All the furniture in the library of Sonneveld House is by Gispen, including these chairs with orange-red peau de peche upholstery. There are two chairs with a higher backrest for men and two with a lower backrest for women, so that their hair or hats would not be flattened.
Sonneveld House functioned as an exemplary showcase for modern ideas about living. The family’s choice for hypermodern architecture and an interior with tubular-steel furniture was highly unusual in the early 1930s. Tubular-steel furniture was already widely used in offices and hospitals but not in receptions or boardrooms and certainly not in domestic settings, where heavier, wooden furniture still dominated. Cees van der Leeuw, one of the directors of the Van Nelle Factory, was a pioneer in this respect: all parts of the factory, including the directors’ offices, were furnished with the most modern designs.
In 1932 the Rotterdam-based architect Willem van Tijen (1894-1974) predicted that tubular-steel furniture would become a trend in respectable homes: ‘Steel furniture has become socially acceptable and in the coming years various rich interiors will be full of glistening chrome and bright colours’. He announced this with some sadness because modernist designers never intended for their tubular-steel furniture to become status symbols.
The furnishings in Sonneveld House are nowhere near as radical as those initiated by Van der Leeuw. Everything is a little more plush and luxurious. The low, cantilevered armchairs by the hearth, for example, have generously padded seats and backrests.
The armchairs – the low model (no. 407) for men and the high women’s model (no. 408) – were developed specially for the Sonnevelds. The construction with a single steel tube has a striking feature in the large rounded armrests. The cushioned seat and backrest ensure comfort. Gispen launched the models on the market in 1933 with the addition of elegant black armrests that follow the curve of the steel tube. They were rather more luxurious variants of the original models, which had slightly thinner cushions and shorter and more angular armrests in keeping with Gispen’s vision of Functionalist modernism. The current replica chairs were made by Van der Stroom / Dutch Originals in Asperen on the basis of design drawings and photographs.
W.H. Gispen, armchairs No. 407 and No. 408, 1933, collection Het Nieuwe Instituut.