My vintage Burke tulip table and chairs: Out with the new, in with the old

burke dinetteI have replaced the faux-Saarinen tulip table and chairs that I originally bought for my kitchen from Crate & Barrel and eBay, respectively, with a true vintage set that I found in a nearby thrift shop and which I believe may be vintage Burke. It’s a bit of a story… and includes my swivel problems with knockoff tulip chairs purchased a while back on eBay… so continue reading for the 411.

 

When I originally finished my kitchen renovation in 2007, my consciousness had been alerted that what the space needed was a Saarinen style tulip table and chairs set to complete the look. With all the aquamarine in my kitchen, I wanted contrast in my dinette. The sleek white of the classic Saarinen tables and chairs not only would provide the clean visual contrast, it would match perfectly with the “appliance white” of my vintage GE stove, vintage Kohler porcelain sink, and new-yet-classic Sub-Zero side-by-side refrigerator.  At the same time, I knew that the organic rounded lines of the Saarinen style would provide visual graphic relief from the boxy sea of cabinets.

When it came time to looking for my Saarinen dinette, I would certainly have loved an authentic reproduction still manufactured by Knoll. True beauteousness – yes yes yes. But, the $6,000+ price tag for the complete five-piece table and chairs set wasn’t practical. What I really wanted was vintage. So, I poked around on ebay, craigslist and local stores for the few months. My searching was kind of unenthusiastic, though. Becase, by the time I got to looking for the dinette set, I was exhausted by all the kitchen renovation work, and I JUST WANTED IT TO BE OVER.  That included (1) just wanting a dinette in there already and (2) not wanting to have to deal with a beat-up vintage set that would become “another project.”

1960s blue kitchen Reflecting this reality, what I went for, was a set of knock-off Saarinen tulip chairs from ebay (shown in the photo above), which cost about $125 each. I paired them with a $150 tulip style table from Crate and Barrel. Fast forward about four years, and (1) the chairs from ebay were not holding up to our abuse and (2) I was ready, anyway, for a vintage dinette project if one presented itself.

Re (1) We used the dinette chairs pretty heavily, and on two of the chairs in particular, the screws that held the base to the swivel ultimately began loosening and had to be up-ended regularly to re-tighten the mechanism. Perhaps there was a good go-to-the-hardware-store solution, but we did not try that. I tend to believe there must be a relatively easy fix – this was a purely mechanical issue. I do not have the paperwork on brand of chairs I purchased from ebay — I think there are a couple of folks who sells that have this appearance today. So I can’t judge quality of one vs. the other or again, whether there was an effective longterm fix. Note: The plastic or whatever it was that the chairs were made of — was holding up just fine.

The Crate and Barrel table – it’s just fine. In fact, I think it is a good value for the money. We’ll keep that table and use it somewhere for crafts or a friend in need.

Re (2) Fast forward to this past summer, when I was re-energized to tackle a bunch of annoying house projects that have been languishing on my to-do list. This included watching for a replacement for that dinette set, especially since I’d kind of always wanted vintage. So, in conjunction with all the other projects on my list, I started keeping my eye out for a vintage set — even if it needed some TLC. burke dinette set before being refinishedSure enough, I was making a swing through some of my favorite vintage and thrift shops and stopped at my friend Ron’s Berkshire Used Furniture in Pittsfield. There – new to him – was a sad, beat-up looking 42” tulip table (the size I needed) and four matching chairs.  He had found them on a local woman’s porch kind of buried under other stuff. I inquired as to price. He gave me a good deal. And I became the proud owner of what I believe is a vintage Burke tulip table and chairs. Above: The dinette in its “before” state.

Now, all I needed to do was to get them cleaned up – they were a mess. Tomorrow: How we cleaned up and repainted a vintage tulip table and matching fiberglass chairs.

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Comments

  1. Linda Blackmore says

    Great find. I was watching reruns of Everybody Loves Raymond this weekend, and a very early episode came on. In Marie and Frank’s kitchen was a beautiful set much like the one you found. That’s the only time I remember seeing it on there. They must have redecorated the set after a few episodes. Isn’t it funny how we watch for MCM on the TV.

    • pam kueber says

      TV is FULL of MCM – modern & modest, both! Both kitchens on Everybody Loves Raymond are very retro, as I recall.

  2. Tina says

    Looks great! Several years ago I was given an original Knoll tulip set by my aunt, who bought it probably in the late 50s. It came with a second set of seat cushion covers, but even they were kind of brittle from being in storage and they haven’t lasted long. The cushions themselves are in terrible shape now.

    Any idea on a source for cushions that don’t cost as much as an entire chair would (of any other style or brand)?

