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Publication date 10 November 2022

Iconic Houses in The Netherlands - Rietveld Schröder House

  • Rietveld Schröder House (Centraal Museum Collection, Utrecht). Photo Stijn Poelstra.
  • Gerrit Rietveld en Truus Schröder-Schräder in Utrecht. Date and source unknown.
  • Interior first floor Rietveld Schröder House. Photo Mycosm93, Wikimedia Commons.
  • Rietveld Schröder House (Centraal Museum Collection, Utrecht). Photo Stijn Poelstra.
  • Rietveld Schröder House (Centraal Museum Collection, Utrecht). Photo Stijn Poelstra.
  • Gerrit Rietveld en Truus Schröder-Schräder in Utrecht. Date and source unknown.
  • Interior first floor Rietveld Schröder House. Photo Mycosm93, Wikimedia Commons.
  • Rietveld Schröder House (Centraal Museum Collection, Utrecht). Photo Stijn Poelstra.

A Radical Masterpiece

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born in Utrecht on 24 June 1888. He was the son of furniture maker Johannes Cornelis Rietveld and his wife Elisabeth van der Horst. Rietveld had five siblings. When he was 11, his parents picked him up from school and he went to work in his father's furniture workshop.

Text | Natalie Dubois

The young Rietveld clearly had a different vision of the furniture making profession than his father. His father mainly made furniture to order for the wealthy bourgeoisie in Utrecht. The furniture was classic and heavy, made of expensive woods and handcrafted. Rietveld was interested in relieving the furniture maker. It was hard work and that could be easier according to Rietveld. He developed by participating in drawing evenings and followed theoretical courses with architect Piet Klaarhamer. Through Klaarhamer he learned about the designs by the Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage and the American Frank Lloyd Wright. His interest in the new was sparked. Gradually he brought back the essence of the furniture in his designs.

Gerrit Rietveld struggled to break free from his Calvinist Reformed milieu in the 10s of the last century. Shortly after his marriage to Vrouwgien Hadders, he left his father's workshop to start his own workshop.

Truus Schröder-Schräder
In 1924 Rietveld receives the most important assignment of his life. The young widow Truus Schröder-Schräder asks him to build a house. This question would eventually lead to the construction of a masterpiece: the Rietveld Schröder House. Truus Schräder was born in 1889 in Deventer. She grew up with her older sister in a traditional wealthy Catholic family. She married Frits Schröder in 1911 and they lived in Utrecht where he had his law practice. The couple had three children. In the early 10's of the last century, they lived in a large patrician house on the Biltstraat, on the outskirts of Utrecht. It was a classic house with high-ceilinged rooms filled with heavy furniture, thick curtains, and carpets.

In 1924 Rietveld receives the most important assignment of his life  

Truus questioned herself about the life she led. She envisioned a free life but felt far from free. She didn't like the house she lived in either. She did not like the verticality of the architecture. Her husband suggested designing one room in the house according to her wishes. That room was the beginning of a long-standing collaboration with Rietveld and the beginning of a special love.

Schröder had already met Rietveld before, when he and his father delivered a desk for her husband's office. At that first meeting, Schröder said at the end of her life, it immediately became clear that they both had a different design in mind. At that meeting, a spark might have already jumped between the two.
In 1921 Rietveld renovated her room. The ceilings were optically lowered by working with horizontal colour surfaces. The furnishing was sober, and she placed peasant furniture there. The room contrasted sharply with the rest of the house, which was full and heavy furniture dominated. Schröder cherished the room and called it 'the room with the grays'.

Frits Schröder died in 1923. After his death, Schröder asked Rietveld to find and renovate a house for her and her three children. Because they couldn't find a suitable home, Truus Schröder asked Rietveld if he wanted to build a house for her. He had never done that before, but he said yes. They found a suitable piece of land on the eastern edge of the city of Utrecht, next to a row of recently completed houses, against a ditch and the polder.

The interior can adapt to the wishes of the residents  

Radically Different
Rietveld had a draft design ready within a day. Schröder was disappointed. She had something else in mind. Rietveld started again and came up with a much more spacious design, which pleased the client. Schröder had specific wishes and a lot of influence on the design. But which part of the design came from Schröder or Rietveld will never be answered exactly. We do know that Schröder mainly wanted to live on the top floor and had asked Rietveld to remove the walls there. In the design of the house, space is essential. Outside and inside flow into each other and merge, as it were.

The interior can be adapted to the wishes of the residents. On the first floor, several rooms can be created by means of sliding walls. The Rietveld Schröder House was built based on housing requirements and not from the outside. Rietveld and Schröder asked themselves the question: How will people live in the house? The sliding walls made it possible to live actively and consciously in the house. The house, now almost a hundred years old, was radically different from all the other houses of that time. Rietveld designed it without training and without examples. That was an incredible achievement. Truus Schröder lived there for sixty years until she died there in 1985. Rietveld lived there after the death of his wife in 1957 and died there in 1964. In 2000 the house was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. about life in the Rietveld Schröder House, Schröder wrote in her diary of 1970: 'If someone were to ask me: can you recommend such a life, such a house, I would say: if you are satisfied with a roof over your head and do not aspire to life in the house, but very much want to live outside, towards other people, then I say: no. The house asks a lot of you but also gives you a lot. Is laborious if you are very orderly and sensitive to all the little things that disturb you yourself. It takes a lot from you but can fill and enrich your life.’ The house made Rietveld a renowned architect. He has designed many buildings since its completion in 1925, whereby the concept of space remained crucial. But not one of these designs was as ground-breaking and became as famous as the Schröder House. A house that would never have been built without the idiosyncratic client, who pursued simplicity and austerity and had very clear ideas about living.

Pioneers of the Dutch Modern House
For those who are curious about more stories about the developments in Dutch residential architecture in the twentieth century, Iconic Houses has made a video in which five specialists discussing the following topics:

  • Hygiene and Health in the Modern Home by Hetty Berens, Curator of the Sonneveld House.
  • Palaces for the People by Valentijn Carbo, Architectural Historian at Hendrick de Keyser Monuments.
  • A Woman’s Place: Clients & Architects, by Natalie Dubois, Curator of Design at the Centraal Museum Utrecht.
  • Experiments with Space by Robert von der Nahmer, resident of the Diagoon House.
  • Home as a Self-Portrait: Architect ‘s Houses by Natascha Drabbe, Architectural Historian and owner of the Van Schijndel House.

The 1 hour video can be streamed via the webshop.

Natalie Dubois. Photo © Centraal Museum Utrecht/Jan-Kees Steenman, 2018 

About the author
Natalie Dubois studied museology at the Reinwardt Academy and art history at the University of Amsterdam and New York University. Since 2000 she has worked at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, where she has been curator of Applied Art and Design since 2015.

This article previously appeared in Dutch Magazine Herenhuis #91, September/October 2022.

Publication date 10 November 2022