Gerrit Thomas Rietveld was born in Utrecht on 24 June 1888 as the son of a joiner. He left school at 11 to be apprenticed to his father and enrolled at night school before working as a draughtsman for C. J. Begeer, a jeweller in Utrecht, from 1906 to 1911.
Rietveld designed his Red and Blue Chair in 1917 which has become an iconic piece of modern furniture. Hoping that much of his furniture would eventually be mass-produced rather than handcrafted, Rietveld aimed for simplicity in construction. In 1918, he started his own furniture factory, and changed the chair’s colours after becoming influenced by the De Stijl movement, of which he became a member in 1919, the same year in which he became an architect. The contacts that he made at De Stijl gave him the opportunity to exhibit abroad as well. In 1923, Walter Gropius invited Rietveld to exhibit at the Bauhaus.
He built the Rietveld Schröder House, in 1924, in close collaboration with the owner Truus Schröder-Schräder. Built in Utrecht on the Prins Hendriklaan 50, the house has a conventional ground floor, but is radical on the top floor, lacking fixed walls but instead relying on sliding walls to create and change living spaces. The house has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. His involvement in the Schröder House exerted a strong influence on Truus’ daughter, Han Schröder, who became one of the first female architects in the Netherlands.
Rietveld had his first retrospective exhibition devoted to his architectural work at the Central Museum, Utrecht, in 1958. When the art academy in Amsterdam became part of the higher professional education system in 1968 and was given the status of an Academy for Fine Arts and Design, the name was changed to the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in honour of Rietveld.”Gerrit Rietveld: A Centenary Exhibition” at the Barry Friedman Gallery, New York, in 1988 was the first comprehensive presentation of the Dutch architect’s original works ever held in the U.S. The highlight of a celebratory “Rietveld Year” in Utrecht, the exhibition “Rietveld’s Universe” opened at the Centraal Museum and compared him and his work with famous contemporaries like Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe.