Design Dictionary: Tulip Chair
At age twelve, Eero Saarinen won his first design contest, illustrating a story entirely with matchsticks for a Swedish newspaper. The prize was 30 Kroner, or $8. The Finnish born architect grew up surrounded by design. His father was a well-known architect and his mother was a talented sculptor and textile maker. A young Saarinen played under his father’s drafting tables and was drawing nudes by age ten.
After studying architecture at Yale, he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the family firm. When Saarinen submitted the winning design for the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the prize money was accidentally sent to his dad. Though his architectural feats garnered serious recognition (and a spot on the cover of Time magazine in 1956), his furniture ranks among the most celebrated of the twentieth century.
One of America’s leading modernists, Saarinen designed the Pedestal Collection to alleviate the clutter of American homes. "The undercarriage of chairs and tables in a typical interior makes an ugly, confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs. I wanted to make the chair all one thing again," he said. Unfortunately, creating a single piece of molded material was technologically impossible at the time. A reinforced plastic and aluminum stem supports the curved fiberglass shell of the Tulip Chair. The collection, which features the chair, tables, and a stool, was his last one; he died of a brain tumor in 1961. Thankfully, his sculptural nod to the future of design has lived on.