Eero Saarinen: More Than Just The "Table Guy"

Eero Saarinen: More Than Just The "Table Guy"

Abby Stone
Jun 6, 2011

The Saarinen table is very popular with the readers of Apartment Therapy. Eero Saarinen, its Finnish-born designer, combined his training in sculpture and architecture to produce a piece that is both beautiful and practical. But it's only a small item on his list of accomplishments.

Born in Finland in 1910, Saarinen emigrated with his family to the States in 1923. The family settled in Michigan, where his father, Eliel, also a well-known architect, opened his own firm and taught at Cranbrook Academy. Saarinen went to to school at Cranbrook, where he met Charles Eames and Florence Knoll. After graduation, he studied sculpture in France, then returned to the States to study architecture at Yale. A scholarship allowed him to tour Europe before he came back to Michigan to work at his father's architectural firm; he also signed on to teach at Cranbrook.

His old friend Eames suggested they work together. Their collaboration produced a series of furniture in molded plywood which they submitted to The Museum of Modern Art's "Organic Design In Home Furnishings" competition in 1940, garnering first prize. From there, Saarinen went on to design furniture for Florence Knoll's new company including the Grasshopper chair (the red chair, above), the Womb chair (above, the architect demonstrates how comfortable it is) and its matching ottoman, the Pedestal collection (which includes that table) and its accompanying Tulip chair.

But furniture design was only one note in Saarinen's design arsenal. While working for Knoll, he'd continued to work at his father's architectural firm. His first high profile solo architectural design was the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in St. Louis, Missouri. He won the commission after a fierce competition which drew architects from all over the country, including his father. In fact, due to the similarity of their names, the award was originally sent to Eliel and not Eero! Two of his other projects, the Dulles Airport and the majestic TWA terminal at JFK in New York (both pictured above), evoke the beauty of flight in their swooping lines.

But it's only since his death in 1951 that Saarinen's reputation has really soared. The attitude that alienated him from his Modernist peers, whose vision was considerably less playful, fits in perfectly with the current vision of modern which balances the clean lined with the sexy, the organic and the curvaceous. Actually, Saarinen considered himself more of a Structural Expressionist, believing that we "must have an emotional reason as well as a logical end for everything we do" and he worked diligently to sublimate his desire to express himself creatively to the needs of the job at hand. But that didn't mean he didn't have strong opinions. The Saarinen table's design grew out of his dissatisfaction with "ugly, confusing, unrestful world resulting from the slum of legs underneath typical chairs and tables." The curving organic design of the base was inspired by a drop of "high viscosity liquid".

images: Image of Saarinen curled up in his Womb Chair, photo by Arnold Newman; Dulles Airport, TWA Terminal, Grasshopper Chair via Knoll

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