I Built a Set of Gerritt Rietveld Crate Chairs and So Can You

Dutch avant-garde architect Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) was a hands-on furniture designer and builder. He invented Ikea before Ikea did.

His proto-Ikea crate wood set (1934) was sold finished, as a kit and as plans—truly democratic furniture that even a kid could build with a modest amount of tools and dimensional lumber from the big box store.

I made a set of Rietveld’s crate chairs and a crate table for our backyard. The crate chair is a nod to the Morris chair. It’s low slung, kind of like a beach chair (there’s also a taller version). While simple, the chair’s design shows an architect’s appreciation of how planes intersect and how to make those connections visually interesting. I’ve built reproductions of furniture designed both by architects and furniture makers. While I was building the chair I could tell that it was the product of someone who appreciated both good design and the practical details of furniture construction. It’s also more comfortable than it looks and the original had cushions which I might also make.

Associated with the DeStil movement, Rietveld’s furniture work ranges from the practical to the sculptural. He’s probably best known for the red/black chair.

Some of Rietveld’s furniture work is meant to be seen more than used. This chair was originally part of a Jeweler’s shop in The Hague but might also make an eye catching hallway chair.

If you’d like to make your own crate chairs or any of Rietveld’s other furniture, there’s a terrific bilingual Dutch/English how to book, How to Construct Rietveld Furniture/Rietveld Meubels om zelf te maken with complete plans for most of his furniture designs. The crate furniture, consisting of chairs, tables, desks and a bookshelf, can be made with a few hand tools. The rest of the projects in this book would require a table saw and varying levels of skill. The book contains measured drawings for all the projects and tips on how Rietveld did the joinery as well as colors and finishes. If I had a modernist house or office I’d go crazy and make everything in this book.

Pro tip: learn even a modest amount of carpentry skills and you can have furniture by famous designers in your house for the price of the materials.

Leave a comment

3 Comments

  1. This is great. Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione is another good reference for affordable, easily home-built modernist furniture.

    • I think I might just have to order Autoprogettazione! Googled his work and really like Mari’s trestle table. Thanks for the tip!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.