Tulip Chair by Eero Saarinen
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Designed for Knoll by Finnish architect and designer Eero Saarinen, the modern design classic, the Tulip Chair, is as clean, pure and iconic today as it was in 1956, the year it was introduced. Eero Saarinen was the son of the director of the famed Cranbrook Academy of Art and respected architect, Eliel Saarinen. Sharing the same birthday as his father, >>
Designed for Knoll by Finnish architect and designer Eero Saarinen, the modern design classic, the Tulip Chair, is as clean, pure and iconic today as it was in 1956, the year it was introduced.
Eero Saarinen was the son of the director of the famed Cranbrook Academy of Art and respected architect, Eliel Saarinen. Sharing the same birthday as his father, Eero was brought up in the industry and classically trained in architecture, sculpture and furniture design from a very early age. He later became a celebrated architect in his own right and is noted for varying his design style depending on the unique demands of each individual project. Probably one of his best known buildings is the TWA terminal at Kennedy International Airport in New York. Generally speaking, his architectural style is known for its simple, sweeping, arching structural curves. This design aesthetic can also be seen in his furniture designs, especially the Tulip Chair.
Designed to compliment the matching Tulip Dining Table and Tulip Stool, the Tulip Chair had a very “space age” look to it at the time of its release by Knoll. Over a decade later the chair was used on the set of the original version of Star Trek. A modified version was used on the bridge of the enterprise and throughout the show’s set. They are easily spotted with just a few plastic details added to the back of the chairs to give them a more futuristic look.
For its time, it was pretty futuristic in its use of materials. The Tulip Chair was originally intended by Saarinen to be a single unit made of fiberglass, a common enough material today but very new at the time. Fiberglass proved to be too brittle to form the base and it tended to break easily. A cast aluminum base was substituted with a rilsan coated finish to match the upper shell. The upper shell is still made from fiberglass with a reinforced plastic bonded finish. This gave the appearance of a single unit but solved the stability issues.
The classic Tulip Chair is still produced by Knoll and very much in use today, both in residential and commercial applications. The original design has evolved into several variations and styles. You can get the original fixed base or a swivel-based version; one model has arms while another remains armless; and you can now purchase a very cool looking black finished Tulip Chair as well as the original white finish. The upholstery is available on the seat cushion alone or the back comes fully upholstered giving it a softer, more loungy look similar the the Saarinen Womb Chair. There is a broad range of colors, Mariner Fabrics, Posh Vinyls and even soft and rich Volo Leather offered as upholstery options. They are sold by many modern furniture retailers, but Office Designs is a good source to find every variation, color and upholstery style offered by Knoll.
Of course, every modern furniture icon spawns the inevitable knock-offs and rightly so, an actual Tulip Chair by Knoll can be pretty expensive, upwards of $1200 or more depending on the style. These knock-offs are not as well made or durable as the original, being made of plastic rather than the fiberglass of the actual Knoll version.
A decent quality Replica Tulip Chair can be purchased for under $200.00 if you just want to re-create the look, but they don’t come in all the colors or upholstery options available from the original manufacturer. Not to mention the fact that you won’t find the the signature of Eero Saarinen and the KnollStudio logo on the bottom.
The Saarinen Tulip Chair is one of the most recognizable pieces of modernistic design around and makes a great addition to any decor whether it is retro modern or ultra futuristic.