Our Shrewsbury Architects Love the Works of Gerrit Rietveld and Not Just Because of His Command of Colour

Johnson Design Partnership aren’t historians, rather an architect firm with an abundance of project management skills. We’re a group of talented individuals who have banded together and aim to provide a service for all, that benefits everyone through innovative and creative designs.

They say positivity breeds positivity, and it’s with that in mind that our Shrewsbury architects want to take a look at those that have inspired their works and promote some good vibes. Whilst noting how they have incorporated similar ideas successfully into our own architect firm. With that in mind, it’s time to take a dive into the life of Dutch interior designer, Gerrit Rietveld.

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Rietveld was born many, many moons ago on June 24th, 1888, in Utrecht. He died at the age of 76 on June 25th, 1964. Whilst it remains unofficially confirmed, rumour has it that this makes him older than the head honcho at Johnson Design Partnership and that others in our architect firm weren’t even waddling around at the time of his death.

Rietveld was the son of a joiner, Johannes Cornelis Rietveld. It’s arguably unsurprising that Rietveld would go on to walk (or rather, design) the path he did. Of the six children he’d go on to have with his wife Vrouwgien Hadders, whom he married in 1922, it was his youngest son, Wim Rietveld, who would also go on to make a name for himself as an acclaimed furniture architect and withhold excellent project management abilities in his own right. As they say, “like father, like son.”

When he was just 11 years old, Rietveld left school and became an apprentice to his father. Not only this, but he enrolled at night school and studied technical draughtsmanship at the Utrecht Museum of Applied Arts, under the tuition of architect, Piet Klaarhamer. He then began working as a draughtsman for C.J Begeer (a jeweller in Utrecht) from 1906 to 1911.

When you take a moment to consider these dates, that means by just 23 years old, Rietveld had years of experience in numerous areas of project management and furniture architecture before he’d even hit a quarter century old. If LEGO had been a part of his childhood, Rietveld wouldn’t have followed any instructions and yet would create a masterpiece with the pieces he had.

It may come as even less of a surprise then (and only adds to this inspiring tale) that when he came to open his own furniture workshop in 1917 (he’d later go on to start a business as a cabinet-maker), Rietveld had taught himself drawing, painting, project management and model-making. Whilst they aren’t averse to teaching others the skills and tricks of the trade, one of the most inspirational aspects of Rietveld’s story to us here at Johnson Design Partnership architect firm is this independent drive and passion for his craft and furniture architecture design process.

There stands a good chance that there may be buried somewhere deep in your subconscious the image of Rietveld’s Red and Blue Chair (‘Rood-blauw stoel’), which he designed in 1917. It’s, as the kids say, “iconic”  furniture architecture.Iit’s now been 105 years since its inception and yet the Red and Blue Chair is still well-recognised today. In fact, it’s so iconic and inspirational to our Shewbury architects here at Johnson Design Partnership that the chair takes a pride of place in the office, even spending time at a member of staff’s (who shall remain anonymous) household prior to this. Sadly, a life-size cut out of Rietveld was apparently not included.

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The Red and Blue Chair stood out to many who commented on its for its simplicity and, as Rietveld himself claimed, “honest design”. Its particular design, as with many of Rietveld’s early works, sticks closely to the ideology of the De Stijl movement. This movement aimed to incorporate geometry into the furniture architecture design process. In 1918 Rietveld changed the colours of the chair after being influenced by the De Stijl movement, of which he became a member in 1919. This was the same year he became an architect, so he was quite a busy bee!

In 1923, Rietveld took up the suggestion from fellow artist Bart van der Leck to apply a high-shine lacquer to the chair. He did this using primary colours and made it so that the planes of colour appeared to float. This is another aspect of Rietveld’s work that is inspirational to our Shrewsbury architects at Johnson Design Partnership, the way in which colour can enhance or completely change one’s perspective of a design. It’s simple, yet extremely effective.

Whilst he was by no means a lazy individual, much like all our team at Johnson Design Partnership architect firm. Rietveld wanted to create things that could benefit the masses, not just a minority. He’s believed to have thought that contemporary (to his time) handcrafted furniture was too heavy, required an excessive amount of labour for the final result, and was unnecessarily expensive. Rietveld believed that through effective project management and machine learning, he could produce furniture that was simpler in style and more accessible to all. Whilst he wasn’t looking to create a machine-led revolution, his thought process can’t be faulted, and Rietveld’s work revolutionised the way that furniture was designed and produced, something that our furniture architects take note from everyday.

