The Tulip Chair in Star Trek – putting the record straight

Star Trek: Majel Barrett surrounded by an array of tulip chairs of different shades of white, grey, and blue as Trek’s very first female First Officer in the 1964 pilot, “The Cage”.
Star Trek: Majel Barrett surrounded by an array of tulip chairs of different shades of white, grey, and blue as Trek’s very first female First Officer in the 1964 pilot, “The Cage”.

As many a book or website will tell you, the Tulip Chair was heavily featured in the original Star Trek TV series (1966-1969). The original and best Tulip chair if you’re a design snob like me, was designed by Eero Saarinen in 1956. But what exactly is the Star Trek chair?

As previous FF guest writer Natasha Brinsmead says: “This modernist chair looks equally at home in a home office or living room as it does around a dining table. Part tulip, part stemmed wine glass, the chair was designed to eliminate clutter and looks perfect in both contemporary interiors and traditional, eclectic schemes alike.

Its futuristic good looks would have made it very at home on the U.S.S Enterprise during the late 1960s in the TV Show Star Trek”, but the chair, which so many have said was a Saarinen was in fact made by Burke of Dallas Texas. The Burke Tulip chairs are the first cousins to Saarinen’s Tulip chairs. Some might say rip-off, but they got away with it on a mass scale and in fact the Burke Tulips are collectable and have value in their own right. Burke versions often have the starburst base like the ones in Star Trek.

As the Chairsmith blog puts it: “Come on, there’s only one Tulip chair, and it’s the one designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll. End of. Just how Mr. Burke was able to take Saarinen’s design and reproduce it so, umm, blatantly is beyond us. But he did… The seat has very similar dimensions to Saarinen’s chair, but the pedestal features a four-legged propeller shaped base instead of the circular one seen on Saarinen’s design. Also, as with Saarinen’s design, Burke’s were crafted from fibreglass plastic and the pedestal bases made of enamel-coated aluminium”.

Star Trek with blue Tulip chair

Star Trek with grey blue customised Tulip chair

star-trek-tulip-chair-spock

Spock seated in grey/blue Tulip chair in Star Trek with modified back in black

The Tulip chair collection in classic white/red

The Saarinen Tulip chair collection in classic white/red.

Burke Tulip chairs are often referred to as 'Saarinen style' Tulips

Burke Tulip chairs are often referred to as ‘Saarinen style’ Tulips

burke-logo-stamp-tulip-chair

The Burke stamp on their version of the Tulip chair

burke-tulip-chair

Vintage Burke Tulips in white/mustard

The Saarinen Tulip. You can't beat it for elegance and futuristic design combined in one chair.

The Saarinen Tulip. You can’t beat it for elegance and futuristic design combined in one chair.

And if Saarinen didn’t have futurism in mind when he designed it then Knoll certainly did when they marketed it – take a look at this stunning advert.kmoll tulip advert

 

What’s the FF low down and where can I get one?

Considered one of the great icons of design, the Saarinen Tulip chair for Knoll consists of a base of die-cast aluminium lacquered in snow-white and protected with Rilsan. The fibreglass shell is reinforced and lacquered in snow-white and features a removable seat cushion. The Finnish American architect and furniture designer had a close relationship with fellow students Charles and Ray Eames, and became good friends with Florence Knoll.

BEWARE! There are many rips offs out there.

Newly produced official Saarinen’s by Knoll can be found at Utility Design with seat pads in various fabric colours and seat/back combinations. Armless tulip chairs (Star Trek tulips were armless) with seat pads are available from Utility and are currently 15% off, reduced from £1164 to £989.40.
Buy now >

saarinen-knoll-tulip-chair-utility-film-and-furniture

Armless Saarinen Tulip chair for Knoll from Utility

knoll-saarinen-tulip-armchair-seat-pad-utility

The armchair version of the Saarinen Tulip chair is available from Utility Design

The armchair version of the Saarinen Tulip chair is currently available from Utility Design reduced from £1368 to £1162.80. Buy now >

For vintage original Saarinen or Burke Tulips try Pamono or 1st Dibs

american-fixed-tulip-chair-in-blue-by-eero-saarinen-for-knoll-1970-pamono

American tulip chair in blue by Eero Saarinen for Knoll, 1970, from Pamono

Saarinen furniture is also featured in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Watch now!
Watch the original TV series
on iTunes or buy the DVD from the sidebar of this article (if viewing on desktop site) or below (mobile/tablet)

Star Trek Beyond is out 22nd July 2016 (and we at Film and Furniture enjoyed it muchly!)

About the author -


Paula Benson

Film and Furniture founder / Co-Creative Director at Form. Passionate about interiors, design, art, film, music and mind over matter.

Posted in: Feature on November 13, 2014
Film Title: Star Trek
Genre: Sci Fi
Object Type: chair
Object Sub-type: Tulip Chair
Object Colour: white red blue yellow
Object Designer: Eero Saarinen Burke
Object Shop: The Conran Shop Chaplins 1st Dibs Pamono Scott Howard Office Furniture
Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I prefer the round base. Great chairs.

  2. portland182

    Also available (much Cheaper) in the UK as ‘Arkana Star’ designed by Burke

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