08 October 2011 till 04 March 2012

Straight-Backed Chairs, Upright Citizens

Domestic design under the influence of ’t Binnenhuis (1900-1929)

Persbeeld tentoonstelling Rechte stoelen, rechtschapen burgers

One of the Netherlands’ first ever interior design stores opened to the public in 1900. Known as ’t Binnenhuis and run by H.P. Berlage and Jacques van den Bosch, the store and its well-designed modern household furnishings were extremely popular among the affluent residents of central Amsterdam, Oud-Zuid and Het Gooi. Straight-Backed Chairs, Upright Citizens focuses on these well-to-do customers. What did they buy from ’t Binnenhuis and how do the pieces they purchased feature today in the homes of their descendants? Photographer Johannes Schwartz (b. 1970), one of the artists representing the Netherlands at this year’s Venice Biennale, has recorded their present fate in a wonderful series of photographs.

The innovative design articles on sale at ’t Binnenhuis were an attractive alternative for anyone unwilling to furnish his home either with undulating Art Nouveau chairs or with mass-produced furniture. The design of the store’s chairs, tables and cupboards was almost Spartan in its plainness and the pieces were honest and old-fashioned in their execution.

Moreover, the founders of the store had an explicit social ideal; they wanted to make household furnishings of good design available to large sections of the population. In fact, although they had many socially concerned customers like socialists Henri Polak and Floor Wibaut, all of them were members of the upper classes. The Binnenhuis’s high prices saw to that. The company did not sell chairs to the working classes, but to well-heeled people who cared about their lot.

The ‘modern’ style of interior design propagated by ’t Binnenhuis was actually rooted in traditional Dutch styles that went back to the country’s seventeenth-century Golden Age. This made the store popular with lovers of antique furniture and people like the scions of the country’s old ruling and patrician families, who found that the pieces combined well with their family heirlooms. For example, the Fentener van Vlissingen family and historian Johan Huizinga were major clients in the early years of the venture.

Bulb manufacturers Anton and Gerard Philips of Eindhoven also found their way to the Amsterdam store. They bought several pieces of furniture from Berlage and Van den Bosch and also gave them various commissions for the furnishing of their two villas. They even had made hand-forged light fittings to accommodate his hypermodern electric light bulbs.

Especially for this exhibition, photographer Johannes Schwartz has produced an intriguing photo-reportage on Binnenhuis furniture in contemporary interiors. His photographs are the starting point for the exhibition and give a clear impression of the way the store’s cupboards, tables and chairs are still being used by the descendants of the original purchasers and how they remain part of their domestic interiors after all these years.

The exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book authored by Yvonne Brentjens, who is also the curator of the exhibition. (W Books, price: € 39.95).