Shape Shifter: Eero Saarinen’s Tulip Dining Table
Furniture & Lighting
It’s worth noting that Eero Saarinen did not, in fact, invent the pedestal table; but those of us who remain awed by the purity of the Saarinen Tulip Dining Table by Knoll might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. To understand exactly how revolutionary a design Saarinen’s table was, one needs only to do a cursory search on pedestal tables before 1957, the year Saarinen’s Pedestal Collection was unveiled by Knoll.
“The underside of typical chairs and tables makes a confusing, unrestful world. I wanted to clear up the slum of legs,” he famously said in a 1956 Time magazine cover story. The table’s base—originally constructed from steel—was said to have been inspired by “a drop of high viscosity liquid,” a perfectly plausible explanation to anyone immediately seduced by its languid, organic grace.
In addition to being one of the 20th Century’s great architects, Saarinen was a trained sculptor, and, like his colleague and friend, Charles Eames, was intrigued by emerging technologies—like molded plywood, and fiberglass—and their potential implications for industrial design. He was also Finnish, imbued with the twin Nordic design sensibilities of simplicity and rationality.
And therein, ultimately, may lie the answer to why the Saarinen Tulip Dining Table still makes us a little weak in the knees. Those of us who own it, or lust after it, do so less because of its historic significance than, quite simply, because of the way it looks. It’s the poise, elegance and clarity of Saarinen’s design—a design that, half a century later, is still like nothing else we have ever seen—that elevates it from merely beautiful to full-fledged classic.
We were intrigued by the novelty of this bright yellow version, recently up for auction, and reportedly custom produced by Knoll for a trade show. It won’t sit well with purists who prefer their Knoll Classics in white only, but we suspect that the master himself wouldn’t have minded all that much.