Rietveld Schröder House

No architectural visit to Utrecht would be complete without a visit to the Rietveld Schröderhuis which would actually be known as the Rietveld Schröder-Schräder House if complete logic or any sense of fun at all had been brought to the table.  The building is named for its architect, Gerrit Rietveld, a Dutch furniture maker and founding member of De Stijl, and Truss Schröder-Schräder, the modernism activist and widowed mother of three.  During her husband’s life, Truss had hired Rietveld to design her personal retreat room in an otherwise conventional house and once she had the power to select the style of her built environment autonomously, she commissioned and collaborated on the design of this iconic building and lived in it with first her children and later with Rietveld himself.  For both of them the house was a physical manifesto and social statement, emphasizing the simplicity made possible by modernism and, in Truss’s phrase, “the luxury of frugality.”  She lived in the house until her death in 1985.

The building is now a museum with guided, hour-long, tours available to pilgrims and interested passers by.   I took a tour, trying to capture it in my notebook while not leaning on the walls and gathering a few illicit interior snaps, and then settled on a traffic barricade outside to sketch it until the next tour group came out and startled me from my reverie.

I find the house fascinating.  In many ways, it reads like some sort of articulated mechanical toy, with cabinets hiding bedroom sinks, walls that fold away to convert bedrooms into living space, and secret roof access.  The corner windows can be opened outwards to turn the second floor into a breezy pavilion.  It seems whimsical and clean.  It does not, however seem in any way comfortable.  My understanding is that Truss would not have wanted the place cluttered up with throw pillows but, without them, I can hardly imagine ever escaping from one of its chairs without bruises.  It afforded its teenaged occupants visual privacy but no real sense of personal space (a very un-american design) and its material choices were sometimes more dramatic than practical.  The floor areas are divided up to denote multiple functions through the day and night and indicated with different colors and materials, one of which was white rubber matting.  An anecdote from the audio tour recounts how years later when they would visit the house, the adult Schröder-Schräder children would hop over the white areas, a habit they retained from childhood and their attempt not to wear out the floor.  It wouldn’t be my choice for a home but it made for a fabulous day trip.

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