Gispen’s tubular steel furniture and Giso lamps enrich many Dutch homes and offices. They remain popular classics among collectors, corporate clients and individuals. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen celebrates the hundredth anniversary of this famous Dutch furniture manufacturer with an exhibition of the company’s ‘specials’: unique commissions and limited editions.
The exhibition ‘Gispen Specials – The Customer is Always Right’ focused on the unknown Gispen. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen selected fifty special editions and objects produced in limited numbers. These designs showed the company’s quality and flexibility, which have made Dutch design famous throughout the world. Almost without exception, the specials resulted from the specific brief of a client who was unable to find what they wanted in Gispen’s (or other companies’) standard range.
These special editions range from a cast-iron chandelier for the Waalse Kerk in Rotterdam in 1924, a piano lamp for a friend of the director in 1928 and an extra-large conference table for the Van Nelle Factory around 1930. In 1986 Gispen designed ‘anthroposophical’ desks for the Gasunie building and in 1988 chairs for the Rotterdamse Schouwburg. The piano lamp – a special that became part of the main product range – is one of Gispen’s most radical designs.
Gispen in Rotterdam
Willem Hendrik Gispen (1890-1981) had not yet graduated from art school in Rotterdam when he established W.H. Gispen & Co on the Coolsestraat in 1916. Together with architects Brinkman & Van der Vlugt, Gispen furnished the interior of the Van Nelle Factory, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gispen was also the principal supplier of furniture for Sonneveld House. This villa, a stone’s thrown from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, is one of the most important examples of luxurious Functionalist architecture.
Related artworks to the exhibition
In 1916 Willem Hendrik Gispen (1890-1981) bought a smithy in the centre of Rotterdam and started ‘W.H. Gispen & Co’. At first he designed wrought-iron objects like lamps, clocks and signs to order, as well as wooden furniture. Soon, though, he began to focus on mass production and in the early 1920s the designer made a series of lamps manufactured in moulds. In 1926 this resulted in the well-known Giso lamps. These machine-made lamps were made of Giso glass: crystal glass with a layer of opal glass over it.
In 1927 Gispen also made his first prototype chair with no back legs. In 1930 he published the first catalogue offering tea tables, occasional tables, beds, settees, stools and many more kinds of furniture as well as chairs. Throughout the company’s existence, its catalogues have showcased modern design, advertising the range with pictures by leading photographers.
Relocation and Expansion
In 1933 W. van Osselen was appointed commercial director. A year later the company moved to Culemborg, where it is still located today, and there was a shift to larger-scale production. The machinery had to be upgraded and the company took over the buildings of a metal factory there. In 1935 Van Osselen set up the Stalachrome Department, where sheet steel office furniture was manufactured. The designers in Gispen’s drawing office made the designs for the furniture; Willem Hendrik Gispen was only responsible for the graphic design of the Stalachrome catalogues.
The War Years
During the Second World War Gispen was unable to get hold of steel but the company remained in business by switching to the production of wooden furniture marketed under the name ‘Pelko’. In 1949 W.H. Gispen stepped down as a director. The furniture was designed by new designers, André Cordemeyer and Wim Rietveld being the best known.
Office DesignFrom the 1970s onwards, the company devoted itself entirely to office design and stopped making furniture for domestic interiors. Banks, government buildings and offices were fitted out.
From the 1970s onwards, the company devoted itself entirely to office design and stopped making furniture for domestic interiors. Banks, government buildings and offices were fitted out.
Gispen Design Collection
Around the turn of the century the company started working with contemporary designers under the name Gispen Design Collection. Richard Hutten was appointed creative director and designed various products. Gispen also marketed products – like the popular Domoor beaker – that Hutten had designed previously.
Gispen has now been in business for a hundred years – an anniversary worth celebrating with an exhibition about the company at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Gispen always responded to his clients’ specific wishes – not just at the outset, when he worked exclusively to commission, but later, too. Gispen Specials: The Customer is Always Right did not feature the products from Gispen’s standard range, focusing instead on the ‘specials’ – one-off designs or items made in small editions. For example, the wrought-iron lamp that W.H. Gispen designed for his own house and the extra-large diagonal chair for the Van Nelle factory. More recent specials, like the Berlage Chair for the Grand Café of the Gemeentemuseum designed by Richard Hutten, also appeared in the exhibition.