Eero Saarinen, Building the Framework for Modern Design

Eero Saarinen first emerged into the world of Mid-Century modern furniture with a reputation for flexible style and innovation. He embraced his clients as co-creators in the process of design, which allowed him to tackle concepts according to their specific requirements, rather than adhering completely to his own aesthetic. Despite the criticism that developed from his flexibility, Saarinen remains one of the most famous designers of the Mid-Century era.


Eero Saarinen
Eero Saarinen

Delivered into the world by famous parents, Loja Saarinen (textile artist) and Eliel Saarinen (Academy of Art director), Eero grew up in a sphere steeped in design. Because of this, it was no surprise that he was helping his father to design fixtures and furniture for the Cranbrook academy by the time he hit his teens. In Cranbrook, Saarinen came face to face with Charles Eames, a like-minded designer dedicated to the exploration of innovative processes and materials. The two quickly became friends, pushing each other to greatness while collaborating on a number of projects.

Eero, obsessed with revision, brought his architectural knowledge into his furniture design, creating full-scale mock-ups in an attempt to find the perfect line, curve, and proportions.


Eero Saarinen Tulip Dining Table

The Tulip Tables

Eero Saarinen tracked down an essential idea, and reduced it to the most effective and practical solution, structurally. He said that, “The underside of typical chairs and tables makes a confusing, unrestful world.” In response to this musing, he decided to “clear up the slum of legs” with the Tulip dining table, first introduced in 1956. The table remains to be one of the most desirable and popular classics of Mid-Century modern furniture today. Saarinen’s penchant for balancing technology and art can be seen in the impeccable symmetry and lines of the dining table, featuring a circular top above a sleek pedestal base. The design was further adapted into a range of alternative products in 1958, including cocktail and end tables.


Eero Saarinen Tulip Chair and Armchair

Tulip Chair and Armchair

The Tulip chair was created by Eero Saarinen during 1955, and 1956, for the Knoll Company, designed as a match for the complementary dining table. The chair embraces the smooth lines of modernism, whilst remaining experimental in its approach to different materials. Today, it is recognized as a classic of industrial design, and the singular, pedestal base is seen to be a stunning stroke of pure genius. The piece is practical, stable, and beautiful, enough to demonstrate how innovative new ideas can have a significant effect on the world of design.


Eero Saarinen Womb Chair and Ottoman

The Womb Chair and Ottoman

The womb chair and ottoman duo designed by Eero Saarinen in 1948, is an iconic piece, which continues to be recognized as one of the primary representations of Mid-Century modernism today. During his time, Eero was often criticized for having a lack of fixed-style, but it is clear to see that the flexibility of his design was simply a part of his genius, allowing him to adapt perfectly to the situation and client. The womb chair and ottoman were designed with a simple, sweeping structure, moving cushions and indent armrests that allow the user to sit however they like. The chair was designed at the request of Florence Knoll, who told Saarinen that she was tired of a one-dimensional lounge chair, and wanted something she could sit in sideways, slouching, or any other way she chose.


Eero Saarinen Organic Armchair

The Organic Armchair

Created for the purpose of the “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” competition, created by the Museum of Modern Art, Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames came together to create a series of variations for the Organic chair. Each option was intended to best support a different seating position. Unfortunately, however, the designs were so ahead of their time that they could not breach construction due to lack of technology. It wasn’t until after 1950 that it became possible to develop enhanced numbers of molded shells, such as the plastic armchair developed by Eames, or Saarinen’s tulip chair. The organic armchair is a small, and comfortable chair, intended for reading, whereas the organic highback, a later design, provides additional neck support and longer armrests.


Eero Saarinen Executive Chair and Armchair

The Executive Chair and Armchair

As part of his groundbreaking collection, introduced in 1957, Eero Saarinen decided to explore the realm of executive seating, and transform it into a fluid, sculptural creation. With a deep understanding of user comfort, Saarinen became the first Mid-Century modern designer to develop a chair shell from fiberglass, a material pliable enough to conform and flex to body weight. The design of the executive armchair started over a decade earlier, when Saarinen and Charles Eames created a number of designs to submit to the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. The sculptural, fluid shapes progressed to influence the future creations of both men. For Saarinen, the effect was seen most notably in his Tulip, Womb, and Executive chairs.

The Impact of Eero Saarinen on the World Today

Eero Saarinen’s concept of product design and architecture ranged from cold rationalism to stunning, curved silhouettes. During his time, Saarinen’s work could be seen everywhere from Time magazine, to bomb disassembly manuals, to numerous editorials. His architectural and sculptural training helped him to develop some of the most recognizable modern pieces in the world, including the tulip table series.

As a designer, Eero sparked the creation of a number of new furniture forms, including the very first designs for pieces molded from laminated wood. The Womb collection was developed to make users feel comfortable and secure, and the Tulip series eliminated the “slum of legs” throughout homes and offices. As an architect, Saarinen was the leader of a new generation of modernists, refusing to develop one singular style, and instead flexing to the needs of his clients.

In the world today, Saarinen’s devotion to bold design in the Mid-Century modern epoch remains to be a significant expression of the post-war identity of America. His exuberant visual effects in the creation of both furniture and architecture allowed him to capture the optimism of an era, alongside a nationwide ideal for endless opportunity and growth.