Gispen presented it products in printed catalogues. The company also had showrooms in the Netherlands and abroad – in Rotterdam from 1930 to 1938 at Mauritsweg 37 – from which it sold directly to customers. Each catalogue contains a list of companies or institutions that had purchased furniture or lighting from Gispen. In the 1930 catalogue the majority of clients were from Rotterdam. However, the domestic market was limited: Gispen’s lamps were too expensive for the average family.
Willem Hendrik Gispen (1890-1981) studied architecture at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten en Technische Wetenschappen (now the Willem de Kooning Academy) in Rotterdam, but ceased his training at the outbreak of the First World War. After working at several architectural practices, in 1916 Gispen bought a small foundry on the Coolsingel, with which he made his name producing decorative metalwork. In 1919 the architect Henri Evers (1855-1929) commissioned him to produce the lanterns and radiator covers for Rotterdam’s City Hall. This was the first in a series of orders for important buildings in Rotterdam.
Together with his former fellow student Leendert van der Vlugt (1894-1936) and others, in 1920 Gispen founded Opbouw, an association of Functionalist architects and designers, which promoted partnership between architecture and the applied arts. Gispen’s contacts within the group provided not only ideas and inspiration but also new commissions. Gispen was also a member of the Rotterdamsche Kring, an artists’ association that brought him into contact with many of Rotterdam’s leading figures. This extensive network and a period of economic prosperity provided him with a series of important commissions for furniture and lamps for new building projects.
W.H. Gispen, Giso no. 38, 1929, collection Het Nieuwe Instituut.