Happy Friday! Here’s the third instalment in my ‘Your Home Needs This’ series, where I profile a must-have design object that is on my wishlist or in my own home. Previously it’s been the Vitra Toolbox and Alvar Aalto’s Stool 60 but this week it’s the turn of Finnish architect Eero Saarinen’s modernist Tulip Table, produced for furniture manufacturer Knoll.
Saarinen’s Tulip Table (although I think sadly mine might be a copy…) was the first grown-up purchase I made for my flat – it was a steal at around £75 from eBay (above). It’s slightly chipped and rough around the edges but I still think it’s absolutely beautiful. The dream would be a marble-topped version…! I love it’s single, sinuous leg and that retro, mid-century look; it looks perfect with mismatched dark wooden chairs or curvy Thonet’s, slotted into a cosy corner of a room. In fact, it’s quite versatile, it looks right at home in a sleek, contemporary home but doesn’t look out of place in a vintage setting – there’s also mini versions for coffee tables and bedside night stands.
The making of the Saarinen’s Tulip Table
For the design of this Pedestal Collection of tables, Eero Saarinen vowed to eliminate what he deemed the ‘slum of legs’, reducing the messy clutter of chair and table legs to one sculptural pedestal. He worked over five years, producing hundreds of drawings, 1:4 scale models and mock-ups, to create that perfect curve. The result hints at his training as a sculptor in Paris in the late 1920s, as he once said: ‘What interests me is when and where to use these structural plastic shapes. Probing even more deeply into different possibilities one finds many different shapes are equally logical — some ugly, some exciting, some earthbound, some soaring. The choices really become a sculptor’s choice.’
Working together with Knoll’s design team, Saarinen tried out several methods of model making before developing a couple of ‘guinea pigs’ to test out in his own dining room and living room in Bloomfield Hills in Michigan. The collection was in production by 1958, three years before his death in 1961. Today, Saarinen’s tulip tables are still produced by Knoll, using a heavy-moulded cast aluminium base and a range of tops, from wood to granite and Italian marble (you can see the long, 12-week process here – quite different to Saarinen’s time with computerised, numerically controlled diamond blades and cutters to create that smooth round top!).
Please note that not all the tables pictured in this post may be real Saarinen tulip tables, they’re purely used as an illustration to show how they could be used in a real home.