Rietveld's Crate Furniture in Production
Under the name Rietveld Originals x HAY, the Crate furniture that Gerrit Rietveld designed in 1934 is once again in production – with the help of two Rietveld design drawings from the Nieuwe Instituut's collection. Rietveld constructed his Crate pieces using pine planks from the packaging materials used to transport furniture.
28 February 2023
The first Crate furniture dates from 1934: an armchair, a low table and a bookcase. The series was later expanded with a desk, another low table and a straight chair. The simple design had a social ideological character. The wood was cheap, and at the time of the Great Depression there was an urgent need for cheap furniture. But the design also arose from artistic conviction: Rietveld liked a sober design and use of materials, free from unnecessary elements.
Initially, Rietveld produced the Crate furniture in-house. Each piece was delivered as a kit that had to be put together by the buyer. From 1935, Crate furniture was for sale at the leading up-market department store Metz & Co: “In the brochures of the department store, the furniture is described as ‘weekend furniture’, intended for ‘weekend homes, conservatories, students and children’s rooms’. These designated functions are not only indicative of Metz’s well-to-do clientele; they also reveal the department store’s somewhat sceptical attitude of towards Rietveld’s latest designs.” (1)
What's wrong with wood chips?
Under the heading ‘Craft Rot’, Jan de Meyer, a reviewer from the trade magazine Bouwkundig Weekblad, denounced what he considered the substandard finishing of the “deadly simple furniture for a weekend home”. (2) A few weeks later, the same journal published Rietveld’s response, which is worth reproducing here in its entirety:
“Mr Jan de Meyer, I have never dared to express it like that, but I too have smelled it for a long time – I mean that craft rot. Yet I smelled something different from you: I found the products of the ‘true martyrs to a good cause’ so very dead. When I proposed marketing this pine furniture, Mr de Leeuw wrote (you fortunately speak appreciatively of this): We cannot sell wood chips; but what’s wrong with wood chips? Don’t you actually like pine? lighter than silk. Do you not like the structure of machine-planed wood? (I mean the wood as it comes from Sweden).
“ Sawn-off ends have something picturesque about them. Lots of wood of the same width together gives a calm feeling, if the seams are clearly visible and the tendency to hollow and warp has not been suppressed by desperate attempts at gluing. ”
"And one more thing: a piece of furniture made of fine wood and made purely by hand is shipped in a crate to protect it against damage and breakage. Someone who receives such a delivery at home says at most: well packaged. But it has never been established that such a crate represents a free carpentry method that goes straight to the point. With the frugal means with which it is composed, it is stronger than its noble content. Furthermore, it is light, cheerful in colour and innocent of the frown lines of our craftsmen. That is why there finally had to be someone who chose the crate over the ‘furniture’. The pieces are screwed together with open seams and are preferably unpainted – but if you want a protective layer of paint, then each plank is coated with it separately, without filler, and then screwed. So no hiding seams or screws.
Yet I can understand your indignation, especially since there is so little craft anyway. Which is why I kindly suggest that if you ever want to have a really nice piece made, and you cannot find anyone to make it as pure and whole and shrink-resistant as you would like, then come to me. You will then see why I may take the liberty of liking a crate, too.” (3)
Sources and further reading (mainly Dutch)
(2) Bouwkundig Weekblad volume 56 (1935) p. 463
(3) Bouwkundig Weekblad volume 56 (1935) p. 489
The drawings shown are part of the archive of Gerrit Rietveld in the the Nieuwe Instituut collection.
The inventory of Rietveld’s archive is available through the search portal.
The listed contributions from the Bouwkundig Weekblad from 1935 can be read online here
The Crate collection on the Rietveld Originals x HAY website