Few chairs look great from all angles, however, the iconic Tulip chair, Model No. 150, can’t take a bad photo.
Designed in 1956 by Eero Saarinen, a Finnish architect and a graduate from the Yale School of Architecture, and produced by Knoll, this elegant chair (with or without armrests) continues to ‘strike a pose’ more than sixty-five years later.
“We’ve been using the entire set (chairs, dining table and also side tables) for decades. The chairs, as with the tables, are so sculptural in form. And they always work in both contemporary and period homes,” interior designer Sonia Simpfendorfer says, creative director for Nexus Designs. Sonia also appreciates the fine stems in the chairs (as well as in the tables). “They really don’t take up much space, both physically and spatially,” she adds.
Rather than the usual chunky legs that support a chair, the strength of the singular aluminium base allows for a fine line to be drawn between the seat of the chair and the floor. In addition, in contrast to the plastic-coated casted aluminium moulded fibreglass shell, the seat and backrest are soft and reassuring.
While Nexus Designs has been using the Tulip chair since the design practice was established in the 1970s, Model No.150 was first seen in interior designer Marion Hall Best’s showroom in the early 1960s. Her showroom in Rowe Street, Woollahra, featured the Tulip chair and other now-iconic chairs from the period. And what better way to display the Tulip chair than sitting on a shag pile carpet below a highly lacquered ceiling (often green or orange) and framed by vibrant bolts of Marimekko fabrics on the shelves.
The Tulip chair was also a centrepiece of Marion’s room installation in the 20th Century Room at the ‘Rare and Beautiful Things’ Exhibition, held at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1961. Marion’s installation beautifully combined the sculptural chairs and table with sheer Japanese bamboo screens/awnings, the latter forming a strong influence in Australian interiors from the early 1960s.
For Roger Ludowyke, DeDeCe’s Melbourne manager, the Tulip chair is synonymous with good design and well deserves its title as an ‘icon’. “It’s still contemporary, whether it comes with a detachable padded seat, fully upholstered, and with or without armrests. It can be combined with the Saarinen Tulip Table or positioned in a bedroom to drape one’s dressing gown across. And for those wanting to check on the chair’s authenticity, Roger points to the embossing of the Koll logo below the detachable seat cushion.
With the re-emergence of the 1960s and ‘70s, this chair is again finding a new audience. In original posters with models wearing high wet-look boots, overscaled metallic sunglasses, and Courreges ensembles, the Tulip chair evokes the sense of escape we still crave. “You can easily find space for a Tulip chair, whether in a large home or a modest apartment. And best of all, they’re timeless,” Sonia says.