The Red and Blue Chair by Thomas Gerrit Rietveld.

by Alessandra Bettoni

This short story begins in the past century, more precisely in the ’20s, as a young Dutch boy, son of a carpenter, left the school to work with his father. His passion led him to attend evening classes in art and architecture, he worked for a short time at a jeweler and later on he opened his own workshop. This young and still inexperienced designer first conceived the idea of wood plank made furniture objects,  deliverable to the client in a do-it-yourself kit, easy to assemble at home.

As you might probably think, I’m not writing about the IKEA founder, I’m writing about Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964), architect, urban planner and genius designer of the 20th century, that by assembling 15 pieces of wood created one of the design icons of all time, the Red and Blue chair.

The young designer had already created a first prototype of the chair in 1918, before he met  Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondrian, the co-founder of the group De Stijl, which he later joined, becoming an outstanding representative of the artistic current. The chair has been produced in its “colored”version in 1923 and has immediately become the undisputed symbol of the movement.

Painted with the primary colors and black, this chair appears as the three-dimensional representation of a Mondrian painting. The frame consists of 15 black lacquered wood strips with yellow heads, surmounted on each other to form a vertical and horizontal linear structure, to contain two axes of plywood, lacquered in red, the back – and in blue, the seat. The rigidity of the seat, comfortable enough to relax, but not adequate for sleeping, makes the chair ideal for reading and meditation.

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Schroeder House, Utrecht – T.G. Rietveld, 1924 – Red and Blue chair on the right, Red and Blu Table, in the corner top left

The Red and Blue Chair, along with the Red and Blue Table, are part of the furniture of the Schroeder House in Utrecht, the true symbol of the neoplastic Architecture, designed in 1924 by Rietveld as well, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

rietveld_portrait
Thomas Gerrit Rietveld, 1888-1964

Rietveld was an out-of-the-box thinker for his time, with a visionary approach to its work and always willing to experiment.

«Rietveld is a honest architect who strives for austerity, imagination and precision, taking a very important role in the development of contemporary architecture». 

(Le Corbusier)

In his long and successful career, he has designed a wide range of furniture and decorative objects – chairs, armchairs, tables, lamps, cots and baby items – always with the visionary eye of the “useful and social” design, thinking about the DIY way to assemble, always aiming at the simplicity of construction and at production on a large scale. That dream has come true after his death, when the Rietveld Family decided to appoint the Italian manufacturer Cassina to produce on a larger scale and bring to market the furnishing objects designed by the Master Architect.

Design Museum – Rietveld and the Red and Blue Chair

FT.com Lifes&Arts – Rietveld

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