Design Classic – Influential and important design

Red Blue Chair 1918–1923 by Gerrit Rietveld
Red Blue Chair 1918–1923 by Gerrit Rietveld

A metaphor for the modern movement

  • Designer: Gerrit Rietveld
  • Material: painted wood

The Red and Blue Chair’s visual impact has ensured that it will always be a staple image in any history of twentieth-century design. It has become a metaphor for the Modern Movement and the Schröder home.

De Stijl (the Style) was one of the most cohesive groups within the Modern Movement, and Rietveld was a member. Despite his role in De Stijl, Gerrit Rietveld’s work is still steeped in the craft tradition he learned. His early years were spent as an apprentice cabinet builder to his Father until 1911, when he began his cabinet-making business in Utrecht.

Piet Mondrian’s paintings are the most prominent manifestation of these goals. When he met the founding members of De Stijl in 1918, his perspective shifted radically. They experimented with fundamental colours, basic geometric shapes, and pure abstracted forms to search for a universal form of expression. This work inspired Rietveld, who took the De Stijl concept literally, believing that “the new awareness is ready to be realised in everything, including the everyday items of life.”


The famed Red and Blue chair of 1918 and the Schréder House, completed six years later in Utrecht, were the most recognised representations of Rietveld’s three-dimensional De Stijl principles. Like his architecture, Rietveld experimented with rectilinear volumes and the interaction of vertical and horizontal planes. Although the chair was developed in 1918, it was not until 1923 that the colour scheme of primary colours (red, yellow, blue) and black was implemented, closely linked with the Dutch de Stijl art and architecture movement. Rietveld sought simplicity in construction, hoping that most of his furniture would someday be mass-produced rather than handcrafted. The wood components that make up the Red Blue Chair are typical timber sizes that were readily accessible then.

These designs can be described as three-dimensional Mondrian paintings, which are crude but accurate. However, it is worth noting that his work is more visually appealing than it is as a design answer for the necessities of the twentieth century.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

McDermott, C. (1997). Twentieth century design. Carlton.

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