Reader’s Question: Saarinen Tulip Table & Chairs + a Q&A


I get questions from readers from time to time about various design issues. Normally they’re quickly answered but sometimes they’re a little more involved like a question I got recently from Kelley. I thought the discussion might be interesting for you as well so (with Kelley’s permission) I’m posting her question and my answer here. (It was fun putting this together so I think I’ll make this a regular thing as interesting questions come in.)


Hello Ally,
I am huge fan of your blog, I follow it almost everyday! My husband and I just purchased a home and I am SOOOO excited to be decorating it the way I have always wanted! I have a dilemma, my style is similar to yours, I would say that my style is eclectic and vintage with a modern flair. My dilemma is such…I adore the Saarinen table with the marble top, I wanted to purchased the table and tulip chairs for the dining room but thought it might be too matchy matchy, I was considering purchasing an antique pedestal round table and getting only the tulip chairs. But I REALLY love the dining table too so I am not sure what to do, what do you think would look best in your opinion? HELP!!!



In general, I prefer things not to be matchy-matchy as well. However, dining rooms are the one place where I’m not opposed to a matching set, especially when it is something so classic and beautiful as the Saarinen tulip table and chairs. I mean, what’s not to like about this room:


However, it is a very modern, streamlined look so if you’re goal is to achieve a more eclectic feel, I think your first instinct of mixing the table or chairs is a good one.

So then the next question is do you get the table or chairs? That’s a tough call. The more popular option seems to be using the table with different types of chairs:






I really like this look, not to mention it gives you an excuse to buy some really cool chairs(!) But, practicality may play a part here. I know you want a marble top version and my personal experience with marble is that it is not very user-friendly. It’s very easy to crack, stain, scratch and damage. (Citrus and wine are the worst!).

If you share this concern, you may want to opt for just the chairs with a different table. The other plus side of getting the chairs is that you can always use them elsewhere like in an office, for example. This was the only example I could find:


Having said all this, there is one more option. I don’t know what type of house you are moving into but if it has industrial or rustic architectural features, you could still get that eclectic vibe even with a matching set:


Otherwise, if you chose pieces that were more ornate or traditional for the rest of the room, that could also have the same effect:


I think this is my favorite option because it would be too hard for me to choose between the table and chairs(!) What do you all think?

Well, I hope this was helpful, Kelley, and I hope you’ll send me some photos of what you decide!

If you’d like my opinion on a design question for possible posting here, please send me a message by clicking “contact” at the top of the page. It may take me a while but I’ll answer as many as I can.

(Photos: 1.Unknown 2.Modani 3-7.Decorpad 8.Style at Home 9.Barker and Stonehouse 10.Livingetc.)

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35 thoughts on “Reader’s Question: Saarinen Tulip Table & Chairs + a Q&A

  1. Great interview on Splendid Willow, by the way!

    Anywho, my dining room is a Saarinen knock-off from Ikea with glossy black dining chairs…pretty much exactly like the 3rd pic.

  2. I am usually so indecisive, or at the very least I have to consider every possible option before making a decision, but this dilemma is cut and dry for me. I say go with the table, in marble, and then pair it with a more traditional set of chairs. Perhaps chairs from craigslist that can be painted or reupholstered.

    We have the Saarinen table in our breakfast nook. We opted for the oval with the white marble top and I can't tell you how much I love it (like the first and second to last images). I chose simple X-back bentwood type chairs in black and I love the classic color combo. As for the fragility of marble, I

    have three young boys and we use the table for all of our meals, homework, crafts…pretty much everything. Yes, the first few scratches were painful, but after I got past that we've had no problems. I just wipe it down after each use with a damp paper towel and that's it. No stains, no chips and it is solid and immovable. In fact, it seems that the marble top is coated with some sort sort of clear epoxy for extra protection.

    But if you were going to go with a cohesive look of table and chairs, I would definitely follow in the footsteps of that last, beautiful, room.

    That's my long-winded two cents. ;0)
    .-= nkp´s last post ..I'm in love. =-.

  3. That is a hard decision! But a fun one to make, no doubt. They are both so classic, I can't imagine you regretting either purchase. Although I say go with the table. Pairing eclectic chairs with it like the photos makes for such a cool setting. We have the black marble Saarinen in our breakfast nook and I am still looking for the chairs. I'm thinking of some Louis style chairs or Bistro. Love that above image! I also say go with the marble (if you get the table). I grew up with the white oval laminate top table in our house and let me tell you, after 40 years it looks like hell. It's all chipped and scratched. I know the marble will do that too but the white laminate REALLY shows the wear. Go for the marble.

  4. After such a thorough answer, there is not much I can add. However, if Kelley needs more inspiration she should check out the work of Tom Scheerer. He uses the Saarinen table in all his projects and makes it look fabulous in each one.

  5. Hi I love both. They always look great together.

    oh and that last picture is really great. If however you are to buy one of the two I always like more the combination of tulip chairs with a more elaborate wooden table, maybe it's just me but the opposite never seems quite right. wooden chairs also feel to chunky compared with the elegance of the table.However I could may match it with these chairs : Also I have the knoll chairs and it is really hard to find something more elegant and comfortable (only problem is that they tend to turn a bit yellowish after many years).

