Nearly a century ago in 1924, Utrecht-born Gerrit Rietveld (1888 - 1964) designed this artistic masterpiece. He was commissioned by the 35-year-old recently widowed Truus Schröder to design a domestic building. It was custom-made to fit her newly acquired trendy or, according to some, eccentric lifestyle. Modern features included sliding walls, tricks with colours, maximised functionality in every room, a strange peep hole, remarkable furniture and a beautiful corner window. Even now the building is considered to be a one-of-a-kind example of The Style, a Dutch art movement dating to the beginning of the 20th century. However, from the outside many people say it looks like an enormous Lego building.
This architectural wonder is only a 10-minute bike ride from the historic city centre of Utrecht, but you must reserve a visiting time in advance. To give every visitor a chance to discover the house properly, the number of guests is limited. You can make a reservation via its website (open Wed - Sun: 5 tours a day with a maximum of 12 people per tour). The accompanying audio guide is available in seven languages. You can also visit an additional two museums (the Centraal Museum and the Dick Bruna House) with the house’s €12 admission ticket and you can ride to the Rietveld-Schröder House in East on a trendy bike. A handy map makes it an easy trip to Erasmuslaan 9.
Along the way you can visit other artistic treasures. About half way through the route, on the Rembrandt Quay, you can admire another brainchild of the famous architect. The home of the chauffeur of one of his regular customers has been turned into a three-storey apartment. When you finally reach your destination, the house looks stern and frugal. As far as colour is concerned, the outside of the house is quite plain with one shade of white and five different hues of grey. However, if you know anything about The Style Movement, you’ll no doubt be aware that Rietveld was well known for his controversial designs that combined abstract elements with primary colours. The true Rietveld fanatics among us can also download the Rietveld App (and a short course in Dutch) to learn everything about this inspiring person.
Once inside you’ll encounter a whole new world. The house’s furnishings are completely in harmony with the main shape which is a square. Rectangles and straight lines predominate and many rooms have built-in cabinets. The interior boasts a more varied range of hues, but they’re still limited to primary colours. The ground floor consists of the hall with stairs leading to the first floor. This passionate architect’s speciality was custom-designed homes and this is evident in the windows and the kitchen that were especially created to suit Mrs. Schröder’s modest height (1.5m). The kitchen is furnished with two world-famous lead blue Rietveld Berlin chairs, internationally known as ‘Zig Zag chairs’. Also note the interesting use of colour throughout the house. Sometimes it’s employed so that something doesn’t stand out like the black handles, which don’t show dirt, while in other places it’s used to hide something. Everything has been carefully considered and has a deeper meaning. Even the ceilings are significant. Rietveld attempted to optically connect the interior and exterior by continuing the colour of the awning at the front door.
During the day the first floor is intended to be a large, open space with a bathroom and toilet. But at night the bedrooms can be transformed by changing the shifting walls. All sides of the sliding doors have been painted to make them appear to disappear when folded, which creates an atmosphere of even more space. The round hole in the son’s bedroom sliding door offered a view of his bed and is yet another odd detail.
The corner window without an angle is simply beautiful and was the absolute favourite spot for the lady of the house to relax. When the building was erected in 1924, it still offered a fabulous view of the surrounding grasslands. Sadly, advancing urbanisation has replaced this great view with a four-lane motorway and a viaduct. This has, by the way, been tiled with tiles depicting different types of Rietveld chairs. This work of art has been aptly named Sitting in Blue.
Rietveld himself thought it had lost its spatial meaning and believed that it should be demolished. Thankfully, not all of the suggestions made by Utrecht’s greatest architect have been put into practice.