Museum & exhibitions

Living in an icon

Rietveld Schröderhuis

Despite celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, the Rietveld Schröderhuis still looks like the most modern house in the city. And as there’s so much to say about this iconic Utrecht building, the celebrations involve 100 days of activities.

In 1924, interior architect Truus Schröder and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld submitted their design to the ‘Building aesthetics committee’, or the ‘building police’ as Rietveld like to call them. The committee had already torpedoed several of his pioneering architectural ideas.

The house on Prins Hendriklaan still looks modern in 2024, so you can only imagine the impact it had a 100 years ago. The design was completely off the scale. It had a flat roof and the living quarters were on the first floor. The facades are a mix of blind and open flat surfaces. There’s even a prominent flat surface in front of the balcony, which acts as a parapet and blends in with the facade. But perhaps the most striking element is the strict use of the colours white, black, grey, red, yellow and blue.


Creating space

Anyone who was familiar with the manifesto-like art journal De Stijl was probably slightly less surprised by the house. The journal was first published in 1917 and used by artists like Theo van Doesburg and Piet Mondriaan to promote a high degree of abstraction and the use of primary colours.

But the colours seemed less important to furniture designer and architect Gerrit Rietveld, as later revealed in his comments about the Rietveld Schröderhuis. He saw it as ‘A study for new possibilities; a study with space, not mass.’ He meant that as a designer, you should focus on creating space, not shapes: it’s not about the walls and the ceiling, but about what’s in between them. He looked for ways to create maximum space with the minimum of attributes. Such as a light without a lampshade, but with vertical and horizontal pipes defining the space.

Tiny house

Truus Schröder later commented that the Rietveld Schröderhuis represented ‘a sort of freedom’ for her. She wasn’t only referring to the ground-breaking spatial design, but also (and mainly) to the lifestyle that the design promoted. She believed that living a basic, simple life – with few belongings, limited square metres and at one with outdoors – would enrich your spiritual existence.

In the initial years, they lived there together with her three children. They had their own rooms at night, but during the day, they opened the sliding doors between them and the rooms served as a sitting room and a music room. You could say; a flexible tiny house with multifunctional use of space. The ground floor housed a studio and kitchen, and the servant’s quarters.

Truus lived in the Rietveld Schröderhuis from 1925 until her death in 1985.  Gerrit lived there too for part of this time. She described it as an ‘exquisite house’. When asked whether it wasn’t very complicated to rebuild your house whenever you went to bed, she replied: ‘It isn’t easy to live a complicated life.’ One of the marvellous ‘gadgets’ incorporated into the Rietveld Schröderhuis is the corner window which, once open, removes the entire corner and enhances the ‘openness’ of the space.

Yellow bed

The house belongs to the inventory of the Centraal Museum, and even has its own inventory number. Natalie Dubois, curator of design and applied art, is directly responsible for caring for the house from within the museum. ‘My job at Centraal Museum also involves mediaeval glasswork and silver miniatures’, she explains, ‘but this is by far the largest object in the collection!’

The Centraal Museum also manages the Rietveld Schröderhuis archive, which contains some 20,000 records. Natalie: ‘This is important material. Every era has its own focus, its own way of looking at things. Old photos taken through the window of the Rietveld Schröderhuis show just how much the view has changed over time, but also shows changes in the people or the objects on the windowsills.’

Natalie and researchers including Jessica van Geel, who recently wrote a biography of Truus Schröder, keep discovering new things that help to complete the image. For instance, they’ve discovered that since it was built in 1924, most of the changes have been to the interior of the house. Truus’ white double bed, for example, was later painted yellow, says Natalie. ‘In an interview with Truus in the 1980s, she mentioned that her bed had been painted yellow. A black-and-white photo clearly showed that it wasn’t white, but it could easily have been grey. So when we found a drawing with an arrow pointing to the bed and the word “yellow”, plus an isometric drawing showing that it had been painted yellow, we had enough proof. It seems logical now, with the yellow plane on the wall and the small red watch shelf.’

Bravado and money

The Rietveld Schröderhuis is a listed building and since 2000, on the UNESCO world heritage list. You can visit the house during museum opening hours, wearing special shoe covers. Audio tours are available in eight languages. Gerrit and Truus were well aware of the architectural importance of the house. They had the floor that they added in the 1930s, purely because they needed more living space, removed 20 years later as they wanted people to see the house as it had been intended. They couldn’t have made it without each other, says Natalie. ‘He had the bravado, she had the money, together they had ideas and courage. And courage was essential, because they achieved something that had never been done before.’

100 years a style icon, 100 days of celebration

On 15 May, 100 days before the birthday of Truus Schröder, Mayor Sharon Dijksma will kick off the anniversary programme 100 years a style icon, 100 days of celebration.

15 May to 23 August, various locations


Rietveld Schröderhuis

The masterpiece of G. Rietveld, monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is certainly worth a visit.

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