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100 years of design: the Utrecht armchair by Gerrit Rietveld

The Utrecht armchair by Gerrit Rietveld is one of the few objects left to mankind by this laconic and strange genius of Dutch design.

Gerrit Rietveld was a strange man: he built houses strange for their time, made strange furniture. He always worked alone – there is very little evidence of technical descriptions of his items (in total, about two dozen things are known about his design, although it can be assumed that there were more of them).

Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld.

As a member of the De Stijl group, he avoided involvement in public life. Rietveld was a self-taught commoner (of which he was sometimes shy), and he was most interested in the world of his own workshop.

Probably, it was precisely because of his restrained nature that Rietveld was never able to give his outstanding design wide publicity: he was not interested in doing promotions and introducing his items into mass production.

Architect Jamie Bush: Home for an IT professional in California. 2018. Living room. Utrecht armchair.

For a long time he was perceived as the author of two masterpieces – the Red Blue Chair and the famous Schroeder House, which he built for his beloved, who unconditionally supported all his endeavors.

Utrecht armchair upholstered by Paul Smith.

However, Rietveld has a chair that saw the light of day and was loved during the life of the designer. If his The Red Blue Chair (a chair of seven rails, six pillars, two struts and two planks) was more of a manifesto stating that it was time to deal with the tradition of the chair as furniture for seating, then Utrecht (later the name of the chair) proved the opposite. It was one of the few “understandable” to the general public and convenient objects of Rietveld’s authorship. In addition, it was put into industrial production.

Utrecht armchair in the interior of the London boutique Casa Loewe.

The design of this chair, as is often Rietveld’s, is geometric and intelligible: the back and seat are connected at right angles, and the entire chair is tilted back and rests on the connection between the chair and the back, as well as on the armrests-legs. The absence of rear legs creates a sense of stability and stability.

The shape of the chair is characterized by the straightness and massiveness characteristic of the De Stijl movement.

The first chair was designed in 1935, in the catalog of the Dutch company Metz & Co it was called R31. In 1937 he was presented at the New House exhibition in The Hague. At the same time, a three-seater sofa appeared, based on the design of this chair. The first models were handcrafted and covered with dark brown canvas.

Large decorative stitches, visible in all modern editions of the chair, were already there: they emphasized the elegance and became a distinctive feature of this model.

During the Second World War, production of the chair ceased. It only resumed in 1963. Then the company Metz & Co began to produce, along with the armchair, two-seater and three-seater sofas.

Armchair Boxblocks by Berthian Pot for Cassina, Limited Edition, 2016.

A new round of interest in this chair arose with its reprint in 1988 by the Italian company Cassina – at the same time it was renamed the Utrecht chair, after the name of the hometown of Rietveld. Since then, many limited textile versions have been produced, as well as children’s versions of this seat.

In the current reissue, the chair, filled with polyurethane foam and polyester wadding, is a metal structure rather than a wooden structure like the first Rietveld models.

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