Living in the Amsterdam School. Designs for the Interior 1910-1930

Photos: Stedelijk Museum

While passing an open-curtained home at night, most foreigners to the Netherlands will be astonished to see how sparsely decorated Dutch interiors are. With bare walls and only a couch, an occasional lamp and table, they are more likely to think the inhabitants just moved in. Today Dutch interiors are minimalistic, to say the least. A hundred years ago when the designs of the Amsterdamsche School or Amsterdam School had its heyday, Dutch interiors were lavishly furnished with oak and expensive coromandel wood sideboards, wooden tables with sleek legs, ornate stainglassed lamps that produced every color of the rainbow, dark olive green or magenta purple-colored wallpapers accented with exuberant designs. Living in an Amsterdam School interior in the early twentieth century probably probable felt like a psychedelic experience.

This year marks the centennial anniversary that the Amsterdam School had its heyday and reason for the Stedelijk Museum of Amsterdam to take a new fresh look at the style that dominated the arts and graphic designs for most of the early twentieth century. The last exhibition was held in 1975 when the Stedelijk Museum hosted an exhibition and focused on the architecture and honed in on the major building accomplishments such as Het Schip building in Amsterdam’s Spaarndammer neighbor and the De Dageraad in Amsterdam’s Zuid (South). This time the Stedelijk will highlight in the exhibition “Living in Amsterdam School” the interiors and the many household objects that were manufactured together with the architecture. The exhibition features more than 500 objects that were designed for interiors and ranges from furniture, to lamps, clocks, ceramics, and graphic designs of book and magazine covers. According to the curator Ingeborg de Roode the masterpiece of the exhibition is, hands-down, the fireplace guard, which was elaborately decorated with a portrayal of a sea battle. The work was designed by Marie Kuyken and was acquired by the museum last year.

Major architects of the Amsterdam School including Michel de Klerk, Pieter Kramer, and sculptor Hildo Krop not only designed apartment buildings, schools, and theaters but also were equally active in creating various objects from furniture to clocks, picture frames, and candleholders. In the Netherlands between 1910 and 1930, the Amsterdam School dominated interior design also in public buildings including the wedding chapel in Amsterdam’s former city hall (the present-day The Grand Hotel), Tushinksi Theater, posters, and covers of books and magazines. Based on an extensive investigation that started in 2006, De Roode together with Marjan Groot, who is a lecturer in Design and Domestic Culture at the University of Leiden, have compiled a comprehensive database of more than 5,000 records of objects. The exhibition is composed of objects from the museum’s own collection but also includes many objects from private collectors through the Netherlands. In the last few years, the Stedelijk has made many several announcements in the media and requested collectors submit photos of their private objects. De Roode adds, “before the exhibition, many objects that we had thought were lost have now been found, which makes the exhibition even more exciting”. De Roode and Groot discovered that household objects such as clocks and lamps were extremely popular in the 1910s and 1920s. The exhibition includes 30 lamps and 40 clocks. Many objects were manufactured by ‘t Woonhuys’, which the architect and designer Michel de Klerk worked for. De Klerk who died in 1923 at the age of 39, was productive in his short professional life. According to De Roode, De Klerk’s household objects are living proof of the playfulness in Amsterdam School design. “His clocks look like plants”. The exhibition is not only a visual experience. Besides the wide variety of objects to marvel, the exhibition also includes a couple of lounge areas where visitors can recline and experience how it feels to sit in an Amsterdam School chair. Not many exhibitions allow that.

Living in the Amsterdam School opens April 9 and runs until August 28, 2016
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