This month at Modern Times – and here on the blog – we’re deep into an exploration of mid-century Dutch design. Researching the period and pulling together a range of pieces for the in-store exhibition has been a fascinating project. One of the first things you notice when you see them all together is a quite austere, industrial take on modernism that’s very different from the hand-crafted Scandinavian style of the same era.
If you’re interested in learning more, Perimeter Books in Thornbury stocks Yvonne Brentjens’s 2013 monograph Friso Kramer’s Chair.
At the heart of all this was a designer named Friso Kramer – and his ground breaking ‘Revolt’ chair. Friso avoided the limelight (or it avoided him) in the late 20th century, but in recent years he’s been credited as the originator of the pared-back, utilitarian approach that came to define Dutch mid-century design.
You may not have sat in a Revolt chair, but there’s probably no Dutch person who hasn’t. Designed for furniture manufacturer Ahrend in 1953, the Revolt caused a stir at the Milan Triennale the following year, and was soon seen everywhere in Holland’s schools, offices and homes. Now 92, Friso explains the thinking behind his chair’s unique folded steel frame in this mini-doco about Ahrend’s designers, past and present.
It wasn’t just new industrial technology that inspired the Revolt. Dutch mid-century modernism developed from the pre-war De Stijl movement (read more in our blog post here!) and there’s a link to that influence in the work of Kramer’s friend and fellow ‘Goed Wonen’ (Good Living) foundation member Wim Rietveld.
Wim was the son of architect and designer Gerrit Thomas Rietveld – a major exponent of the De Stijl school, probably most famous for his Mondrian-inspired Red and Blue Chair. Wim worked with Kramer at Ahrend, designing the Result Chair in 1958 (which is sometimes credited to them both and sometimes to Rietveld alone). Pictured below left, the Result honed the production process that was pioneered in the Revolt, with sharper angles and more harmonious arcs.
Wim Rietveld and Friso Kramer’s Result Chair, 1958 | Industrial Chair produced by Marko, Holland in 1964.
Rietveld and Kramer’s work inspired plenty of design responses across the Netherlands. Produced by Dutch manufacturer Marko in 1964, the Industrial Chair pictured above right features the same bent steel and a sharper take on the compass point legs – a nod to French designer Jean Prouvé. You can also see those Prouvé angles at work in Rietveld and Kramer’s Reply Table below, which went on to win the prestigious Brussels design award Le Signe d’Or.
The key designers of the period didn’t work for single manufacturers. Rietveld designed his Model 415/1401 Armchair (below) for the Culemborg-based company Gispen. In this early example you can see the tubular steel, bakelite armrests and original red wool upholstery. Manufacturers tended to update fabrication methods and designs over the decades, which is why it’s best to look to the original products to see the designers’ intentions.
Pair of Model 415/1401 Armchairs designed by Wim Rietveld for Gispen in 1954.
Most Dutch school and office chairs of the period used the same distinctive West German Pagholz pressed plywood – often featuring a single moulded piece, as seen in the S22 Industrial Chair below left, manufactured by Galvanitas, Holland in 1967.
The beauty of Dutch mid-century modernism lies in its simple harmony and economy of form. It’s a seriously minimal and functional style that has reached wider prominence only recently. In fact, if anyone feels like a holiday from Smith Street, Friso Kramer recently donated his whole design archive to RKD (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie / Netherlands Institute for Art History) and you can visit it in The Hague.
Friso Kramer at work designing for Ahrend in the early 1950s. Photograph by Carel Blazer.
If you can’t splash out on a European excursion, visit us in the shop before the end of May to test an industrial chair for yourself – or find some ideas for injecting your home studio with a little mid-century Dutch practicality.
As Friso says, “You may design a beautiful chair, but put six around a table and something starts to happen. You say, ‘It’s too much this or that’. So you have to remove the irritation you will develop over time.”