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Excerpt from one of Truus Schröder’s notebooks, 1947:

Rietveld said: “You scatter ideas around. People say I have lots of ideas, but you have many more. I pluck them from you. And they’re not just simple ideas, but you understand how to take them further.” 

Truus first met Rietveld in her neoclassicist home on Biltstraat, in Utrecht. Young Gerrit came to deliver a writing desk he had made in his father’s furniture workshop. It was the year 1911: the year they both got married, but not to each other.

From that first meeting on, they continued to seek each other out.

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Truus came from an affluent Catholic family. Her father was a successful merchant in textiles. Truus spent several months studying in London and Hannover.

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In 1911 she married the lawyer Frits Schröder. He was the son of one her father’s business relations and eleven years her senior.

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Truus was interested in ‘the modern’ from a young age on. She admired the progressive architect H.P. Berlage.

At the time of their marriage, Frits promised Truus that she would have the freedom to study and to work. Frits had also said that having children was not necessarily part of the picture. But, after having three children – one son, two daughters – Truus vented her disappointment in an interview: “He promised me all sorts of things, but didn’t make good on them. He basically tricked me into this.”

The dwelling where Truus Schröder lived with her husband and children was furnished and decorated in a heavy classicist style.

Photo: The Han Schröder Architectural Collection, Ms1987-064, Special collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

In 1921, Truus commissioned Rietveld to thoroughly redo a room in the dwelling. She referred to it affectionately as ‘the room with the beautiful greys’.

Truus Schröder:

“Rietveld gave me the medicine that made me want to live. You need to appreciate what your senses reveal. Be elementary. It’s not quantity that matters, but quality. I was ready for it, and hungry. I had longed for so much.” 

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After her husband Frits died in 1923, Truus asked Gerrit Rietveld to design a new house for her and her three young children. This became the Rietveld Schröder House, at what was then the very edge of Utrecht.

Truus Schröder with her youngest daughter Han in the house she designed with Rietveld, around 1925.

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The house wasn’t just her residence. On the ground floor, Gerrit and Truus established their joint architectural office.

Schräder en Rietveld Architecten: that’s how they were listed in the telephone directory. (Schräder was Truus’s maiden name.)

Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder mainly worked together on interior design. One such project was the living room of her sister and brother-in-law, An and Rein Harrenstein, who lived on Weteringschans in Amsterdam.

Until well into old age, Rietveld sent cards and letters to Truus Schröder, often signing them with the abbreviation I.L.Y.R., or something similar. I Love You, Rietveld.

“You cannot answer me now, but still I ask: Are you well? Just say ‘yes’, far off in the distance. I will seek out the moon tonight. Goodbye dearest. I.L.Y.R.”

 

As proof of their collaboration, their works at the De Stijl exhibition in 1951 in Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum were identified by the sign, ‘Rietveld en Schröder’.

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Meanwhile, Gerrit Rietveld remained married to Vrouwgien, with whom he had six children. She came from a Christian Reformed background and had worked as a nurse before marrying. She practically always kept the Bible within reach. On this photo, too, there’s a Bible on the broad armrest of the Berlin chair, another of Rietveld’s designs.

Photo: (c) Ad Windig/MAI 

HenkdeKlerk [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. No changes.

Following Vrouwgien’s death in 1957, Gerrit Rietveld moved in with Truus in the Rietveld Schröder House on Prins Hendriklaan. They were 68 and 67 years old, respectively, when they started living together.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After Rietveld’s death in 1964, Truus compiled his archive. It became her mission in life.

Gerrit Rietveld in a short letter to Truus Schröder (undated):

“The message we sought to convey together was simplicity in life, through our work and by example. I don’t think we were too fanatical about it.” 

Truus Schröder died in 1985. In accordance with her wish, she was buried next to Gerrit Rietveld in the Den en Rust cemetery in Bilthoven. Years later, Gerrit Rietveld’s children had their father’s remains reburied in Utrecht. Some people said it was in order to bring him back to ‘his’ Utrecht. Others said that it was mainly to separate him from his ‘lover’.

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The book I love you, Rietveld by Jessica van Geel recounts the story of the (secret) love affair of Gerrit Rietveld and Truus Schröder. It is based on extensive research, including interviews with and personal documents of the family. It is a story about love, family ties, and the making of a major talent. But with the emergence of De Stijl and Dada, it is also an engaging period document of an exciting time at the start of the previous century.

Visit the home of Truus Schröder

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