Small Space Ideas from an Iconic 1920s Dutch Design Home

updated Apr 27, 2023
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At the edge of the charming Dutch town of Utrecht, nestled between traditional 20th-century homes and a highway overpass, lies a house that’s all planes, lines and pops of primary color. Built in the 1920s by architect Gerrit Rietveld in collaboration with his partner (in both love and design) Truus Schröder-Schräder, the building does for architecture what Mondrian did for art: It pares it down to form and color. I recently took a tour of the famous home, and was surprised to find tons of practical small-space solutions hiding inside. Take a peek—then borrow one of these ideas in your own apartment.

Use Color to Visually Divide the Space

Built for the recently widowed Truus Schröder and her three children, the second floor of the home can be opened up to form a large living area or separated to create private bedrooms. Even when the physical dividers are open, color on the ground continues to visually divide the open floor plan.

Try it at home: In a studio apartment, use tape to section off a “bedroom” on the floor, then paint that area a contrasting color, following our guide to painting floors.

Install Skinny Shelves…Everywhere

One element that pops up all over this famous house is the narrow shelf ledge. In the kid’s bedroom area, a shallow ledge runs under the window offering a little more surface area. In Truus Schröder’s bedroom, a thin shelf above the bed holds her watch, while another small platform serves as an alarm clock stand.

Try it at home: Look for narrow shelves and picture ledges that only jut out a few inches from the wall. For more inspiration, check out 20 ways to work the RIBBA shelf all over the house.

Buy Multi-Purpose Pieces

Almost all of the furniture in this iconic home can serve multiple functions. Even the kids’ beds in the home double as couches during the day. Combined with a small, space-efficient side table, the beds can even serve as a spot to eat or work.

Try it at home: Purchase pieces that can be used in several ways, such as an ottoman that can act as a makeshift side table when friends come over. Take a look at the furniture you already own to see if there’s an alternate function you may be overlooking. Suddenly, that side table in the living room is looking more and more like a nightstand.

Try a Two-Tone Wall

Small-space decorating rules typically advise against using dark colors in a small space, but the rule-bending Rietveld house isn’t afraid of some dark gray paint. By placing a lighter color at the top, two-tone walls actually help open up the space, making the room feel larger than it is.

Try it at home: Tape off a horizontal line a few feet above the floor, then paint the bottom section a deeper hue. This trick was designed for those who love rich colors but think they don’t have the square footage to pull it off.

Work the Wall Space

To fit in a tiny library, Rietveld hung small cabinets around a doorway, putting an overlooked area to use. Suspended cabinets would work in many under-utilized spaces, such as above a console table or over the toilet to hold linens.

Try it at home: If you can drill into the walls in your home, consider hanging a small cabinet on the wall as an alternative to open shelving.

Invest in a Room Divider

At night, the Rietveld Schröder house’s open living area can be separated into bedrooms thanks to sliding doors that run along a red track on the ceiling. As opposed to doors that swing out, sliding doors are an economical use of space.

Try it at home: Consider splurging on a sliding door, or get a similar effect for a lot less money using a curtain.

Choose Chic Storage

Next to the dining room, a stunning storage unit that’s equal parts cabinet and sculpture hides belongings in plain sight. Intersecting horizontal and vertical shelves are as eye-catching as they are convenient.

Try it at home: In a small home with minimal concealed closet space, bins and baskets that are pretty enough to be left out in the open are always appreciated. Start your search with these 16 stylish baskets.

If you’d like to explore this inspiring house in person, book a tour at the Centraal Museum. Don’t have a trip to Utrecht planned any time soon? This virtual tour is the next best thing.