In 1919, Rietveld’s slatted chair (in unstained beech) was featured in the De Stijl art journal which was edited by Theo van Doesburg. This feature would arguably be the kickstart for Rietveld’s rise in success. Thanks to contacts made during his time as part of the De Stijl movement, Rietveld had opportunities to exhibit abroad as well. In 1923, Walter Gropius invited Rietveld to exhibit at the Bauhaus. Making connections and forming good personal relationships with others is also something that our Shewbusry architects at Johnson Design Partnership aim to do.

Not only is Rietveld known for his work in the furniture business, but he also dabbled with designing buildings and housing too. In 1924 he designed and built the Rietveld Schröder House. This is one of his most notable projects and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. Whilst the house has what could be considered a ‘conventional’ ground floor, the top floor is quite a departure from the norm (just like the great man himself). The top floor doesn’t feature fixed walls and instead houses sliding ones that allow for a change in living space as one pleases. Whilst it may seem like an oddity, this design has gone on to inspire others and promote new ways of thinking innovatively and creatively.

The house was built in close collaboration with the owner Truus Schröder-Schräder and had a strong influence on Truus’ daughter, Han Schröder. She would later become one of the first female architects in the Netherlands. Inspiring others is another key ethic for our Shrewsbury architects here at Johnson Design Partnership’s mindset. Clearly, it’s possible, so why not try to do so.

Rietveld demonstrated how Mondrian’s (one of the founders of the De Stijl movement) abstract style could be translated into three-dimensional design objects and buildings. The buildings he’d go on to design throughout the decades not only incorporated these ideas, but those of a more ‘functionalist’ style of architecture too. This were known as Nieuwe Zakelijkheid or Nieuwe Bouwen. Just a few paragraphs here and pictures of his projects prove just how talented and innovative Rietveld was- truly inspirational.

Whilst he continued to drive innovation and creativity forward with his housing and building projects that he used his project management skills to develop in the 1920s and 1930s, much of Rietveld’s commission came from private individuals. This meant it was not until the 1950s when he had somewhat of a housing and building renaissance that Rietveld could showcase his progressive ideas about social housing. Whilst he would go on to stick largely to furniture architecture during these intervening years, there was no shortage of work for Rietveld and his creativity and flair remained influential to many.

The 1950’s (as mentioned above) were when Rietveld became more heavily involved in commissions focused on housing and building work. In 1951 Rietveld designed a retrospective exhibition about De Stijl; this was held in Amsterdam, Venice, and New York. He worked on the Dutch pavilion for the Venice Biennale (1953), the art academies in Amsterdam and Arnhem, and the press room for the UNESCO building in Paris.

Not only this (see the bottom of this article for a list of his most notable projects), but he would have so many projects on the go that in 1961 Rietveld set up a partnership with architects Johan van Dillen and J. van Tricht. The trio would successfully build hundreds of homes, many of them (as were a majority of Rietveld’s works) were built in the city of Utrecht.

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Unsurprisingly, Rietveld has had many exhibitions and accolades dedicated to him. His first exhibition devoted to his works was opened at the Central Museum, Utrecht, in 1958. In 1968 the Amsterdam Art Academy was changed to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in his honour. “Gerrit Rietveld: A Centenary Exhibition” was set up as the first presentation of his work in the US at the Barry Friedman Gallery, New York, in 1988. Finally, in Utrecht there is the “Rietveld’s Universe” at the Central Museum, which and compares Rietveld and his work with famous contemporaries such as like Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe. Of note are that two software tools, both for code review, have been named after Gerrit Rietveld: Gerrit and Rietveld. Clearly, the man has left his legacy.

Below is a list of some of the major projects done by Gerrit Rietveld:

  • The Art Academy, Arnhem (1962)
  • Bergeyk; a housing development (1954–56)
  • The De Ploeg Textile Factory, Bergeyk (1956)
  • The De Ploeg Textile Works (1956)
  • Hillebrandt House, The Hague (1935)
  • The Hoograven Housing complex, Utrecht (1954-1957)
  • The Jaarbeurs, Utrecht (1956)
  • Mass-produced houses at Utrecht (1931–34)
  • Muziekschool, Zeist (1932)
  • Red and Blue Chair (1917)
  • Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht (1924)
  • The Schroder House (1924)
  • Stoop House, Velp (1951)
  • Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (Finished after death)
  • The Zig-Zag chair (1930-34)


It is tricky not to state just how influential and innovative some of Rietveld’s work has become. Even if the world of design and architecture is alien to you, a little research of Rietveld’s projects and a glance at the images of each finished project clearly show the impact he had on this particular slice of the world we live in. His command of colour and the use of space in his projects has not only inspired our Shrewsbury architects within their future architecture projects, but for every new project we undertake here at our architect firm. For a chap that passed nearly 60 years ago, that’s most impressive. Here’s to you, Gerrit- wherever you may be.

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