Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The Zig Zag Chair did not represent the same kind of breakthrough in the history of twentieth century design as did the Red Blue Chair. Within Rietvelds’ oeuvre, however, this design is the purest example of the synthesis between form, function and construction that was his aim. The Zig Zag shape does not contain space but dissects it with its four planes: back, seat, leg and base. Each of the planes is essential to the construction.

Rietveld said about this chair that “…it is, as it were, a tiny partition in space untouched. It is not a chair but a designers’s joke. I always called it the Zig Zag”.

A number of features that Rietveld had tried out in earlier designs converge in the Zig Zag Chair. The shape derives from the chair without back legs that was a remarkable phenomenon in the development of tubular furniture. The German designer, Bodo Rasch, was the first to make a fairly old fashioned wooden chair that was based on a Z shape. That was in 1926. In 1932 Rietveld designed a model for Metz & Co., with a tubular metal frame; a number of prototypes were shown in 1933 at the “Op het dak” exhibition in the cupola of Metz & Co. in Amsterdam. The structure turned out to be inadequate. Where the legs crossed the weld was not sufficiently strong. Because of this the model had no successors.

An early design that led to the current Zig Zag

(Not such a strong weld, not a good design)

Rietveld regarded the Zig Zag chair as a variation on the one-piece chairs that are sketched in the drawing appear to have been made out of a single piece that was then bent. Another drawing in the Netherlands Architecture Institute with the caption ‘steel plate’ confirms this. As far as we know, Zig Zag Chairs made of steel plate were never produced. One of the earliest, possibly the first, prototype of the Zig Zag Chair was made of fibreboard that was fastened with screws to an iron band. A second prototype that must have been made more or less at the same time consisted of four pieces of plywood that are fixed to a frame of sawn-out iron. In a review by Mart Stam about the exhibition of chairs in the Stedelijl Museum in Amsterdam (1934-1935) both production possibilities were in one breath: “He (Rietveld) is thinking of metal, of vulcanized fibreboard. He knows that the old way of working is no good anymore; he knows that what he needs to do is to find new materials with another and more simple form of assembly”

The versions that were closest to Rietveld’s original idea were the Zig Zag chairs made of curved five-plywood. They were made by Metz & Co. and were illustrated by a brochure for 1938. A description of the production method is noted; “Chair made from one inch deal cupboard planks from Bruynzeel of Zaandam, 183 x 40 x 2 of good quality and well dovetailed and glued with heated up jointers glue”. In the course of time some alterations were made to the chair, the later versions having the joint of the back and seat was reinforced with long screws and bolts. 

During the 1930’s and 40’s Rietveld devised a number of variations on the Zig Zag chair. Some had arm rests and holes in the back, some were different in terms of size and construction.

 To me this design really starts to show what the curent Zig Zag design looks like today.

 This looks like a mid 70's interpretation!

 This is a favorite; for the design minded baby, who has to have cutting edge seating!

As far as the finished applied to the chairs, after a number of tests Rietveld settled on using a layer of transparent varnish on the surfaces. Some of the chairs were painted a color all over, with the edges left as untreated or painted white. To this day Cassina makes version like this, using colors such as blue, black, red, and white with the contrasting edges.

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