September 17, 2008

The Awesomely Unsittable High Chairs Of Gerrit Rietveld

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The world--if I may speak for the world for a moment--may have Gerrit Rietveld all backwards. The world sees Rietveld as a leading furniture designer and architect of the geometric purity-obsessed De Stijl movement who just happened to make a few high chairs now and then. The reality, I now know, is that Rietveld was a prolific high chair designer who saw De Stijl as the most efficient means of maximizing his high chairs' stylistic awesomeness while bleeding them of any and all comfort and utility.

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The simple, relatively innocuous de Stijl-style chair was created for Metz & Co, a Dutch department store in 1915. It's reminiscent of Rietveld's iconic Red & Blue easy chair. Vitra has a red version of the high chair with leather seats in their Kid-Size collection. [The image above is actually a 1960's reproduction; it sold at Treadway Gallery in 2005 for $2000. Another example sold in London last spring for £4,000.]

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This high chair is even more Red & Blue chair-like, what with its floating planes of wood affixed to the sticks. Architect Edward Jenner built a version of this chair for his daughter using the plans published in How To Construct Rietveld Furniture.

[In fact,Jenner adapted Rietveld's schematic, grossing up the measurements by 5% to accommodate contemporary standard lumber dimensions. Have fun!]

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The first design Rietveld ever published in De Stijl the journal in 1919 was a high chair, an insanely baroque geometric cage-looking thing. The only known example in existence sold last year at Christie's Amsterdam for a whopping EUR180,000.

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[A design student also recreated it last year; you can tell it apart from the original by the day-glo green paint.]

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Rietveld's high chair antics continued. This 1940 example from the Vitra collection is a kid-sized riff on Rietveld's other iconic adult design, the 1934 ZigZag chair. Well, mostly kid-sized. Though the Metz & Co. chairs could technically hold a kid, the ZigZag high chair Rietveld designed for the Utrecht artist & photographer Nico Jesse did not; it was basically a high-chair-esque sculpture. [image: rietveldschroederhuis.nl]

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I have no idea what the deal is with the copy of the "Jaren 50" Rietveld high chair Andy linked to last summer, but it's the most functional-looking design of the whole lot. Maybe it just takes a few decades to find the right style/substance balance.

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5 Comments

Have you sat in Reitveld's Red-Blue chair? If not, do not cast any stones. I have one in my living room and I use it daily. I find it very comfortable. It's certainly not a Laz-E-Boy, but it works for my 6'5" frame! Comfort is in the behind of the sitter.

Of course not, I'm just talking smack and building up the Jesse chair. We have a Marcel Wanders Macrame Chair that looks like all style/no substance, and it's very comfy, too; so I can entertain the possibility.

I've never sat in a Red-Blue chair myself but I made a half-sized copy for my one-year-old boy and he loves it. It's the only chair he'll stay put in for any reasonable amount of time. http://vamoshugo.wordpress.com/2008/08/06/a-boy-and-his-chair/

I do know first hand from a friend, a Dutch designer who has volunteered and worked with Rietveld several years that Rietveld himself said: "Others can design comfortable chairs:-)"

Hi

You may be interested in this development:

http://www.chairblog.eu/2008/12/04/designnl-2/

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