Notes'Chair design is a key issue to any designer. No other object is so intricately linked to [people] and [their] measurements . . . Rietveld found this so intriguing that he made use of every opportunity to design a chair that came his way' (Vöge 1993; 8).
The use of seamless steel tubing was patented in 1885 by Reinhard Mannesmann in Germany (Dictionary of Design 2001: 201-2). Aside from bicycle frames its use in furniture began as early as the 1890s with hospital furniture. By 1919 tubular steel was used in car seats by the Czech maker Tatra, and in 1924 by Fokker for airliner seats (Vitra 1994: 212). The bold step to making steel-tubing domestic furniture was first made by Marcel Breuer of the Bahaus in 1925 with his 'B3' club (later 'Wassily') armchair - two years prior to this Rietveld acquisition designed in 1927. Significantly in terms of debt to Rietveld, Breuer's B3 owed much in the position of seat and backrest to Reitvelds's famous Red and Blue Chair despite the B3's ground-breaking use of tubular steel. Very quickly, tubular steel furniture, 'technically cool but light, elegant and clear became the very symbol of modernism' (Droste et al. 1992: 4). Rietveld, whose famous 'De Stijl' wooden chairs up until 1925 had profoundly influenced Breuer and the Bauhaus, found himself in a cyclical round of inspiration both on, and by, the Bauhaus.
Rietveld approached the issue in a typically independent way. He took the concept further by designing the chair around the materials in a way that was totally independent of the conventional four-legged form. Rietveld also minimised structural components and removed the need for bracing by shaping the one-piece plywood seat through four angles to give rigidity. In this way the chair more closely resembles the lounges of Thonet and that company's embracing of steamed bent wood, as well as presaging Aalto's Paimio chair of 1930 where similar to Rietveld, a one-piece back and set of laminated wood is suspended between wooden 'ribbons' of wood instead of steel (although using bracing). The beugel chair also closely resembled his own 'De Stijl' chairs in proportions and sitter's position - most notably the Red and Blue chair. The term beugelstoel refers to a side framed chair but with arms can be called a beugelfauteuil (as in Baroni 1978: 116). Beugelstoel is used here as a more generic name representative of the series of chairs and their variants based on the tubular steel / plywood combination.
Significantly, the Rietveld beugelstoel was successfully designed to facilitate mass production, perhaps even more successfully than Mart Stam and Marcel Breuer's cantilevered chairs, and unlike other early icons of modern design such as Mies van de Rhoe's 'Barcelona Chair' or Le Corbusier's metal framed lounges which were technically difficult and thus expensive to produce. The beugelstoel range became the first of Rietveld's designs to be mass produced. Early versions were made in Rietveld's workshop (with his preferred choice of fibreboard which tears easily) but from 1930 it was put into production by Metz and Co using plywood. In the early 1930s Rietveld is recorded as ordering a quantity of plywood from Scandinavia which in all likelihood was used in the Powerhouse Museum example (Rietveld-Schroder House website). The chair in this acquisition comes with the original receipt from Metz and Co., Amsterdam, dated 29 July 1932.
Paul Donnelly, Curator Design, History and Society, December 2008.
Peter Vöge, 'The complete Rietveld furniture', 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 1993
Danielle Baroni, 'Gerrit Thomas Rietveld furniture', Academy Editions, London, 1978
Marian Page, 'Furniture Designed by Architects', London, 1980: 194
Le Corbusier, 'Towards a New Architecture', London 1927
Droste, M.; Ludewig, M., 'Marcel Breuer', Bauhaus Archiv / Taschen, Cologne, 1992
100 Masterpieces from the Vitra Design Museum Collection, Vitra, Weil am Rhine, 1994
'Dictionary of Design', Thames and Hudson, London, 1993 (2nd Edn 2004)
Fiell, Charlotte. and Peter, 'Design of the 20th Century', Taschen, Cologne, 1999
Fiell, Charlotte. and Peter, '1000 Chairs', Taschen, Cologne, 2005
http://www.rietveldschroderhuis.nl/details.jsp?id=152 (Viewed January 2009)