Every Sunday we shall take a look back at a design which has become iconic. This week is Gerrit Rietveld’s Red, Blue chair. A design which is iconic of the Dutch design movement called De Stijl.

This chair has had a special place with me since my first year of doing my undergraduate degree, when I was practically forced to write a detailed analysis of it. My first views of it were that it wasn’t that impressive if I’m honest. However, the more I looked and studied it, the more I grew to actually love it. For me it’s the simplicity in the design that makes it so effective. There is so much symbolism hidden within its simple form.

One aspect which raises questions among those that haven’t had the chance to sit in one is whether or not it is comfortable since most assume because it is simple flat “boards” that it will be very uncomfortable for long periods, similar to sitting on a pew in a church. This isn’t true however, Rietveld managed to get the ergonomics perfect on it and it is rather comfortable.

The chair was designed with simple geometric forms involved as showcased in the joinery. These joins act also as a feature by accentuating and drawing attention to themselves, especially when combined with the simplistic seating planes. The design was intended to be manufacturable at home, hence the simple construction. Plans were sold, however the most iconic, collectable versions are those made by Rietveld himself.

Now lets talk about the most striking feature, the colouring. The chair is reminiscent of a Mondrian painting. This it with good reason as well, the chair was originally monotone with black, grey and white faces; however Rietveld came in contact with Mondrian and was so inspired he changed the colour scheme to match. This became the solid, striking scheme of primary colours, complimenting the simplistic design.

One feature I came across during my initial research however was the basis of the colour scheme when referred to the usage of all black costumes in Kabuki plays. The stage hands in these productions wear all black costumes and they are generally blanked out by viewers, a similar effect occurring with the supporting frame of the chair making aspects seem to float and an air of weightlessness being applied.

If we look at the colour theory behind the planes then the seat plane which is blue suggests softness, stability and relaxation all aspects wanted in a chair. The red backrest is used to help stimulate and provide energy, helping to ensure a good recovery since the aim of the chair was for taking quick recovery breaks and not long hours of leisurely sitting. The yellow accents on the ends of the black frame is associated with joy, relaxation and energy as well, but also with intellect. 

This design can cause a lot of discussion among the design world as to its features and symbolism making it a controversial yet iconic piece.