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What is a Tulip Chair?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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In 2007, the tulip chair celebrated its 50th birthday. Eero Saarinen designed this visually arresting chair, which many have said evokes the space age and ultra modern design. Saarinen’s design, which he discussed in Time Magazine the year before its release in 1957 was meant to evoke interest and so away with chair legs by creating a single base from the middle of the chair seat. The base widened at the bottom to a circle, to lend more stability to the chair, and so that the chair could swivel.

The upper half of the tulip chair is a simple, streamlined construction, with a padded seat cushion, and slightly curved back. Typical tulip chair colors were at first white, with black pads. Today you can find the tulip chair in many color patterns: white/red, platinum/red, and black/black are a few.

From pictures it's difficult to glean the materials of the chair base and seat, especially since most pictures show the white version, which looks very much like white plastic used in chairs today. Actually, the tulip chair is a much sturdier constructed piece than a plastic chair. The base is cast aluminum, with a satin painted finish. The chair itself is molded fiberglass, and the seat cushion usually covered with vinyl.

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Though the initial chair design was armless, you can now buy armed versions of the tulip chair. To maintain the streamlined look, the arms are not separate from the other parts of the chair seat — instead the fiberglass extends upward from the seat base to provide arm support.

To compliment the tulip chair, Saarinen also designed several tulip tables. These have a similar base to the chair, with a round table top. The entire look of the table and chairs is considered part of the industrial design school, providing functionality with a unique appearance. At a glance these tables and chairs really do look like they are “space age” in design. Further, officially made tulip chairs and tables with certification and the designer’s signature are available at a space age price. Though you can buy knock-offs of the design for about $200 US Dollars (USD), a Saarinen chair costs over $1000 USD.

You may actually save more if you find a vintage tulip in good shape than if you purchase new tulip chairs. Older chairs can be as inexpensive as about $150 USD, though the first few chairs may cost quite a bit more. But if you’re looking to capture this modernist look for your home, you might try looking for tulip chairs made in the 1960s or 1970s.

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anon33620
Post 1

the original chairs did not swivel and the plastic and bases were given the same finish to make the chair appear as one material. the original design was for the chair to be one material but after several attempts saarinen decided that base had to be aluminum. also the chair body was plastic with fiberglass reinforcement not all fiberglass.

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