In honor of Spring’s imminent arrival, this week’s icon of design is…Eero Saarinen’s Tulip tables and chairs!

Crazy name, crazy furniture. This guy is a little confusing, as his daddy-o, Eliel Saarinen was also a famous designer and director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where Saarinen eventually taught as well (I know you must be getting sick of hearing about that place, but I swear–it’s a good name to know!). But I do know you’ve seen his tulip tables, and you probably recognize his chairs as well!

So, what’s the story behind these Mod pedestal pieces?

Saarinen was born and raised in Finland and emigrated to America with his parents when he was just 13. After studying sculpture as a young man in Paris, he trained as an architect at Yale.

Fun fact alert: Saarinen’s buildings and monuments are all around us! Not only did he design the St. Louis Golden Arch, but the TWA terminal at JFK and Dulles International Airport.

Saarinen is credited, along with Eames (and Bertoia–the poor guy always seems to get neglected) with launching and popularizing organic sculptural furniture forms. The tulip chair and tables, first released by Knoll in 1958 just three years before his untimely death from a brain tumor, are easily his most famous design.

Said to have been inspired by a street sign, they were formed from an aluminum base and fiberglass shell. Although Saarinen wanted the pieces to be manufactured from a single material, plastic hadn’t yet been developed in 1958 that was strong enough for the design. Plastics had become incredibly popular in furniture design of the 1960s, serving as an antidote to the hard, cold surfaces of Bauhaus modernism. Rather obviously, plastic also lent itself much more easily to organic sculptural forms than, say, tubular steel. And it was cheap. Win, win.

Saarinen liked to say that his tulip tables and chairs cleaned up “the slum of legs” that supported basically all tables and chairs. I’d have to say I agree with him–his tulip tables are lovely in their simplicity and clean lines, don’t you think?

Sources: Four Centuries of American Furniture by Oscar Fitzgerald, Knoll.