Bulletin KNOB (Jun 2019)

The Restorations of the Rietveld Schröder House. A Reflection

  • Marie-Thérèse van Thoor



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The Rietveld Schröder House (1924) in Utrecht is the only private home among the ten UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Netherlands. In 1987 it was opened to the public as a museum house and since 2013 it has been part of the collection of Utrecht’s Centraal Museum. The world-famous house was designed by the architect Gerrit T. Rietveld (1888-1964) in close collaboration with the client, Truus Schröder-Schräder (1889-1985). During the 1970s and ’80s the house was comprehensively restored by the architect Bertus Mulder (b. 1929), who had worked with Rietveld for a brief period in the early 1960s. Thanks to a Keeping it Modern Grant from the Getty Foundation these restorations have now been put on a sound scientific footing by means of archival research, technical analysis and oral history. The materialization of internal and external walls, in plasterwork and paintwork, was a crucial aspect of Rietveld’s design ideas. Unsurprisingly, problems with the plaster and the choice of colour scheme turned out to be key areas of concern in the restorations. During the restoration of the exterior, Mulder largely stripped back the external skin of the house. Although he investigated the composition of the existing plaster, the finishing coats and the colours, this can no longer be verified because no samples or documentation relating to these matters were preserved. Mulder consulted experts about the composition of the restoration plaster, but he determined the new colour scheme himself, relying on his familiarity with Rietveld’s work and use of colour. Mulder and Mrs Schröder were both very keen for the restoration to restore the house as much as possible to its original condition in the 1920s. When it came to the restoration of the interior, which was carried out after Schröder’s death in 1985, Mulder and the client, Stichting Rietveld Schröderhuis, adopted the same guiding principle. The key concerns were not the history of the house and its occupation, but Rietveld’s original design and his ideas about space. Accordingly, the upper floor was completely stripped back and its inner skin fully renovated. Remarkably, the heritage agencies did not take issue with this approach and nor did they supervise the work. During the recent research project, remnants of the original plaster and finishing coats dating from one or another of the Rietveld ‘periods’ were discovered on external wall surfaces and in a couple of ground-floor rooms. These provide possible starting points for material research for a subsequent restoration. The article reflects on the various meanings of the concept of authenticity that are employed to legitimize certain choices in restoration work. They contribute to casuistry, but offer no clear guiding principles for restorations. Instead of emphasizing a single aspect, there is much to be said for taking a broader, holistic view of this ‘recreation’ of Rietveld. And for that there are any number of research themes worth pursuing, such as the historiography, the house and De Stijl, the role and significance of Truus Schröder as designer, the occupational history, and furnishing concepts for a museum house.