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Pair of "Zig Zag" chairs, Gerrit Rietveld (Utrecht, 1888 - 1964)

Gerrit Thomas RIETVELD (Utrecht, 1888 - 1964)

Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born in Utrecht on June 24 1888, to Johannes Cornelis Rietveld and Elisabeth van der Horst. At the age of twelve, Gerrit started working in his father's furniture workshop in Utrecht. Though the days were long and Gerrit detested the old-fashioned furniture pieces his father produced, the job conveyed to him a deep appreciation for the craftsmanship of furniture makers.

In 1904 Rietveld enrolled in evening classes in drawing and the study of ornamentation at the Kunstindustrieel Onderwijs der Vereeniging of the Museum van Kunstnijverheid in Utrecht. Two years later, he attended classes given by the architect Pieter Klaarhamer (1874 - 1954), a student of Hendrik Berlage. The contact with Klaarhamer proved to be a critical point in Gerrit Rietveld's career, as it was through him that the young student became aware of recent national and international trends in architecture and applied arts.

After his studies, Rietveld set up his own furniture workshop in Utrecht and took on Gerard A. van de Groenekan (1904 - 1994) as an apprentice. Free to create furniture according to his own judgement and taste, Rietveld designed an unpainted armchair in 1918. One year later Gerrit Rietveld became involved with the journal De Stijl: Maandblad voor Nieuwe Kunst, Wetenschap en Kultuur. He would remain a contributor until its demise in 1931. Under the influence of De Stijl painters - most importantly Piet Mondriaan - Rietveld began experimenting with the use of primary colours in combination with white, black or grey during the early 1920s. These experiments led to the acclaimed “Red and Blue Chair”, a revision of the 1918 armchair, now painted in black and bright primary colours. Rietveld stated that colours must follow the form and emphasize it.

From the late 1920s to the late 1930s, Rietveld concentrated on designing mass-produced furniture and architecture. He experimented with chairs made from one piece of material and designs for housing modules or kernwoningen. The Dutch company Metz & Co started the production of Rietveld's furniture designs in 1930. They manufactured the “Zig-zag Chair” and the so-called Kratmeubel (“Crate” furniture). Though the “Zig Zag” chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld remains a striking, radical design to this day, it must be considered as part of the evolution of the cantilever chair.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Rietveld was in great demand as an architect, receiving commissions from the Dutch government - the Dutch pavilion for the 1954 Venice Biennale and the Rijksmuseum Vincent Van Gogh - as well as large-scale house-construction.

Though the "Zig Zag" chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld remains a striking, radical design to this day, it must be considered as part of the evolution of the cantilever chair. A cantilever chair does not rely on the traditional arrangement of four legs, but is supported on one end of the chair's seat, bent in an L-shape. The first of these chairs was created by Mart Stam in 1926. Chair Model No. S33 was constructed in a tubular steel frame, internally reinforced with metal rods. Stam showed drawings of his prototype to Mies van der Rohe who then designed his own versions. During a meeting of architects taking part in the Weissenhof Exhibition that same year, Heinz Rasch also saw the plans of Stam's cantilever chair. With his brother Bodo, he created the "Sitzgeiststuhl" in 1927. The shape was conceived to match the posture of a person sitting, consisting of a base and a curved surface that is bent twice.

Gerrit Rietveld aimed to simplify the form of the "Sitzgeiststuhl", but the construction of his "Zig Zag" chair proved to be problematic. He began his design process in 1932 but it was not until 1934 that he finally succeeded in creating a stable, very comfortable, and even stackable version. A large series of tests had been necessary to create a structurally sound design of the simple zigzag shape. The chair is stabilized by dovetail joints between the seat and back, reinforced with screws and nuts, as well as wooden wedges in the corners. The goal of this design was to create a functional form which does not displace space but allows it to be perceived as a continuum.

The “Zig Zag” chair

The "Zig Zag" was created for the Amsterdam furniture manufacturer Metz & Co. It was produced both by this company and Rietveld's master cabinetmaker, Gerard van de Groenekan, in large numbers up until the fifties.

Van de Groenekan was less than fourteen years old when he started working for Gerrit Rietveld, a then largely unknown furniture maker in Utrecht who tried to establish his studio creating pure and unusual designs. During those first, arduous years, a bond was forged between the designer and his young disciple. After 1924, van de Groenekan manufactured Rietveld furniture on his own account, until Cassina acquired the rights to produce all designs by Gerrit Rietveld in 1971. They still produce a present-day version of the "Zig Zag" chair.


Frans van Dillen (1932 - 1991) was an architect and brother of Joan van Dillen, who was a partner of Gerrit Rietveld in the Architectenbureau Rietveld, van Dillen, van Tricht. The studio is founded in 1961 by Gerrit Rietveld, Joan van Dillen and Johan van Tricht. Rietveld's role focused on architectural design, while van Dillen and van Tricht concerned themselves with the organization of the company and the execution of the assignments. When Rietveld died in 1964, the studio continued under the name Van Dillen & Van Tricht, but was short-lived after the untimely death of van Dillen followed in 1966.


- BLES F., Rietveld, 1888 - 1964. Een biografie¸Amsterdam 1982.

- FIELL C. & FIELL P., 1000 Chairs, Köln 2000.

Object information

Design 1932-1934, manufactured 1962
74 x 40 x 36,50 cm
Private collection J.C.M. van Dillen - Duivenvoorde, widow of Frans van Dillen, The Netherlands, 2014;
The Zig Zag Chairs were acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Frans van Dillen from Mr. G. van den Groenekan, ca.
1962, and have since been part of their private collection.

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