  3. @DigsRetro says

    Love, love, love your choice of kitchen table and chairs but what I most can’t get over are your cabinets!! The color is amazing! Are they vintage metal that you repainted? Could I bother you for the exact paint color? My 80s cabinets need upgrading but all I can afford right now is paint and would LOVE for them to be that color!!
    Thanks in advance,
    Karin

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Karin, see my page in the upper right of the navigation — Have a cup of coffee in Pam’s kitchen — for more photos and the links to the entire story. They are original finish. But, you can replicate it from Sherwin-Williams Suburban Modern palette – aquamarine. See my Paint section — navigate to Find PRODUCTS / Retro Accents / Paint.

      • says

        I have that exact same color on my walls in my kitchen (white cabinets) – discovered after reading and re-reading the story about Pam’s kitchen. It’s a beautiful, happy color!

      • @DigsRetro says

        Thanks Pam, I should have looked closer to find the answer, I didn’t realize it was right there in front of me, I was so mesmerized by your cabinets I could barely look away to post the comment! :)

        • pam kueber says

          np, DigsRetro — Your comment made me think I could improve the Pams Kitchen page with a link to the Suburban Modern color palette….Good luck!

  4. says

    You probably don’t want to hear that about 10 years ago I put a perfectly good vintage tulip dinning room table (oblong) and 4 chairs out on the side of the curb.

    They were my Mom’s. And I had grown up with modern – and hated it – for years. And, I just didn’t see any value in them.

    Now, oh, how I wish I would have held off and found someone who treasured that era. I’ll just hope that however has them, loves them.

    Now? I have a small vintage store where I try to pass along treasures to other people – so this NEVER happens again !

    Glad you found your “new” chairs for your kitchen!

  5. says

    Pam I think we have the same chairs! Mine were quite the project too! I bought 4 of them for $150 on ebay about 4 years ago (and they were within a distance that I could pick them up) but they had two layers of yellow spray paint on them. It took me a year to strip all the paint off (down to the original fiberglass) and repaint the bottoms! I combined them with a burke oblong top tulip table and two other armless knock off tulip chairs for my dining room set. (I am posting my dining room on my blog at the end of this week retroranchrevamp.com so you can check it out!) Do you have any issues with the swivel on your set? One of mine might need to be tightened but otherwise they are great!

    • Nancy says

      Heather- I have been looking for a set like this forever! Where do you live that you saw a set? Shipping is such an issue.
      Thanks, Nancy

        • Nancy says

          Oh man! That is always the problem! I am in the wrong part of the country! I live in Maryland! They are just so heavy/bulky that shipping usually doubles the cost. But, while I’m at it- how much was the set, if you don’t mind me asking?
          Thanks!

  6. says

    It’s always great to finally find that fabulous thing you’ve been on the look out for. Sometimes patience does pay off. I can’t wait to see the finished product!

  7. Mary says

    Your chairs look just like mine. They have the same kind of angled lines on the back. What is Burke and what makes you think that’s what you have?

  8. Annie B. says

    Congratulations on the find, Pam. I’m very interested in how you repainted the set. Can’t wait to see the finished project.

    Will you be using red chair pads again? Red is such a fabulous accent color for all that wonderful aqua.

    Your kitchen has inspired me to do a “flipside” of your color palette in my own: stark white walls and kitchen cabinets with aqua as the major accent ; yellow and orange as the minor accents. Anythng would have to be better than the dreary dark brown panelling which makes the kitchen look cave-like.

    • pam kueber says

      the top photo shown today is the Finished set. the leather is a rich, darker-rather-than-lighter cherry red.

  9. 52PostnBeam says

    They are fantastic. Having the slightly lower and less upright back, and the arms on the chairs, gives them a more “relaxed” and inviting character. Also the slight difference in the shape of the base looks better / more high style. Devil is in the details!

  10. Rebecca Prichard says

    Looking forward to gearing about the clean-up, although it’s tiring thinking about cleaning them up!

  11. Nancy says

    Pam- I love your new set!! It looks great in your kitchen. I was sorry to read that you passed (and then had regrets) on the little table w/ the glass top but you really scored here! CONGRATULATIONS & I look forward to seeing the process of getting them to this beautiful state.

    I’m still searching for me a set-

    • pam kueber says

      Thanks, Nancy. Yes, I know you are looking — and I will do a post about where to look, prices, etc. Also, yes: I think this WAS a better score than the Pearsall table! Yay!

  12. says

    I hate to be the dissenter here and I hope this doesn’t get sent to the “round file” but I think your “new” set was much nicer. Inspired by your knock off set, I bought a set of three tables and ten chairs like the vintage set you now have but was never happy with the lack of sophistication concerning the base, swivel and mounting of the seat. I don’t think the sets are the same but the chairs I had (still have one) had exposed mounting hardware. The “swivel” is just a plastic sleeve. There isn’t much mass to the base which made my chairs feel a little cheap. I didn’t have armchair seats but the bases (below the swivel) seem to be the same. Before I really examined my finds I was going to restore one set for myself and sell the rest to pay for the effort. I ended up selling all of them except the one chair that I did strip, repaint and recover the seat of. I’m going to use it with my sewing machine. The new vintage set looks fine, but I liked the “old” set more. I’d have squirted a little Loctite on the offending screw and been done with it.

