It is hard to believe that a small house like the Rietveld-Schröder house in Utrecht is listed on the UNESCO Worl Heritage list. But once you see the iconic house amidst the traditional 19th-century buildings of a quiet, stately neighbourhood, you start to understand what a miracle this house is. I took a look inside Rietveld-Schröder house.
Truth be told: I have cycled and run past the Rietveld-Schröder house dozens of times since moving to Utrecht. And whenever I did, I kind of thought: this is it, really? What is all the fuss about? The Rietveld-Schröder house is built at the end of a block of houses, kind of tucked away against a highway overpass. And it looks so small. But since learning more about De Stijl art movement (as De Stijl is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), which Rietveld was an active member of, I’ve started to wonder if there was more about that quirky house at Prins Hendriklaan, Utrecht. And yes, there really was.
‘I loved this little house’
This is what Truus Schröder remarked about the Rietveld-Schröder house at the end of her life. She had the house designed and built in 1924 by Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld. Her husband had introduced them earlier and the remarkable cabinet maker had started to give building and architecture a go, since joining De Stijl art movement in 1917. After becoming a widow Schröder wanted Rietveld to build her and her 3 children a house that was functional, felt free and where outside would become inside, and the other way around.
They decided on a plot at the edge of the city, surrounded by fields: Prins Hendriklaan. Since they were looking into nature on three sides Rietveld decided that the house had to be as open as possible. Therefore, every space has an outdoor option, like a balcony or a door to the garden. And, so very clever, the windows don’t have corner support, so when Truus would open all her windows, she would have a 270-degree view. And, per typical Dutch tradition, the house didn’t have any curtains, they would use wooden shutters (that were black on the outside and a primary colour on the inside) to darken the house at night.
Open plan miracle
When entering the house, I immediately spot the typical Rietveld lines and colours: vertical black and white lines, so bright blue on the steps and Rietveld lamps on the ceiling. The house has a lot of black on the outside, but mostly white on the inside. It’s actually quite a small place, with that typical feel of a Dutch 1920’s house with boxed chambers that could be heated individually. The kitchen has some amazing Rietveld designed features and furniture, and Rietveld’s workshop was also downstairs.
A revolutionary house
The real surprise is upstairs, which is a completely open plan. Coloured rectangles and squares mark which space is used for what and cleverly hidden panels are able to close off the spaces, creating a bedroom for the children, a study, a dining room and a small master bedroom with a tiny bathroom. But since the entire space is surrounded by glass and has a massive skylight, the upstairs floor feels much larger than it is.
Form follows function
This house is pretty remarkable today, so I can only imagine how revolutionary it must have been at the time and Gerrit Rietveld and the eccentric Truus Schröder, who later lived as lovers in the house, were also met with quite some resistance when building the house. Even Truus’ children didn’t always like living in a house that was so different from all the other houses in Utrecht and one of the daughters even confessed to lying about where she lived regularly, as she couldn’t face being bullied about living in ‘that weird house’.
Of course, you are met by many specially designed Rietveld furniture, like the famous red and blue chair and the zigzag chair, but I really liked the less obvious objects better. Like the beds that could also function as sofas by simply turning up a wooden board and both sides, or a seemingly mismatched collection of brightly coloured boxes that were actually used to hide the film projector and the radio, as Truus didn’t like to have those ‘fancy’ things on display. The house should be ‘form follows function’ like she and Rietveld had planned it to be.
Truus Schröder lived in the Rietveld-Schröder house until her death in 1985. But by that time a lot had changed: the freeway and adjacent new built neighbourhood had taken away their clear view into nature, something that had troubled and saddened Rietveld deeply. ‘Since the house had lost its original purpose, to stand free with a view into nature, and the materials he used for building the house weren’t meant to last for centuries, he felt the house should’ve been torn down. And I agreed’, Truus admitted a few years before she died. But by then the house had become a local monument, and after 1985 it was extensively renovated and opened to the public.’
Inside Rietveld-Schröder house: book a tour
Since the Rietveld-Schröder house was an actual house that people lived in, things have been left more or less untouched since Truus Schröder passed away and everything is in its original and delicate state. That’s why you can only visit on a guided tour (there are audio guides available in many languages) and the guide will show you all the quirky characteristics of the house. On the website, you can book tickets and watch a short introduction of the house.
More Rietveld in Utrecht
If you are impressed by the Rietveld-Schröder house (and you will be, even though it’s small), you will enjoy the Rietveld designed apartments across the corner in the Erasmuslaan and the chauffeur’s building along Rembrandtkade, a 10-minute stroll away.
The Rietveld-Schröder house is part of the Utrecht Centraal Museum where you can see the largest collection of Rietveld furniture in the world. With your Central Museum ticket, you can also book your visit to the Rietveld-Schröder house, and you can take a free rental bike from Central Museum to cycle to the iconic house. Or you can take this free self-guided walking tour. The red line will take you along the important Utrecht Rietveld landmarks, and following the dotted line on the way back, you will discover a lovely Utrecht neighbourhood with some really nice cafés and shops.
Use my complete city guide Utrecht to plan your visit.
Read more about De Stijl
- De Stijl: spot Dutch design on Dutch streets
- De Stijl: celebrating 100 years of Dutch design
- Mondriaan to Dutch design
What’s the most spectacular residential building you’ve ever visited?