January 10, 2017 by Michael Buble
Tulip Outdoor Furniture – Originally Designed For Indoor
The famous furniture designer and architect Eero Saarinen came into the world in 1910, 20th August. His parents were Louise & Eliel Saarinen (also architects) and the family left for America around June 1923. They lived in Michigan, and his father lectured at various art schools, at 18 Eero studied architecture and product design at the same college. The soon to be famous Ray & Charles Eames amazingly attended the same classes and they eventually collaborated and designed iconic furniture together.
Until 1934 Eero studied at Yale and read architecture and learnt sculpture in Paris – after travelling throughout Africa and Europe on his ‘grand tour’, he arrived back in Finland.
His father was still lecturing at Cranbrook and Eero joined his pater to commence his teaching career. In tandem with his teaching Saarinen also began a private partnership with his father and Robert Swanson. In 1961 the successful furniture design business was relocated in Hamden, Connecticut.
Eero initially became noticed during the period with his father for a very famous chair which eventually became the Tulip range of indoor and outdoor furniture. The designs were produced by Eero and Charles Eames and the Tulip chair won a design competition in 1940.
From this first chair to all Eero’s designs, the celebrated Knoll furniture company manufactured all of Saarinen’s creations. His designer furniture was very well received by customers and critics, the Knoll company sold the products across the world, particularly in the 1950s & 1960s; many of the designs are still in production to this day.
The Tulip chairs and tables were initially manufactured with fibreglass and steel. Eventually the table tops were offered in fibreglass, melamine, exotic hardwoods and even Italian marble. Particularly for outside, Saarinen designed a range manufactured with powder coated cast aluminium which became almost as popular as the indoor versions.
Saarinen attained many commissions and won awards in the whole of his career and this is why he is known as one of the fathers of American modernism. His many achievements include:
Jefferson National Memorial, St Louis, designed 1948, built by the 1960s
Grasshopper relaxing chair with footrest/stool 1946 (the only design which didn’t sell well)
Womb footrest with chair 1950
Womb sofa, also 1950
The famous Tulip furniture signature was constantly expanded and the range eventually included different chairs, swivel chairs, upholstered Tulip chairs, coffee tables, console tables, round dining tables, elliptical tables and a bench.
Crow Island School Winnetka, Illinois
General Motors Buildings, Michigan
John Deere company headquarters
CBS HQ and IBM HQ
Various American universities and colleges, for example Yale and Chicago Law School.
Eero also served on many architectural committees including the design selection for the Sydney Opera House. In fact he was not involved in the initial design procedure. When he did join the process he insisted that the design submitted by Jorn Utzon should be reinstated as it had been discarded at an early stage. Of course this design eventually won and it was commissioned .
Saarinen’s father died in 1950 and he then established his own design practice. He received many major commissions such as Dulles International Airport, the Flight HQ TWA, St Louis Gateway Sculpture, National Jeffereson Memorial, and many many more!
Unfortunately Eero Saarinen died relatively young from a brain tumor at the age of 51. His legacy lives on and recently his designs and philosophy have become very prominent with exhibitions across the world. He is feted as among the geniuses of design in the USA and I am the proud owner 4 of his original Tulip chairs made by Knoll in 1956!