The True Story Of How Tulip Tables Took Over the Design World

Tulip table in modern and colorful dining room.

DESIGN: DOMM DOT COM, GRAPHICS: MYDOMAINE

Trends come and go, but some design elements remain iconic. From subway tile to shiplap, there's a rich history behind your favorite décor ideas. Ever wonder how wishbone chairs started popping up in every dining room? Or want to know more about terrazzo tile? In our new series, we'll dig into our favorite design-world icons and uncover the surprising (and sometimes strange) history behind them.

Midcentury modern is easily one of the most coveted and classic design styles to try on for size. Homeowners who take on a '60s-style home are keen to embrace its clean, horizontal lines and nod to trends of yesteryear, like wood paneling and space-inspired design.

Following suit is the ever-popular pedestal-style table, known colloquially as, the Tulip table. This sleek and chic piece is found in all kinds of interiors today, from homes draped in midcentury style to white and bright spaces spotted all over Instagram. The table has great beginnings, thought up by famous designer Eero Saarinen, and has remained popular for many reasons: it's sleek, space-saving, and oh-so-adorable.

“The Tulip table is a win-win for any kitchen renovation,” Charlie Coull of Charlie Coull Design tells MyDomaine. “The classic pedestal functions well in a banquette setting, and its timeless design complements the midcentury home.”

So, how did this one novel table become commonplace in tons of modern-day kitchens and dining areas? Let’s dive in.

Modern dining nook with rattan light and white Tulip table.

Anne Sage

Where It All Began

The Tulip Table’s beginnings come from none other than Eero Saarinen, the same Finnish architect who conceived the great St. Louis Gateway Arch along with many other famous structures.

Saarinen’s life was surrounded by design at a young age, as his father was a world-renowned architect and his mother a textile artist. As a teen, Saarinen was often stepping in and assisting his father in designing furniture, after which he eventually studied architecture at Yale, and taught at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. 

It was here that Saarinen crossed paths with lauded designer Charles Eames, quickly becoming great friends and design partners. There’s nothing like befriending another incredible designer, as it guarantees creative collaborations like no other. Notably, Saarinen and Eames produced several groundbreaking designs, including their collection of molded plywood chairs for the MoMA-sponsored 1940 Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. This collection was greatly awarded in all categories, placing these two young design friends at the forefront of the American modern furniture movement.

While at Cranbrook, Saarinen also met Florence Knoll, who later established the Knoll furniture company. The two remained close throughout the forthcoming years of Saarinen’s design career, allowing him to have a heavy hand in designing signature pieces for Knoll—one of which included the functional and adorable Saarinen Table, also coined the Tulip Table, designed in 1957 along with the entire Pedestal collection of furniture.

"When designer Eero Saarinen, a childhood and lifelong friend of Florence Knoll, decided to design a furniture collection for Knoll, he wanted to design something that had never been done before," Leah Kalotay, Brand Director at Knoll, tells MyDomaine. "He famously told Florence in 1955, 'We have chairs with four legs, with three, and even with two, but no one has made one with just one leg—so, that’s what we’ll do.' The Pedestal Collection was born from this concept along with Eero’s background in sculpture."

We have chairs with four legs, with three, and even with two, but no one has made one with just one leg—so, that’s what we’ll do.

The Design of the Tulip Table

This pedestal table was devised with a clear objective from Saarinen: eliminate the slew of legs that come underneath a traditional dining table that can sometimes look too cumbersome. The entire Pedestal collection of furniture from Knoll sought to resolve the "ugly, confusing, unrestful world" underneath tables and chairs, as Saarinen noted. Streamlining the base of the table made for a clean, classic, and thoroughly modern look that was yet to be seen elsewhere during this time.

The table boasts a curved, stem-like base, hence the nod to tulips, with a round or oval tabletop. The first notable use of the Tulip Chairs and Saarinen Dining Table was at the TWA Flight Center at New York’s Idlewild Airport, according to Knoll. The silhouette took the design world by storm at the time, found everywhere from restaurants to other airports to residential interiors. 

"The Pedestal Collection, which consists of the Saarinen Dining Table and Tulip Chairs, exemplifies total design and pushed the boundaries between architecture and sculpture," Kalotay shares.

Modern kitchen dining nook with marble pedestal table.

Design: Charlie Coull Design; Photo: Valerie Wilcox

The look can be customized in dozens of ways as well: add a marbleized top for a sophisticated finish, keep the entire table white and streamlined, or invoke comfort with a light wood top and black aluminum bottom. The Tulip table would be perfectly suited for small spaces, quaint kitchenettes, or even as an entryway table. 

Modern dining room with large white Tulip table.

Design: Emily Henderson, Photo: Zeke Ruelas

The Tulip Table Today

Today, there are infinite copycat Tulip Tables to choose from, and Knoll sells the original version starting at $2,221 with upwards of 20 customized tabletops to choose from. The table can be made in any size ranging from 35" to 96"—perfect for a sweet side table or a grand dining room table. Any furniture retailer that comes to mind, though, probably boasts a selection of chic Tulip tables to choose from as well.

"The Saarinen Dining Table is popular today for the same reasons it was when it was when it first launched—it was built using a total design framework and as such is meant to support a seamless user experience," Kalotay explains. "The lack of legs provides visual lightness but also allows people to gather around the table unencumbered by table legs. The wide variety of finish options ranging from laminate to marble to wood, make it the perfect table for any setting."

The silhouette is beloved by designers too—Caitlin Murray, the founder of Black Lacquer Design, tells MyDomaine that this table style is a go-to in her interiors.

"The Saarinen tulip table has become as classic and versatile as denim,” Murray shares. “The playful, clean lines lend themselves perfectly to modern spaces, but the fact that the style is vintage and iconic allows it to shine in eclectic arenas without feeling at all out of place. When a situation calls for a pedestal base table, it’s always one of my first go-to's."

The Saarinen tulip table has become as classic and versatile as denim.

Bright dining nook with white pedestal table and wooden chairs.

Design: Emily Henderson; Photo: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

Designer Michelle Lisac, the founder of Michelle Lisac Interior Design, adores the Tulip table as well, noting its versatility and ability to adapt wherever it's placed.

"We love a Tulip style table, especially in a banquette setting,” Lisac says. “It is so versatile and can go well in both modern and more traditional homes. Also, it pairs well with almost any type of chair—huge win."

Dining nook with bench and white Tulip table.

Michelle Lisac Interior Design

Article Sources
MyDomaine uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Knoll. "Eero Saarinen."

  2. Knoll. “The Archive."

  3. Knoll. “Original Design: Saarinen Pedestal Collection.” Knoll, August 24, 2018.

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