Refined, rational, and demonstrably Dutch, this was the aim when Hendrik Petrus Berlage designed this chair for the Amsterdam-based firm, ‘t Binnenhuis (The Interior). This important architect and designer opened the firm in 1900 in collaboration with the insurance company director, Carel Henny, jeweler, Willem Hoeker, and interior designer, Jacob van den Bosch.[1] Motivated by his socialist politics, Berlage founded ‘t Binnenhuis to offer—at least in theory—pared down designs that synthesized quality craftsmanship with machine production in order to provide products accessible to a middle-class clientele.[2]

‘t Binnenhuis wanted to compete directly with another gallery, Arts and Crafts, which had been established two years earlier in The Hague. Although named after the British-reform movement, Arts and Crafts was modeled on Siegfried Bing’s gallery, Maison de l’Art Nouveau. The Hague-based firm sold expensive, and notably imported, examples of principally Belgian and French art nouveau, such as furniture by Henry van der Velde.

With Arts and Crafts as a foil, Berlage wanted to define the boundaries of his own, specifically Dutch, Nieuwe Kunst aesthetic through ‘t Binnenhuis. His chair illustrates this goal. The piece is decorated with simple rosewood and ebony inlaid patterns on the front legs. The chair’s geometric elements emphasize its sober appearance—intended to emulate Dutch Renaissance examples.[3] Berlage’s focus on straight lines, especially in the sharp diagonal line created by the angled backrest, was intended to create a stark distinction between his work and the curving, bent wood lines characteristic of art nouveau.

Devon Zimmerman is a  graduate curatorial research fellow in the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park.

[1] Jan de Bruijn, Art Nouveau in Nederland (The Hague: Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, 2018), p. 67–68.

[2] Ibid., p. 73.

[3] Titus M. Eliëns, H. P. Berlage: ontwerpen voor het interieur (Zwolle: Wanders, 1998), p. 30–34.

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