  6. Thanks for all of your great input, everyone. I knew you would have a lot to contribute.

  7. Just my two cents, which you can take or leave at your leisure:

    Get the table, not the chairs. I have all kinds of tulip chairs, and while lovely (and fun to spin in), they are heavy (at least the vintage metal based ones are) and not so easy to pull to the table. Also, if you have delicate wood floors, prepare for scratching and scraping.

    Plus the table is super gorgeous, classic, and never dated. Goes with everything!
    .-= erin@designcrisis´s last post ..While Karly Is Away, Erin Will Play =-.

  8. Ally, this was a great post! Very well thought out and very informative. i love the design of the tulip table – in fact, we have three in our design firm and they are used in such different ways and paired with different chairs. I think the images were great and you gave a good sense of how you can be versatile without losing your sense of design for your home. Great job!!


    .-= Kiki´s last post ..going on vacay?… the top 5 vacay must haves! =-.

  9. Thank you Ally for posting my question on your blog! It was super helpful and I have ultimately made a decision. I have decided to forgo the table simply because they are only available in 48" and 72", the smaller one is much too small for my dining room and the the larger one would overtake the entire space so I opted to purchase the tulip chairs only. I think you are right about the entire set feeling too modern and matchy, matchy for my own style so I have decided to purchase this 60" weathered oak dining table… with the tulip chairs. Thanks again for all your help and I will send photos once dining room is finished! =)

  10. love the second, third and fourth pictures – I'd prefer taking the modern table but quirkier chairs. It wouldn't work with a round table (of course) but I also love the idea of using benches on one side of a square or rectangular table, and chairs the other side, if that makes sense.

    Also vaguely reminds me of my piece I wrote for the Guardian on iconic furniture and chairs –

    def has to be about the chairs more about the table, no?
    .-= Huma´s last post ..Cooking from the heart =-.

  11. i've gone through this dilemma in my mind- i like both- i know i'm so helpful. totally get the reader's question though, i'm eclectic vintage with a modern spin-this table is perfect for that!

    love your blog!!

  12. Hi Ally! Just ran over here from Monika's blog and I can see why she's such a fan! Loved this post because I grew up with a set inspired by this designer! Fun to see all the ways that it can be arranged, rearranged, etc. Guess that makes me an "antique!" xx Suzanne

  13. I just got back from Monika's place..! What an absolute treat to read more of your thoughts on design – and to get a little peek of what you look like! 🙂

    I loved it. And I love the advice you've given here. I personally love the table with different chairs – hands down.


    .-= Vintage Simple´s last post ..Pretty bathrooms =-.

  14. Oh my goodness…you just can't beat a Saarin table! I love it mixed with vintage chairs of a different style, and it's classic with the tulip chairs. What a fun post! I want to go shopping now…..

  15. What a thoughtful and beautiful response to this design question.

    This is such a beautiful and classic set – I think the only reason not to go with the matching set would be cost or wanting to work with an existing set of chairs or table. In which case the table works will on its own – but the chairs without their table suddenly feel a bit "salvaged office furniture-esq"

  16. Fun post! I read your interview on Splendid Willow. 🙂 I realized that I decorate very "matchy matchy", so my house would drive you crazy! lol You inspire me though to branch out my style in the future. How I decorate works for me right NOW. I hope to travel more in the future and pick up some great vintage pieces. {less IKEA in my home} My favorite photo is the chairs with the wood table! I like that option best. 🙂
    .-= Jessie´s last post ..*Picking out an Apartment* =-.

  17. All what an amazing post! What an amazing initiative! You are so great.

    I loved your in-depth response to Kelly's question – I am sure she was overwhelmed with your generous and thorough response. I know I would be – you are just so thoughtful and great!

    All the images you used to illustrate your point were yummy and I am too a drooling fan of Saarinen's designs. I mean, how could you not be!?! 🙂

    I also really enjoyed dear Monika's spotlight interview with you today. She's fabulous and so are you. Well done to both!

    Big hug and happy weekend!

    x Charlotta
    .-= Charlotta´s last post ..From Sweden with love.. =-.

  18. I think with this unique chair I still like the matching set the best with the blue cushions. A great sleek modern look!

    The Designer Insider

  19. I adore the tulip table and chairs, so fun to see examples of them paired with other furniture! I can't get over the tulip table paired with the Thonet chairs – the entire room is too gorgeous. I'm happy with my round birch Eames table and black DCM's, but one day when I'm ready for new dining furniture, the Saarinen set is a the top of my wish list. P.S. I posted about my love for the tulip table and chairs a few months ago:
    .-= Marsi @ The Cottage Cheese´s last post ..Dennis Hopper: Artist & Collector =-.

  20. Hi there,

    I thought those of you interested in Saarinen Tulip designs might like to know I've just acquired two of his Knoll side chairs with charcoal gray (almost black) seating pads in superb condition. They are tagged, etc. The pair (not yet even on my web site) is $1,100. (half that of new ones by Knoll).

    I hope you don't mind my posting this here, but I thought I could be of some help.

    Ronn Ives, owner

    FUTURES Antiques

  21. My parents had the oval table and matching chairs, first with a turquoise pillow cover and then my mom recovered them in black leather. In the late 70’s they gave it to me because they didn’t want it anymore. In my turn, I gave it to Goodwill in the mid-eighties. I could wack myself on the head now!

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