History of Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen, father of the womb chair, lived from 1910-1961. Saarinen became an icon for furniture design in the post-war boom following WWII. While his reputation was made in the United States, he was born in Finland, the son of textile artist Loja Saarinen and well-known architect Eliel Saarinen.

"Form Giver"

To Eero, architecture was just another fine arts medium that, to him, much resembled sculpture. He liked to think of himself as a "form giver" and every item to which he lent his design talents took on a sculptural quality and form.

Saarinen began by studying at Yale University, which he followed by traveling and studying in Europe. After his return to the U.S. he taught for a short time at Cranbrook Academy. Eero's father had co-founded the academy with George C. Booth, a publisher, in 1927, and the senior Saarinen became the director of the institution 5 years later.

Two famous Cranbrook graduates from this period were Charles Eames and Florence Knoll Bassett (known at the time by the surname Schust). Eames collaborated with Saarinen on numerous projects, the final one a line of furniture that garnered first prize at a 1940 exhibition that took place at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition they created was called, "Organic Design in Home Furnishings."

Number 70

In the mid 1940's Eames began working for Herman Miller while Saarinen joined up with Knoll Associates. Several of the chairs designed by Saarinen during his tenure at Knoll became milestones in 20th century design. Florence Knoll Bassett asked Saarinen to create a "chair she could curl up in," which led to his designing the 1948 Womb Chair and Ottoman.

The origins of the womb chair were two plywood armchairs which had been shown in the winning exhibition at the museum. Though Eames and Saarinen had won that competition, no manufacture was possible at that time because of the war. Saarinen created the womb chair design in 1946, but it was not until two years later that Knoll began to manufacture the chair under the name "Number 70, Womb Chair."  When asked to explain the chair's name, Saarinen said he had designed it, "on the theory that a great number of people have never really felt comfortable and secure since they left the womb."

Office Chairs

During the 1950's, Saarinen created a line of office chairs, then the classic Saarinen Pedestal Table and the Tulip Chair. Saarinen designed the Pedestal Collection in an effort to clear domestic interiors of what he termed a "slum of legs."

Saarinen, like his father, also applied his sense of design to the field of architecture. Each architectural design expressed his predilection for sculptural form. Among his architectural feats are the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and the TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport in New York.