From the final layout of the design for Schröder House, it is possible to deduce the philosophy of Truss Schröder on how a child could be prepared for adulthood. The mother and her two sons had their own rooms and the two daughters shared a room. Each room had a sink as a water source and as a site for washing, a cupboard for storage, and an electrical outlet which could be used for cooking. The room of each child had its own exterior exit, meaning that the children could come and go on their own recognizance. The family members could make their own meals and eat when they wanted. To that end there was a stove on the second floor in an eat-in kitchen, a very modern innovation, which was on the ground floor, where there was a library that could be shared by all.
One of the basic tenets of De Stijl was the social value of collaboration as played out in the Schröder House. Theo Van Doesburg wrote of a geestelijke gemeenschap or a spiritual community, a Dutch concept related to the Utopian desire for a better society, a dream related to the horrors of the Great War. The uniquely Dutch ideas about community that set the De Stijl architecture apart from the other Modernist examples, were also articulated by Rietveld who explained his practice in terms of verbinding. Verbinding is not just a design term, it is also a socially loaded term, meaning in carpentry terms, the place there one element encounters another but then extends beyond it.
As seen in the exterior lines of yellow or red or blue on the outside of the home and as found in the Red and Blue chair, Rietveld referred to joints or intersections, the place were there was a junction. But each element of the joining remained distinct and independent, like the children in the Schröder House. If one thinks of the house as expressing a modern set of relationships, a collaboration or a samenwerking among family members. While independence is prized there is also interdependence among the parts as they work together. Another word Rietveld used was beelding which apparently meant that his method of putting pieces of wood together had an analogy to the ways in which members of society interacted cooperatively.
Beelding can be seen when considering how the planes of the Schröder House should be placed. For example, at the entry to the home, a vertical black column that appears to hold a cantilevered balcony in place extends slightly above the railings, as does an apparent punctuation, a vertical red slab jutting above a white horizontal railing crossing a row of ground floor windows. On a larger scale, it becomes clear that the home is fronted with a series of geometric slabs or planes of various sizes, placed or arranged as if Mondrian were composing a painting. Nowhere do these segments come together or line up—they are always active becoming flush only when they touch the ground. As with a Mondrian composition, this house is a design by someone used to designing on a small scale, an artist who thinks in parts and who, while understanding the need for harmony and balance, key aspects of De Stijl philosophy, also thinks about asymmetry or the verbinding, the juncture when the parts join together. I
ndeed the collaboration of Rietveld, Mondrian, and the very modern woman, Truss Schröder, came together and went in different directions for distinct reasons, but, in the end, the Schröder House was among the first that suited the needs of the modern family and the modern community. In the same year the home was completed in 1924, Theo van Doesburg wrote an architectural manifesto, stating that “the new architecture has broken through the wall, thus destroying the separateness of inside and outside.” He spoke of “a new, open plan, totally different form the classic one, in that interior and exterior spaces interpenetrate.” In the same way, the lines of a Mondrian painting conceivably can be extended in the imagination beyond the frame, making the painting conceptually boundless. Mondrian himself echoed the concerns of Truss Schröder who was a modern woman who was attempting to find her place in the world. “For the present,” he said, “we still live in the midst of the old!” Mondrian continued, speaking figuratively, “We live as strangers in another man’s house, with another man’s furniture, carpets, utensils, paintings! If we go out into the streets, they too are alien to us.” Gerritt Rietveld and Truss Schröder joined together in a collaborative venture to build a modern home on an overlooked site in Utrecht where a modern family might construct a modern life in a modern building. Later, the architect himself moved into the home with the widow, and realized how inconvenient it was to live in a work of art and longed for homey conveniences.
In other words, on the ground floor was communal space, and upstairs, called an “attic” to satisfy zoning demands, was a private space. The children could be as independent as they wanted. Here in this house they could learn to take care of themselves. As for Truss herself, she wanted a house that did not impose social demands upon her, was not structured with a specific and limiting role for her as a woman. As if equating social liberation with openness, she asked the architect to eliminate walls, to create an open space that could be partitioned off as the family needed. Rietveld was delighted to comply, saying, “With pleasure, away with those walls.”
For the Schröder House, Rietveld had the idea client, a forward thinking intelligent woman who was willing to seek a new mode of living and the architect took what were lifestyle concepts and actualized them as architectural elements. The partition walls, for example, folded away like screens when the spaces were public and then stretched out again making private areas. Each child had a bed, designed by Rietveld, which folded up into a sofa, and nearby he created a large box—not a wardrobe or dresser–for storage. Next to each bed was a pop up table, large enough for a lamp, a clock, and a glass of water, and perhaps a book.
Everywhere, there were indications that the architect had thought through the way in which the family would live in the home. This attention to detail was Reitveld’s version of Wright’s “organic” dictum–design according to the client’s needs. The cupboards that hung from the walls in the living room, leaving the floor below clear for cleaning, were painted black in deference to children’s hands. The food cabinets however were painted black only where fingers might be used. With ease of cleaning in mind for a family that had only a maid, the floors were rubber and in front of each sofa bed there was a small square made of cork to ease the shock of bare feet touching a cold floor on a frosty Dutch morning. The chairs at the long kitchen table were made of four pieces of wood and assembled in a zig-zag shape. And Rietveld thought of everything. The table was positioned so that when the mail was pushed thorough the slot, it would land on the table surface. From the colors used to the furniture designed to the expanse of space, the interior was coordinated and each element worked together like a total work of art.
The exterior of the Schröder House was not unlike Bauhaus architecture of the same period, crossed-pollinated with a painting by Mondrian. Rietveld was a furniture maker and the Schröder House was his first major architectural project, which is less original outside than inside. Modern houses had flat roofs, no peaked roofs, no eaves, no dormers. By eliminating the triangular roof line, the house became a box put together out of walls of steel and reinforced concrete, painted white. Paradoxically, for a radical modern home, the Schröder House belonged to the same family as the faculty housing for the Bauhaus and the homes designed by Adolf Loos in Austria. A feature of the modern home was the window walls, long horizontal expanses open to the exterior, allowing light to pour in during dark winters.
What makes this white house in Utrecht special is its homage to Piet Mondrian and the other De Stijl painters. The trim around the windows is wooden and painted black, as are the railings of the two balconies. The black trim and white walls are relieved by lengths of red and yellow and blue, the primary colors. The floors inside the home are also planned in terms of blocks of color, some are black and some are white, while other areas are red or blue. The distribution of colors inside continued on the walls, again in segments. The furniture as was pointed out was also painted, the famous red and blue chair being the most famous example. However, it would be too simple to attribute the choice of colors, their distribution, and the use of lines to painting, for like his client, Rietveld had his own theories.