September 17, 2008

The Awesomely Unsittable High Chairs Of Gerrit Rietveld


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.


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.]


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!]


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.


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


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:]


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.



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.

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:-)"


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