Gerrit Rietveld – The Master of Sobriety

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (b. 1888-1964) was one of the most important architects and designers, who became known especially for his innovative chair designs. Many of his designs, such as the Zig-Zag Chair or the Red and Blue Chair became iconic design classics and continue to shape the world of furniture design today.

Born in Utrecht on June 24, 1888, the young Rietveld learned the craft of furniture making in his father’s workshop. During his time as a carpenter, he acquired his architectural knowledge in evening classes.1 In 1917, he opened his own furniture workshop. A year later he came into contact with members of the De Stijl art movement and met Theo van Doesburg, among others.

The movement, which peaked between 1917 and 1931, aimed to radically simplify forms of expression through reduction. The group published a magazine of the same name, edited by van Doesburg. Rietveld joined the movement and wrote regularly for the magazine.2

He gained a lot of attention in 1919 with a batten chair, which he painted a few years later in the characteristic primary colors of the De Stijl movement, red and blue. This gave it its now-familiar name, the Red and Blue Chair. After the dissolution of the movement in 1931 and amid work restrictions during the crisis, Rietveld still designed a number of furniture pieces. The Zig Zag chair (1932), the Crate pieces (1934), and the Utrecht armchair (1935) were all created at that time. Interesting fact: Rietveld not only sold the furniture but also the drawing with instructions so that the customer could assemble the piece of furniture themselves.2

To sit is a verb. If you’re tired, just lie down.

Gerrit Rietveld

After the war, in the 1950s, Rietveld recovered from the difficult period and accepted more architectural commissions. He completed numerous major projects such as the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht and the De Ploeg weaving mill in Bergeijk. In addition to these, he also designed the press room for the UNESCO building in Paris and the Dutch pavilion for the World’s Fair in Brussels, all in 1958.

Finally, at the age of 75, Rietveld designed his last chair, the Steltman Chair in 1963, for a jeweler in The Hague. The chair, which now also has the status of a design classic, reflects Rietveld’s progressive approaches to design and construction.

Gerrit Rietveld died on June 25, 1964. He left behind an impressive legacy of furniture and buildings that had a major impact on 20th-century design. His style was particularly distinguished by his playfulness and willingness to experiment. Today, Rietveld is considered one of the most innovative architects and furniture makers in the Netherlands.

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Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.