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. 

  1. Marisa says:

    I’d love any insight on how you restored your set! I just picked up an original Burke and they need to be repainted or coated. Thx!

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Best to consult with a pro — contact the original company, which still exists (Herman Miller or Knoll, I always forget).

  2. Nathalie says:

    Hi all,
    I’m new to this and recently got a pair of Saarenin Tulip arm chairs and thinking of picking up 4 other burke 4 point tulip chairs. They’re going in separate rooms. Not sure if it would be a faux pas to have them all in the same space. I figured, it would be nice to have some extra chairs for company. I’d use the burke in our breakfast area and armchairs in the formal dining room. Nevertheless, I need to have them refinished. Thinking of doing the epoxy on the base, as they are a bit banged up. Then spraying on some paint. But before I get my hands dirty, has anyone here had any success in having an auto body or marine shop paint these chairs? If so, how much was the job per chair? And were you happy with the results?

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Best to consult with a pro — contact the original company, which still exists (Herman Miller or Knoll, I always forget).

      1. Julia B says:

        The link to the second half of the table restoration project is giving a 404 error. Is it still out there?

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