    Of course, I’m totally torn here because…well, you saved a vintage set! Hooray! I was always under the impression that your first set was the real deal, too!

    So whatchya gonna do with the Saarinen knock off chairs? I’ve got a Noguchi Cyclone Table knock off they’d look great with!

    • pam kueber says

      No plastic sleeve on mine as far as I know. Chairs more “lightweight” than knockoffs – but I think that’s deceptive, i think they are quite strong. Hey, I think there’s a lot of room for preferences in this discussion…

  13. Linda MacKenzie says

    Hello, this is awesome. I have the same set 6 chairs and one table. Also have the cushions but they are worn and brown. Painted the chairs a light green and put them on my patio (table is out of the weather). Would love to sell them as I find them very uncomfortable. Any offers. I am in Alberta, Canada

    • pam kueber says

      Linda, probably it’s best for you to try and sell these locally — on craigslist or in canada, kiiji. good luck.

  14. ANGIE says

    I HAVE THESE SAME CHAIRS(ARM CHAIRS), 6 OF THEM & A 60″ MATCHING TULIP TABLE & THEY HAVE THE LINES IN THE ARCH OF THE BACK OF IT TOO & I AM TRYING TO DESPARATELY FIND OUT WHAT BRAND/MAKE THESE ARE & THEIR WORTH…IF YOU COULD KINDLY HELP ME OUT I WOULD GREATLY APPRECIATE IT!!!

  15. Clay Farrow says

    Hi Pam,
    Your chairs are terrific, but they’re probably NOT Burke, because of that unique “delta” shape towards the bottom of the back. They were most likely made by Metalcraft Products Co. of Lynwood CA.

    I’ve got a set of 4 of these same chairs that I’m in the middle of restoring, and mine still have a manufacturer’s label affixed to each of them.

    Great job on your restoration!

  16. Greg McKinney says

    I have my parents 52″ tulip table and six Burke Inc-Dalas #115 chairs. They have been used on the back porch of my parents house and on my back porch for years. They were purchased new in Dallas around 1960. The white table is faded, dull and has some slight stains and the chairs are white fiberglass and for the most part in good condition except for some deterioration on the star legs. The turquoise (mom’s favorite color) vinyl seats are in fair condition but I will replace them, (also with turquoise in her honor). I want to redo the set for use as my main indoor dining set just as it was for my family back in the mid sixties. Any suggestions you can give me as to what materials to use and how to get it refinished to “like new” would be very much appreciated.
    Greg McKinney-Plano,Texas

  17. Nostalgia North says

    I just found two of these swivel chairs. Looking to sell them. Where i live vintage is not in. The ppl here would rather buy at the brick.\

    Any feedback would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    Tony

  18. Ethel Browne says

    I just inherited a 5 piece dinette Burke Tulip Set. Original Burke. 4 cushioned chairs and a table with inlaid wood design. I have searched and have never seen a table like this one. All pieces have Burke signature under the base. The chairs are a taupe color with printed velvet seat pads (replaced about 15 years ago). The cushions are in good shape but the covering is faded. The table is a lighter shade of taupe color with a small individual design in inlaid wood on the top and all around the outer circumference. All the pieces are very stable. I have seen slip covers on eBay for about 40.00 each.

    I am interested in selling the whole set but am not sure of the value..I’n thinking in the $1200 range. PS I live in Los Angeles. If interested I will send along pictures to include the signature.

  19. JB says

    I have a 60″ Burke Tulip table and 7 Burke 116 chairs. The chairs have the 4 star bottom. Condition is Excellent used. There are no major dings or visible scars. I have the original cushions, of which need some work, and the cushions may have been made to match the chairs. Purchased new in 1966. I have only a fair idea of value, but would like to sell it to someone that wants it.

    • Greg McKinney says

      I might be interested in another set. Can I see pictures and have an idea of what you want for it? I’ve finished redoing our set and it was quite costly. Also, there will be expense of shipping it. I’m in the Dallas area.

      • JB says

        I am going to have the table turned over tomorrow to get whatever information is on the bottom of the pedastal. It is probably a Burke, but may be a Knoll, I just don’t know. I will try to have an answer back and attempt to the value the combination. Please allow me to get more info before I reply on value. I can only arrange a trans shipment where someone picks it up and arranges all the details of shipping due to the location it resides just being sold and being vacated by April 26th +/- a day or two.

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