As someone with a keen interest in architecture who has traveled to some of the most famous architectural masterpieces in the world, I was excited to visit the Rietveld Schröderhuis, one of the iconic buildings of de Stijl.
What is striking about architecture is that it’s not just a work of art to be admired, but also one to be used. Although some architecture is built to fulfill the architect’s whimsies, the Rietveld Schröderhuis was built specifically to suit the needs of its owner.
Beyond the history behind this iconic house, the interior of the Schroder house is extremely striking yet functional. This post will discuss the history as well as the architecture behind the home. (There are many photos of the interior as well as the exterior of the Rietveld Schröderhuis!)
Disclosure: This post was written in collaboration with the Visit Utrecht Region who provided complimentary tickets to the Rietveld Schröderhuis.
De Stijl is an artistic movement that started in the Netherlands in 1917. It is translated as “The Style” and it was also the name of a journal where ideas were published. The idea behind the movement was to simplify their work as much as possible by stripping out non-primary colors and paring down architecture to incorporate more abstract shapes.
The group was most active in the post World War I period and flourished in the 1920s. The journal was circulated within their small community. Several significant artists and architects were a member, including Gerrit Rietveld and Piet Mondriaan.
The history of the Rietveld Schröderhuis
Stepping into the Rietveld Schroder house will instantly transport you back in time. Although the distant past seems remarkably modern, it’s very clear that this is not a typical house. Although the Schroder house is known more for its design, I was struck by the story behind it and how much the house transformed the lives of those who lived inside it. (The daughter of Truus Schröder-Schräder became the first female architect in the Netherlands!)
Gerrit Rietveld was a furniture maker turned architect. For many years, he worked for his father producing typical furniture for homes, however after becoming a member of De Stijl, he changed his ways. One of his early works, the Red and Blue Chair (shown above), helped Rietveld become known in the art world.
After building some furniture for Truus Schroder, a wealthy widow, he was asked to build her a home that reflected her beliefs. Two of the key ideas of the design focused on bringing the outside inside and having a house that was truly open with minimal walls. (This was not fully possible on the ground floor.) The house was carefully designed together with Schröder and it was completed in 1924.
Interestingly enough, the house proved to the beginning of a lifelong friendship (and eventually relationship) between Schroder and Rietveld. He ended up placing his studio within the home, which was a polarizing house at the time, and designed much more work together with Schroder. Schroder remained in the house until her death and it became a museum after her death.
What to know about visiting the Rietveld Schröderhuis
The Rietveld Schröderhuis is owned by the Centraal Museum of Utrecht. The house is generally open (check hours/schedule) between 11am and 5pm on weekends as well as some weekdays. As all the furniture inside is original, you must go with a small tour group (12 people). Backpacks and bags must be put into lockers beforehand.
Our tour was entirely sold out, so if you intend to take a tour of the Rietveld Schröderhuis, you must book online in advance. Tickets cost approximately 16.50 euros per adult although students and children get a discount. Similarly, those with a Museumkaart get in for only three euros.
The tour, which lasts an hour, itself mostly depends on a pre-recorded audio guide that is available in a few languages, however the most incredible part of the tour was having the curator showing us the moving walls of the upstairs open space as well as how pieces were designed for functionality. As someone used to architecture with the original furniture is cordoned off with a rope, it was amazing to see the open space be transformed into four different rooms. Rietveld’s original vision truly came alive with the tour.
The only disappointment, not by any fault of the museum, is that much of Rietveld’s original vision of bringing nature in has disappeared as the city has grown around the house. Originally, Schroder had a view of the typically Dutch polders in the distance from many windows in the house, however it’s hard to imagine this today with a viaduct that blocks the view.
The exterior of the Rietveld Schröderhuis
From the moment that you spot the house surrounded by standard Brick buildings, you can clearly see why people were fascinated with this piece of architecture. Today, it fits in, but it’s hard to imagine the living in this house full of windows (and minimal shades) almost ninety years ago.
Something that I loved about the Rietveld Schröderhuis were all the thoughtful touches that Rietveld put into the design. Immediately as you approach the house, you spot the iconic grocery shopping box as well as the clear mailbox (you can check for new mail from upstairs).
The outside of the house is otherwise characterized by white paint with red, yellow, and blue accents. Every room in the house has a door leading to the outside, which intended to allow the outside in easily.
Photos of the interior of the Rietveld Schröderhuis
Something about architecture that I always find fascinating is seeing how people interact with a building that becomes theirs. It’s a strange concept: building a piece of art and giving it away for others to use.
Although you can easily find photos of the interior of the Rietveld house online, it feels different when you’re actually inside. Although most of the personal items have been removed, the house still feels very sparse and minimal. The minimalism only serves to emphasize the design elements and the ingenuity of Rietveld’s furniture.
Ground floor of the Rietveld Schröderhuis
There are multiple rooms along the first floor, however I absolutely loved the kitchen with its ZigZag chair and the table, which also invoked the ZigZag design elements. Notably, the kitchen utilized black around several areas to help the kitchen stay cleaner. On the ground floor, you can find Rietveld’s studio as well as one of the rooms that was intended as a maid’s room (but rented out to a student).
One of my favorite design elements in the house was the staircase between the floors. However, the staircase in the Schroder house is not a conventional staircase! In the corner, you’ll find a telephone along with a seat with a leather sling. More fascinating is the weighted level that enables anyone who is standing upstairs to shut the door without having to go downstairs.
Once you go upstairs, you will see more of the iconic red pillar that runs from the upstairs to the bottom. It’s important to note that the room has already been shifted to allow the bathroom to be opened up to give the person inside privacy.
First floor of the Rietveld Schröderhuis
Once you’re upstairs, there are no interior walls and the space is incredibly open! Technically, there’s a living room/kitchen, a bathroom, a toilet, and two bedrooms for the children, but Rietveld intended to have the space used more communally. All of the windows open out directly, so that there are no barriers between the outside and the inside (last photo).
Most of the time, the walls were left open, however at night, the family would divide up the rooms to give privacy. (Privacy is a bit subjective in this house given that her children would have had to walk through her bedroom in order to use the bath.) Although you walk into the space and it feels striking, it feels considerably more cramped once the panels are moved (one of the advantages of going with a curator!).
From the view above, you can see into her son’s bedroom where the famous Red and Blue chair sits and almost seamlessly blends into the floor. Although my photo of the first floor with the panels closed did not turn out as well as I wanted, the mood in the building significantly shifted once the rooms were closed. Jacob felt it was considerably claustrophobic.
Once Mrs. Schröder’s children moved out, she used the apartment as her primary residence with renting out the rooms below to students. As someone who prefers more spacious rooms, I honestly cannot imagine living in this way, but what I found fascinating about the house was that Mrs. Schröder willingly chose to live this way and carefully maintained all the furniture for future generations. Although the house was not supposed to last more than fifty years, I truly hope that it remains here for a long time.
I am very glad that I had the opportunity to visit after seeing much of the work of De Stijl at different museums around the world. There is something quite appropropriate about seeing Rietveld’s furniture where he intended it to go rather than sitting in a museum exhibition, especially provided the amount of thought that he put into every corner of the house.
For interior designers, architecture geeks, and general design lovers, the Rietveld Schröderhuis is a treat. It’s hard to imagine that this house changed so much, but as soon as you enter, you know that you’re somewhere special.