Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking. Or at least it is when the blooms are dining, coffee and side tables. Oversized or diminutive, in the boldest of hues or the most restrained of palettes, the unexpected shape is being ushered into homes by a number of designers.
Designer, editor, writer and filmmaker Emmanuel Olunkwa, 28, is a prominent example. In 2020, he found himself trying to work out what pieces would best suit the layout of his new Brooklyn apartment. “I was thinking about what shapes would make me happy,” he recalls.
Olunkwa arrived at a flower and set about making a streamlined five-petalled birch plywood table. But what started off as a way to furnish his apartment has evolved into a furniture collection and subsequently an interdisciplinary studio, E&Ko. The Flower table (currently available in three sizes, from $650 to $3,200) was joined by a series of chairs ($850). Using shapes and silhouettes such as squares, keyholes and rounded backs, Olunkwa has designed seven distinct chairs, ensuring that each petal can be paired with its own seat.
Olunkwa follows in the footsteps of Giuseppe Raimondi, who as Gufram’s creative director in 1966 designed the Margherita table with the artist Ugo Nespolo; while the design is no longer in production, it has developed a cult popularity in recent years (vintage versions from $1,000). The appeal is understandable given its chunky, oversized space age form, which was produced in myriad colours and sold with matching chairs.
Floral artist and designer Robin Rose Hilleary and designer-carpenter Justin Kabbel have adopted the bold, fun essence of the Margherita to create a Flower table for Fleurotica – a sleeker, glossy piece ($3,850) that still has a warm vintage feel. And so much so that it looks right at home on the shopfloor of the Brooklyn-based vintage store Home Union. In fact, it was a very obvious and natural pairing, says the shop’s co-founder, Daniel King.
“They go hand in hand. It’s a spin on vintage, not copied, but reimagined in a modern way,” King says. “It’s a good NYC size and a great way to add some colour and fun to a space.” And because it doesn’t come with chairs, people are also free to style the table to their liking.
Similarly eye-catching are Australian brand Billy Furniture’s candy-hued tables in lilac, yellow, orange, red and blue. The Goldie (A$2,200, about £1,259), a generously sized dining table with a chubby trunk base, is joined by Willow (about £509), the miniature-sized side-table version, and Lilly (about £790), a coffee table. The trio have an almost tree-like appearance that stands in dramatic contrast to the Evelyn (about £355) and Sadie (about £338), both more diminutive side tables, which round out the brand’s floral-focused “First Ladies” collection.
The table with the longest and richest history, however, takes a more literal and organic approach to its design: Richard Schultz’s Petal table for Knoll (£3,744 at The Conran Shop), which was first released in 1960 and is still in production. The outdoor table was inspired by the flowering herb Queen Anne’s lace and features eight segmented petals, sprouting from its pedestal base. As Schultz, who died last year, once explained: “Each cluster of flowers is supported on its own stem… each petal is independent, which allows the table to expand and contract with the weather.”
“Schultz was early on identified as a sculptor, which you can definitely tell from that table,” says Amy Auscherman, director of archives and brand heritage at MillerKnoll. Schultz joined Knoll in the early 1950s and one of his first assignments was working with Harry Bertoia on developing Knoll’s wire collection – including the wire side chair (from £816 at Chaplins). When Knoll opened its first Los Angeles showroom, the brand turned to Schultz for a table to complement the Bertoia wire chairs; he came up with the Petal design.
“It was very well received: MoMA collected it, and from the outset it was hailed as a classic,” says Auscherman. It makes sense. Flower tables add the unexpected and a clever playfulness to interiors but manage to be timeless as well. Olunkwa’s description of his work probably puts it best. “It’s fun but serious,” he says – which is why the motif is springing up in homes again.