The Dutch architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld began his career early: as a twelve year old he entered his father’s furniture workshop. At first his interest was in the applied arts, but it was not long before he was also fascinated by architecture.
Form and Color
To begin with, he seems to have been influenced by painting. In 1918 he designed an armchair made from wooden slats, whose reduced forms are reminiscent of the paintings of abstract artists. But in addition to this in the years that followed color took on ever greater importance in his furniture designs. Red, yellow and blue contrast with black, white and gray: in this way Rietveld’s armchai developed into the “Red-Blue Chair,” which brought international recognition to the designer from Utrecht. The reduced palette incidentally corresponded to the colors that were used by the painters of the group De Stijl.
It was from this group too, with whose members he was in touch from 1919, that Rietveld was to adopt his asymmetrical designs. This is seen, for example, in his Berlin Chair, which looks more like a sculpture than a piece of furniture. Rietveld also became prominent as a typographer, and he designed many printed items both on his own account and for others. In the late 1920s and above all the 1930s he developed furniture for mass production and as an architect also resorted to prefabricated building parts. For his “kerrnwoningen” (housing modules) in Utrecht and Vienna he relied on mass production for all the essential components.
A House for the Schröders
While little is still preserved of his later residential building projects, his main work long ago became an architectural icon. In 1924 Truus Schröder-Schräder commissioned Rietveld, until then hardly known as an architect, to build a private house for her. His 35-year-old client was looking for a new home for herself and her three children after the death of her husband. When she could not find a suitable property to rent, Rietveld finally tendered successfully for a new building at the edge of the city of Utrecht. Following Schröder’s ideas, Rietveld designed a small but revolutionary house.
His client wanted to see walls only where they were indispensable; what was important to her was the view of the landscape and the practicality of the whole design. Rietveld met her wishes with movable walls on the first floor, which offered the flexibility requested by his demanding client. Other areas, such as the kitchen and a den on the ground floor, were separated from the living quarters. On the grounds of cost, Rietveld refrained from executing the whole structure in concrete as originally planned, but used this material only for the foundations and balconies. A skylight and generously cut windows allow light into the house, whose facades are structured by further horizontal and vertical elements.