From the April/May 2017 Issue

Tulip Time

Writer Ren Miller
  • Courtesy of Design Within Reach

A modern design for all tastes.

The shape looks simple and effortless, something the designer may have doodled on a piece of scrap paper. The shape is deceivingly elegant, however, requiring the mind of an engineer and the soul of a sculptor. It’s the Tulip table, created 61 years ago by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) and still an icon of modern design.

In a 1956 Time magazine article, Saarinen told the interviewer “the underside of typical tables and chairs makes a confusing, unrestful world [and his new collection would] clear up the slum of legs in the U.S. home.”

Officially called the Pedestal Collection but more commonly known as the Tulip Collection, the form was inspired by a drop of high-viscosity liquid. The trumpet-shaped pedestal tapers from a broad circular top to a stem-like column that flows out to another circle at the bottom. Traditional pedestal tables typically have feet that extend almost as far as the table top for stability, but the Tulip Table base is only about one-third as wide as the top. Saarinen figured out how to make the small base heavy enough to support the large top, leaving lots of room for everyone from the personal-space-challenged to footsie fanatics.

Saarinen’s father, Eliel, was director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, known as the cradle of American modernism. Eero studied and taught there, and along the way he met Florence Schust, a promising student who went on to marry Hans Knoll, founder of a furniture company that the couple grew into an international arbiter of modern style by manufacturing designs by Florence, Eero and a host of their contemporaries.

The Pedestal Collection now includes occasional and full-size dining tables with round or oval tops as well as Tulip Chairs, also designed by Saarinen, that follow the contours of the human body. The table has a cast-aluminum base with an abrasion-resistant polymer finish and a solid marble, wood veneer or laminate top. The marble tops have either a glossy or matte coating to protect against stains.

Be sure to purchase products from the Pedestal Collection stamped with the KnollStudio logo and Eero Saarinen’s signature. Starting at $724 for a side table, $1,993 for a round dining table, $5,233 for an oval dining table and $285 for a chair. Available at Design Within Reach in Paramus and at dwr.com and knoll.com.