When we think of Mid-Century Modern, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Can you picture that low-slung ranch home with the central fireplace and sunken living room? Do you see the sleek, organic furniture with its undulating lines and unified design? Maybe you have some vintage pieces in your own home: a Knoll table by Jens Risom or a Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe. These organic designs, inspired by nature and embraced by postwar families throughout America, launched an incredible, mid-century movement that only grows more inspiring and appealing over time.
Few artists have contributed more to the twentieth-century American aesthetic than Eero Saarinen. Born in Finland, but raised in Midwest America, Saarinen was a second-generation interior designer inspired by organic forms and natural motifs. His iconic, architectural creations can be found in museums, design workshops, and living rooms to this day.
When people think of Saarinen, there are really only two options: go big, or go small. Architecture-enthusiasts know that Saarinen designed the magnificent St. Louis Gateway Arch and the timeless TWA Terminal at Kennedy airport. Both are hallmarks of his style, called “Organic Modernism,” a blending of the functional use of space with continuous, flowing lines and harmonious, natural details.
Organic Design in Home Furnishings
Saarinen translated his organic vision into domestic interiors as early as 1940, when his furniture collaboration with Charles Eames won top prize at the groundbreaking “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This show revolutionized interior design in America.
Saarinen and Eames wanted to clean up “the slum of legs” in home spaces, so they created a series of tables and chairs set on pedestals. It was a ground-breaking idea accomplished through a continuous, organic use of material and line with a thoroughly modern sense of taste. The accompanying MOMA catalog described their work as
“an harmonious organization of the parts within the whole, according to structure, material, and purpose… the beauty is none the less great – in ideal choice of material, in visual refinement, and in the rational elegance of things intended for use.”
This original idea led to Saarinen’s legendary Pedestal Collection, where one wide, circular pedestal base flows effortlessly through a delicate, stem-like support up to a flower-like seat or tabletop. The natural, expressive form hides a complex, brilliant support structure. As in all great, organic design, the end result is greater than the sum of its parts.
Photo courtesy of knoll.com
Saarinen achieved a harmony of visual and physical balance that graced homes around the country for decades. He joined Knoll Associates as a principal designer in 1946 where he was free to develop a range of home furnishings for the eager, postwar consumer. His Pedestal Collection continues to be one of Knoll’s most famous and popular designs.
The House on Graymoor Lane
It is quite likely that several neighbors along that beautiful, mid-century Graymoor Lane, where our founder, Laura, grew up, would have owned a chair or table designed by Saarinen. Knoll furniture was a source of inspiration and provided accessible, functional home interiors for families across the country in the 1950s and 60s. This was especially true in the Midwest, home to Saarinen, Eames, Mies van der Rohe, and other lions of the Mid-Century Modern movement. A Pedestal table or Tulip chair on Graymoor Lane would have achieved exactly what Saarinen intended in the home: clean lines, reduced distraction, functionality, and ease of use. This was furniture that was meant to be used.
Photo courtesy of knoll.com
Cypress, Continuity, and Everyday Design
The organic harmonies and natural lines that inspired Saarinen continue to inspire us today. The Graymoor Lane Cypress Collection draws from that single-line design of the Pedestal Collection to create a warm, natural shape that is as timeless as Saarinen’s table and chairs. A sweeping, organic curve anchors an infinite loop, flowing through a narrow, supporting intersection, and emerging as a delicate, graceful curve. This design updates Organic Modernism for the modern woman. It is timeless, mid-century elegance to wear every day.