The house with no rooms

Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, architecture, design

The house with no rooms

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This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Some of it seems pretty obvious by today’s design standards but in 1924 it was revolutionary. But even now, in 2013, some if it is still quite remarkable. That’s why this small house at the end of a row of terrace in the Dutch city of Utrecht has been included on the World Heritage List.

If you didn’t know about the significance of the Rietveld Schroder House you would still notice it. Walking down Laan van Minsweerd – a quiet street in eastern Utrecht – there’s a row of brown terraces one after another, almost indiscernible from the next. Then you get to the end, just in front of an overpass, and there’s this strange small white house with yellow and red poles jutting out.

Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, architecture, design

The overpass wasn’t there in 1924 when the house was constructed. Back then there were just open fields as far as the eye could see. That’s why architect Gerrit Rietvald and his client, Truus Schroder-Schrader, chose this location. What Truus (a widow with three children) wanted for her new house was something that felt unconstrained by space and boundaries – something where the intersection with the outdoors was blurry.

Together they reimagined the way a house should be laid out. They threw design principles of the time out the window and challenged the orthodox.

Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, architecture, design

These days the Rietveld Schroder House is a museum and so you can book a tour and go and see it for yourself. Unfortunately there is no photography allowed inside, so you’ll have to let me describe it for you with words.

The first thing you notice once you go in is that the downstairs is fairly conventional. But this is all a sham. The kitchen and bedrooms based around a central staircase were designed in such a way so they would get building approval. But these rooms, other than the kitchen, were never intended to be used for anything in particular. They are spares. The upstairs, which is officially an attic (if city officials asked) is where they let their imaginations run free.

Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, architecture, design

On first glance, it looks strange. That’s because it is essentially one open space (apart from the toilet and bathroom). There are beds in the corners which have a direct view to the dining table and the other beds. There’s no clear sense of where the living area stops and the sleeping areas begin. In fact, it seems like they can be one and the same.

Then the guide, who is showing me and the other tourists around the house, starts pushing hidden sliding doors, lifting decorations off the wall and covering windows with them, pulling on a rope to lift up the skylight cover, opening windows and sliding them away so they disappear, and more. All these little secrets the house had been hiding transformed it into something else. Bedrooms could be closed off, the shape of the living space could be changed, sunlight could flow in or darkness could fall. The entire upstairs of the Rietveld Schroder House is malleable to suit the needs of the moment.

Rietveld Schroder House, Utrecht, Netherlands, architecture, design

There are so many other little things that I could tell you about but I fear we would be here all day. The tiniest little details – things you would never normally see in houses – had been considered. The way a ceiling is painted black so it turns an internal window into a mirror from one side; the way coloured vertical poles move between being outside to inside to break down the barriers of walls; the way one end of a cupboard door is painted a darker colour so finger marks don’t show up. It’s a house designed from the inside out, around its inhabitants.

This should be a compulsory visit for any architect or anyone who has an interest in the field. It left my mind boggling at how one small house could have so many interesting and ingenious features. It makes me want to get something like this one day myself!

UNESCO world heritage siteThis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For more info click here.
You can see all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I’ve visited here.

You can find out more information here about the Rietveld Schroder House

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Utrecht but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

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14 Comments
  • Esther | Jun 12, 2013 at 11:54 am

    It is quite handy to cover the windows like that! :D I wonder why they don’t built more homes like this. Maybe the expense or just not practical after all? Nice to read more by your hand on this heritage site.

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 12:59 am

      I’m surprised too that there hasn’t been more inspiration from this house in modern design. The whole house would seem a bit weird to many people but you could definitely adapt quite a few of the ideas to use space better.

  • Jennifer | Jun 12, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    What an interesting sounding house! Could you imagine being a kid playing hide and seek in a house that can transform?
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:00 am

      Without it transforming, it would be a pretty quick game of hide and seek – You’d open our eyes and see the other person! :o But, yeah, if you could be constantly moving the walls and stuff, it would be heaps of fun!

  • Pieter | Jun 12, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    It was a revolutionary house in its time. The architect was member of the same ‘De Stijl’-movement as the painter Mondriaan so you could look at the house as a Mondriaan picture in 3D.

    If you happen to go to Strasbourg you can visit a dancehall in the same style.

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:00 am

      Awesome! I haven’t been to Strasbourg so I’ll definitely have to put the dancehall on the list for when I get there. I really loved the De Stijl style.

  • Vera | Jun 14, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Aha! Very interesting. Never heard of this place nor the architect but now I’m really intrigued. A house that has secrets and features and the ability to change sounds pretty awesome. Like a superhero mansion or something. They just didn’t show you the bat-cave underneath it. Reminds me of the documentary “Garbage warrior” about the work of architect Michael Reynolds in which he has to constantly battle legal issues during the realisation of his ideas. Must be very frustrating. Who knows how different we would and could live if there were more people willing to try something unorthodox and less people maintaining everything red tape…!
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:06 am

      Well, as space becomes more and more important (particularly in urban areas) perhaps people will look back to houses like these and get some ideas. I doubt it’s as hard as it was back then to do something a bit weird. You always see houses on the tv or in magazines that are just strange… but I’m not sure they’re done that way for practical reasons.

  • Andrew | Jun 14, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Not sure I could deal with something SO freeflowing, but I definitely like a bit more open-plan. Germany likes doors and very definite splits. Not always my thing either, it can feel claustrophobic.

    There is an architect in the US who writes a series of books called the Not So Big House, about having spaces being the right size and not being too big as is the wont of much of America. I haven’t read the books in a while, but I wonder how much she was inspired by this guy.
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:08 am

      When I think about the typical house there are so many spaces that are rarely used. Often there’s a dining room but the family will eat in front of the tv, or in the kitchen. Or there’s a guest bedroom that’s only used a couple of times a year when great aunt Beryl comes to stay. It amkes a lot of sense to be able to use those spaces how you want for most of the time and then just easily convert them into something else on the rare occasions you need them.

  • Cristina | Jun 15, 2013 at 7:37 am

    wow that sounds pretty cool! I wish they had let you take photographs
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    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:11 am

      I wish I could have taken some photos too but apparently the inside of the house is ‘copyrighted’… whatever that means… :)

  • Hanna | Jun 16, 2013 at 5:02 am

    Wow, amazing house, it looks like you always find interesting and awesome places to share

    • Michael Turtle | Jun 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

      This one was in the middle of nowhere, in some sense, but definitly worth the trip out of the centre of the (beautiful) city.

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