From the February/March 2019 Issue

Balancing Act

Writer Ren Miller

Pair the Tulip chair with a table from the same collection for a quintessential modern dining set or mix and match to make a statement in any room. Courtesy of Knoll.

Engineering and sculpture combine in a comfortable chair that elegantly supports your weight on a barely there spindle and a simple round base.

Is it about style? Is it about comfort? With the Tulip chair, it’s about both.

Finnish-American architect and industrial designer Eero Saarinen created the Tulip chair in 1955-1957 for Knoll, the furniture company owned by Hans Knoll and Florence Schust Knoll. Eero and Florence had been friends since their days at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, a respected school of art, architecture and design where his father, Eliel Saarinen, was dean. Knoll still produces the Tulip chair along with other products by Saarinen and other noted designers.

Available in armchair and armless interpretations, the chair is part of the iconic Tulip Collection (formally called the Pedestal Collection) that Saarinen developed to eliminate “the undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior [that] makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs.” (For information on the Tulip table, see “Tulip Time,” in our April/May 2017 issue.)

Pair the Tulip chair with a table from the same collection for a quintessential modern dining set or mix and match to make a statement in any room. Courtesy of Knoll.

Saarinen’s plans for the chair began with hundreds of drawings then one-quarter scale models. Because the idea was to design chairs that look good in a room, the model furniture was set up in a scaled model room the size of a dollhouse, according to Knoll.com. He continually refined the design through full-scale models, modifying the shape with clay to develop the neo-futuristic look he wanted and the comfort he knew customers would demand. Don Petitt of Knoll’s Design Development Group worked with Saarinen, introducing several methods of model making.

Saarinen’s original plan for the chair called for a single piece of furniture made of fiberglass. Unfortunately, fiberglass couldn’t support enough weight without breaking on occasion. The solution was to make the base of cast aluminum with a resin-coated finish that matches the molded, reinforced fiberglass upper shell, making it appear to be a single piece.

The frame is available in white or black. The upholstered foam cushion is attached to the seat with Velcro® and covered in a range of fabrics or leathers starting at $1,856. Knoll.com.