Gerrit Rietveld, a socially commited designer of the 1920 – 40s, is a man perhaps known for having two personalities, one of this great furniture designer who re-designed chairs as if no chair had ever been invented before, and an architect that worked to counter the rationalism in European Architecture. Reitveld is perhaps best remembered for creating the ‘recession chair’ during the Great Depression. Made entirely of packing crate material, the chair and all other complementary furniture lines were designed to be affordable and available to absolutely everyone, such were the hard economic times. This philosophy led Rietveld on to create the Red Blue Chair (1918), arguably the first truly modern piece of furniture as we know and recognise today.
From the ripe old age of eleven, Gerrit Rietveld trained to be a cabinetmaker and later a jeweller’s draughtsman. Under his father’s watchful eye, Rietveld opened his own furniture workshop in 1917. After the First World War, Rietveld was accepted into the avant-garde De Stijl group of artists and the Red Blue Chair was coloured such to mimic those used by painter Piet Mondrian, also in line with his new group’s ideas and philosophies. The De Stijl group accumulated and fashioned an ideology that proper design of objects ought to be the breaking down of them into their compositional parts, and then taking them to the extreme; this was a notion somewhat influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Seemingly following his own design and structural code, other notable furniture pieces created by Rietveld include a child’s high chair, a piano stool and the Military chair, each widely used across Rotterdam and Utrecht, Netherlands. The Zig-Zag chair (1934), one could argue, is among the most radical furniture designs ever created, such was its seemingly effortless engineering and cantilever capabilities. Simply looking at photographs of modern-day manufactures of the original designs, you get the sense that these pieces could have been designed yesterday, let alone over 90 years ago. Each design was simple and were almost skeletal structures of bars and boards of timber, each experiments in space. Reitveld wasn’t just limited to chair furniture, and of note, the L40 lamp and the Schroder table were both considered more pieces of architecture than of furniture.
Reitveld’s ideas on early modern furniture were very much well-received and as such, influenced other designers. One designer in particular was the equally influential Marcel Breuer, known for his Bauhaus activities, the B3 chair and his relationship with Walter Gropius.
Beyond the Second World War, Rietveld worked primarily as an architect, though it was his designs of the late 1910s – mid 1930s that caught the most attention and are those we have focussed on here. Sadly Rietveld passed in 1964, however many Design Houses have been decorated based on his ideas and with his furniture; the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam, to name but one.
Gerrit Rietveld24 June 1888 - 25 June 1964, both Utrecht (Netherlands)
(Photography Credit : Cassina.com)