern home today? 

Let us look into the workings and origins of the tulip table to further understand and discover its relevance today:

1. What Is a Tulip Table?

The tulip table is an elegant piece of furniture designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. It came into form during the 1950s with Hans and Florence Knoll, with whom he collaborated to create this wonderful masterpiece.

True to its name, the table gained its moniker due to its unique shape and form. Unlike conventional tables that had four legs to support the structure, the Saarinen table opted for a more organic approach with the use of a single leg at its very center. On the very base of the leg, it flares out in a way that it supports the whole weight of the table.

Due to this shape, one would compare the Saarinen table to a tulip due to its sleek curves. Because of the table’s design, it also brought forth chairs and stools with this design principle in mind. The matching set had a modern look that was ahead of its time.

When looking at the materials, these tulip tables made use of fiberglass and aluminum. The base used aluminum to support the weight of a human being (more of that later). 

They then used fiberglass for the chairs. The tabletops used other materials like marble, wood, or white laminate.

For the tulip chairs, it also has upholstered foam cushions with Velcro fastening. This provided the chair an option to have removable cushions, making them replaceable once worn out.

With its design and aesthetics, the tulip tables and chairs also gained another name. It’s a name that describes the furniture with immense accuracy: The pedestal.

2. Eero Saarinen’s Beginnings and First Designs

These designs came to life with the brilliance and skill of Eero Saarinen. This Finnish-American architect grew up within the world of design, influenced by his parents Eliel and Loja Saarinen. 

He had an architect and director of art as a father. At the same time, he had a textile artist as a mother.

Young Eero would help his father design furniture and fixtures for the Cranbrook Academy of Art during his teenage years. In 1929, Eero went to Paris and studied sculpture. He then enrolled in the Yale architecture program a year later. 

In 1934, he returned to Michigan where he taught in Cranbrook. In here, he practiced architecture and design. While he also taught as part of the Academy’s faculty.

During this time, he met Charles Eames and later on Florence Knoll. The latter would start the Knoll furniture company. 

It was with Knoll that Saarinen would work and provide designs for 15 years. Among these designs are the Tulip Tables and Pedestal Furniture.

The initial design had the tulip chair use fiberglass as its sole material. But it was too fragile to support the weight of a human being sitting on it. 

This prompted the decision to use aluminum for the base instead. Meanwhile, the chair’s body still used fiberglass.

3. Popularity in the 1970s Onwards

Ever since its production, tulip tables and chairs continued to show its appeal. This modern classic rose in popularity within the 1970s onwards. It also appeared in various TV shows.

The most notable appearance, albeit in a modified sense, was in the TV show Star Trek. To differentiate, this would be the one that starred William Shatner as Captain Kirk. 

In here, the tulip chairs appeared inside the Starship Enterprise, most notably within the bridge of the ship. They did modify the design, adding backrests with modifications to it. 

When one thinks of the midcentury style and design, the tulip table would stand as an icon.

4. Tulip Furniture Today

Today, the furniture resurfaced as it began to show up in various homes and establishments. Due to its chic look and style, this modern chair and table takes its place as part of modern and post-modern interior design.

This could be due to the recent resurgence of midcentury design. Despite this, the Saarinen-designed table stood the test of time as a modern classic.

In recent years, the design of the pedestal furniture inspired multiple imitations and replications by other furniture manufacturers. They produced chairs and tables following the same design and principle when it came to the shape. The main differences lie with materials used.

Want to know if the piece of furniture is an authentic Saarinen table? Aside from the materials described in the previous headings, check under the tabletop. 

Look for the plaque that has Eero Saarinen’s signature on it. You might also end up seeing the Knoll name on it, given how they both collaborated and own the design. You can take a look here for more tulip tables for your home.

Have a Tulip Table for a Midcentury Feel

The tulip table would any modern home, making it a versatile addition to any interior space. This midcentury furniture works well with its sleek features for anyone seeking to emphasize the modern elements of their home or workspace. Though the authentic Saarinen table would hold quite an investment, it is a worthwhile piece to go for.

But why stop here? There are more amazing facts and tips to discover. If you found this post useful, please check out our other guides for more.

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