Canals, bridges, cobbled streets – Utrecht is an exceedingly cute small town in the Netherlands. But our primary motivation for this trip was a visit to the Rietveld Schröder House, an icon of modern architecture. The Rietveld Schröder house’s architecture embodies the artistic concept of De Stijl, an art movement that advocated abstraction above all. The most prominent proponent of this movement is Piet Mondrian. But the Rietveld Schröder House is a unique example of the movement’s ideas in architecture. It became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2000.
Read what to expect from a visit to the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht.
Truus Schröder – the patron
When it was nominated as a UNESCO site, the Rietveld Schröder House was 76 years old. In 1924, it was a totally new and unusual architectural design. The contractor was a recently widowed young woman, Truus Schröder. Truus had been unhappy in her marriage because, settled with three children, she could not pursue her studies and live out her creativity. With her modern taste and interest in the designs of De Stijl, Truus Schröder had intensely disliked the interior design of the patrician manor house the family lived in. Only for her own room, her husband allowed her to redesign it according to her personal taste. For this she had employed a young architect and designer with similar interests. His name was Gerrit Rietveld.
Gerrit Rietveld – the architect
Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) started out as a carpenter and furniture designer in his father’s workshop. Under the influence of the Stijl Movement he started to use primary colours. After establishing his own company, he designed the Red and Blue Chair, which became an icon of modern furniture. The connection with De Stijl also brought him into contact with Bauhaus, the German Design School in Weimar, and later Dessau and Berlin. In 1919, Gerrit Rietveld also registered as an architect, and he went on to design a great number of public buildings and private houses. Later on, Rietveld became a main representative of the Neues Bauen and Neue Sachlichkeit Movements.
The idea – a very functional tiny house
Our visit to the Rietveld Schröder House starts with a walk through the picturesque town of Utrecht. We have already visited the cathedral and walked along the grachts so typical of Holland. As with many Dutch cities, it is easy to recognize the borders of the Old Town, where the mediaeval city walls had been. The Rietveld Schröder House stands outside that Old Town, near a ring road that in 1924 marked the border of the city.
We are quite surprised when we spot the house. At the end of a typical row of brick houses, only the last plot is a small white cube. We might have walked past were it not for the sparse black, blue, red, and yellow beams and pipes.
The ground floor of the Rietveld Schröder House
At the start of our visit to the Rietveld Schröder House, we get an audio guide and a “stylish” pair of plastic overshoes in primary colours matching our outfits. The ground floor has a fairly average layout with four not very big rooms and the staircase in the middle. Yet all the rooms have some clever, cost-effective solutions. There’s a folding table right next to a window in the kitchen, so that you can put the shopping bags right through the window onto that table. A food elevator transports dishes from the kitchen to the first floor. A small sink in the maid’s room can be hidden inside a cupboard. And the white doors have decorative dark stripes along the edges – not least because this will also hide fingerprints.
In the small staircase of the Rietveld Schröder House we pass a bench with a telephone board. Below the board were four drawers, one each for Truus Schröder and her three children. To our surprise, the audioguide tells us that there was a second telephone, though, for Gerrit Rietveld. Only later in the tour does the guide inform us that Rietveld and Schröder were also a couple and that Gerrit Rietveld lived in this house for many years. However, they never married because Rietveld had a wife and children of his own.
The Rietveld Hanging Lamp
We marvel at the hanging lamps in the Rietveld Schröder house: Three short lightning tubes create a three-dimensional light sculpture. They are illuminating the small space perfectly. Gerrit Rietveld had developed the lamp in a similar design for another Utrecht client. The lamps soon became an interior icon and can be found today in several design museums. Of course you can buy them in Utrecht, too.
The first floor of the Rietveld Schröder House
The first floor contains the main innovation of the Rietveld Schröder House. From the staircase we emerge into one large room stretching over the entire floor space except for one corner with the bathroom and a small bedroom. During the day this was one large living space with large windows, several chairs and sofas including the Rietveld Red and Blue Chair, and a grand piano.
And then a guide tugs out several foldable walls. In an elaborate scheme, they stretch and fold out to form walls and doors, producing a living room and two separate rooms. One was for Truus Schröder’s son, the other one for the two daughters. Their furnishings were very sparse and minimalist. The daughters had to make do with one closet and one small bookshelf each. Truus Schröder did not allow them to take anything from their former home. The only exception was a small chair that the daughter, Hanneke, insisted on bringing. The austere living conditions were clearly hard on the children, and Hanneke once denied living “in that crazy house”. Nevertheless, she later became one of the first female architects in the Netherlands.
The later years of the Rietveld Schröder House
After the children left, Truus Schröder herself continued to live in the unusual house until her death in 1985. She later acknowledged that it was “a very demanding house”. The “luxury of frugality” came at the price of taking a lot of care with all those sophisticated folding walls, hooks, flaps, and space-saving tricks.
After building her own house, Truus Schröder also participated in other projects that Gerrit Rietveld undertook. She worked both on house designs and on interiors. Some of the residency buildings they designed together later on are nearby.
Is the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht worth a visit?
If you like modern architecture, a visit to the Rietveld Schröder house is a great chance to see the interior of an architectural icon. Quite often these houses are private property and not accessible to the public
The self-guided tour means that you can explore everything at your own pace. Taking pictures is also allowed.
How to get to the Rietveld Schröder House
The Rietvelt Schröder House is on the outskirts of Utrecht, but you can easily walk there from the city centre. As the house is quite small, the number of visitors at one time is limited. Especially in summer it is better to buy tickets online in advance at https://www.rietveldschroderhuis.nl/nl.
If you are interested in modern architecture also have a look at our blog posts about a visit to the Bauhaus sites in Dessau and to the Workers’ Union school in Bernau near Berlin. Both are also UNESCO World Heritage sites.
We were not sponsored for this post about the Rietveld Schröder House and paid all expenses ourselves.
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