February 21, 2019
This week we take a look at Finnish-American designer, Eero Saarinen, and his work for Knoll.
Purebred for design
It was almost impossible for Eero Saarinen not to become a design visionary. Born at the turn of the last century to Finnish architect, city planner and Nordic National Romanticism champion Eliel Saarinen and his wife, celebrated sculptor and textile artist Loja Gesellius, Eero was steeped from birth in a heady cocktail of design influences, expertise, and ambition.
St Louis’ Gateway Arch, designed by Saarinen jnr.
His father was already a national figure in Finnish and international city planning and architecture, having designed the Finnish entry to the Paris World Fair in 1900 and Helsinki’s main railway station; he was also a consultant on city design for Riga and Budapest and had almost designed Canberra, Australia’s capital city. It’s no surprise that son Eero carried on the family tradition. Eero’s own futuristic brand of modernism gave birth to the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Washington Dulles International Airport and the TWA Flight Center at JFK airport.
Sculpture and architecture
Saarinen moved to Michigan in 1923, when his father became dean at the Cranbrook Academy of Art (visit his house). Eero’s mother’s influence showed through his studies - he first studied sculpture and furniture design at Cranbrook where he was good friends with fellow students Ray and Charles Eames. With further studies - sculpture at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris and architecture at the Yale School - and a year back in Finland, Eero’s parenting, education and influences were the foundation of his very pluralistic attitude to design.
We may not have enjoyed Saarinen’s iconic and beautifully simple furniture design without his great friend Florence Schust, who passed away only very recently aged 101. Schust, the artistic originator of the uncluttered, open design of the modern office, studied under Saarinen senior and also Mies van der Rohe. She contributed to the development of Knoll’s aesthetics and formed Knoll Associates with Hans Knoll when they married in 1946. She directed the hugely influential Knoll Planning Unit.
It seemed an obvious step for her to invite Saarinen to design for the company, and he produced some of Knoll’s most iconic and popular designs.
Saarinen designed the Womb Chairin response to Florence Schust Knoll’s request for "a chair that was like a basket full of pillows”- the ultimate in reassuring comfort. He blended an essence of cuddly security with an uncluttered simplicity, focussing on the ergonomic shape of the chair shell rather than the depth of cushioning as its key element. The chair used manufacture techniques that were still in their infancy - Saarinen and Schust Knoll even consulted a boat builder, who was used to working in fiberglass.
Womb Chair In calming smoke grey…
or a pop of colour...
Classic Tulip Armless Chair
The super-iconic Tulip Chair was part of the 1955 Pedestal Collection, Saarinen’s response to what seems to some an ugly clutter and lack of free space beneath traditionally-built chairs and tables. Too many legs? Let’s get rid of them. He replaced four legs with a molded central pedestal of aluminum and reinforced plastic. The shell he designed with curving and supportive fiberglass in a shape reminiscent of a tulip flower, although Knoll’s original press release likened the shape to an elegant wine glass. The Tulip Chair’s modernist simplicity was replicated in the rest of the collection of swivel and office chairs, side, dining and office tables.
Tulip Arm Chair
Saarinen’s 1946 Grasshopper Chair was Knoll’s first sculptural lounge chair - its gently-curved and continuous line of the bentwood legs reminding Saarinen of those of a grasshopper. The seat was deeply-angled, fully supporting the body in a partially reclining posture. Never as popular as the Womb or the Tulip, the Grasshopper stopped production in 1965 but now is achieving a renaissance.
When it comes to tables, the Saarinen table is easily the gold standard. Its revolutionary monopod base gives it a visual anchoring but also increases leg room. This is often one of the most copied of the Saarinen collection. One easy way to tell an authentic from reproduction is to examine the base. An original Saarinen base will always be made of one piece cast aluminum. If the base is plastic, wood or fiberglass it's not authentic.
Knoll still produces many different material options for their tops. Some options are wood laminate, granite, and marble. On marble and granite, the edges will always have a reverse chamfered. This will give the appearance of the top being very thin. Thick or flat edges are likely not original.
If you can any question about a Knoll product you already own or thinking about purchasing you can respond to this blog or email us at email@example.com.
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