The history of Spectrum goes back to the start of the Second World War. Not everyone is aware that Gerrit Rietveld was part of that history, almost from the beginning.
Due to the limited supply of raw materials, the sharp drop in demand and the machines advanced by the occupying forces, weaving mill De Ploeg was forced to change its operations during the war years. Initially, blackout materials were still being produced, but that proved insufficient. This led to the start of a new furniture company: ‘t Spectrum was founded in Bergeijk in 1941 (later Spectrum).
De Ploeg’s director Piet Blijenburg came up with the idea of making interior products and accessories from materials that were locally available, such as pit reeds, rushes and wood. The collection was diverse: trays, napkin rings, coat racks and cots were made, as well as bags of reed and dolls with clothing from De Ploeg’s fabrics.
By founding ‘t Spectrum, Blijenburg prevented its employees from being employed by the occupying forces, and the relationship with the country’s customers was maintained. In the early years, a Supervisory Board was appointed, consisting of the architects Eschauzie, Jansen and Gerrit Rietveld. The latter was only announced after the war. Because Rietveld refused to become a member of the Culture Room set up by the occupying forces, he was not allowed to be active in his own working area. As a member of the Supervisory Board, Rietveld was closely involved in the development of the first Spectrum collection.
It is unknown how the contact between Rietveld and Blijenburg came about, but it was the beginning of a long collaboration. The first years after the war were mainly focused on the successful continuation of De Ploeg and Spectrum. Bag production stopped and Spectrum focused on modern and affordable wooden furniture. When Martin Visser moved from De Bijenkorf to Bergeijk in the early 1950s, his relationship with Rietveld received a new impulse. Rietveld was commissioned to design Visser’s private house and designed various pieces of furniture for Spectrum. Our archives contain drawings of a bed, coffee tables, a series of stools and a chair. The chair was Roelof van Daalen’s desire; he was then De Ploeg en Spectrum’s director and Rietveld admired him for both his furniture designs and architecture. It was Van Daalen who commissioned Rietveld in 1957 to build his own house and De Ploeg’s new factory in Bergeijk. This special factory building is now a national monument.
A new chapter was added to the rich history of Holland’s most famous architect and furniture designer with Spectrum, only a few years ago. Since 2014 we proudly carry the Rietveld Originals collection. As a result, a large number of Rietveld’s furniture designs are once again available through a Dutch design label. For example, the Press Room Chair, the New Amsterdam armchair, the Steltman chair and the Armchair for Metz&Co are all part of the Spectrum collection.
As a Spectrum fan you are of course aware of it: the Martin Visser sofa bed from 1960. You would recognize it anywhere, and yet there are different versions and comparable models from the same period. How do you recognize a real Martin Visser sofa?
Martin Visser designed his first series of sofas for Spectrum in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His most famous design, the BR 02 sofa, is now a true design classic. In addition to Visser, however, there have also been other designers who have designed similar (sleeper) sofas. However, most of his contemporaries’ versions were only produced for a relatively short period of time, while the BR 02 sofa bed became a design icon in no time and has always remained in production at Spectrum. After all these years, Visser’s BR 02 is still at the top of the design ladder.
But how can you tell if it’s an original Martin Visser sofa bed? Especially when you are looking for a vintage sofa or have a fixer-upper in mind, you want to be sure that it is a real Spectrum sofa. We give you some pointers here.
NAME // In Spectrum’s early years, the designs were given a name that was built up as a code. In the case of sofas, this means that the name begins with BR (Bank Rusten, a sofa bed) or BZ (Bank Zitten, a sofa with a fixed seat).
FRAME // Visser’s BR 02 sofa bed from 1960 has a round frame. This followed his earlier version of the sofa where he used a square tube. Are you looking at a sofa with a rectangular frame? There is no way this could be a Visser design. The frame always has a kink at the height of the backrest at the back so that the frame follows the line of the sofa. The backrest is kept optically ‘separate’ from the frame by means of spacers.
SPRINGS // The first Spectrum sofas were fitted with jute lashing straps. Later, in the 70’s, these were replaced by nozag springs – a kind of zigzag spring – which are held together by strong elastic bands. As of 1988, lashing straps are being used again, thus returning the original production method to its former glory. Today’s straps are made from black elastic material.
UPHOLSTERY // The upholstery of the Spectrum sofas is always tight and angular, so that the straight shapes of the sofa are shown to full advantage. The upholstery is always stuck to the sofa; removable covers are not available. Depending on the model, the relation between the seat and the back can be different. However, there is always a considerable space between the back and the seat, so that the backrest ‘floats’. If you have a Martin Visser sofa and would like to know more about the possibilities of upholstering, click here.
SLEEPMECHANISM // The BR 02 sofa’s sleeper function is created by simply tilting the seat forward with one simple movement, so that the seat lies flat. This lever mechanism is clearly visible under the sofa, and consists of a few separate blocks, to which the seat is suspended, as it were, in the side panels. Visser designed one two-person sofa bed, the BR 49. In this design the second bed is under the seat. The back of Visser sofas is never flat in sleep mode, the sleeper function is only in the position of the seat.
DATE OF PRODUCTION PERIOD // In the 60’s and 70’s the Spectrum sofas were provided with a production date, by means of two digits. The first number indicates the month, the second the year. Depending on webbing or nozag springs, the decade becomes clear. The stamps are placed in the wooden lines on a short side of the seat, and are visible when you look at the sofa from the bottom. For example, a sofa with 37 plus webbing is produced in March 1967, a sofa with 82 plus nozag springs dates from August 1972. Furniture from the end of the 70’s is no longer provided with a visible production date.
In conclusion, if it is a Martin Visser sofa bed, it belongs to the Spectrum collection. Visser never designed for other companies or collections.
If you have a sofa at home or if you are eyeing one, and you are still in doubt, feel free to send us pictures. Images of the underside of the seat and of the frame, in particular, often give us enough information to be able to give you a conclusive answer. Please mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will be hearing from us!
On November 3, 1958, a very special company meets in Parisian Restaurant Laurent on Avenue Gabriel. Earlier that day the new UNESCO building in the French capital was opened and the client invited all architects involved to celebrate. The main architects were Bernard Zehrfuss, Walter Gropius and Pier Luigi Nervi, but thanks to contributions from various UN member states, large parts of the building and interior were drawn by the world’s best architects. Among them was Gerrit Rietveld who made the design for the ‘Press Room’. A place where journalists were able to withdraw to report on what was happening at UNESCO. Because Rietveld circulated the menu during the evening, with the request to sign it, we know exactly who his table guests were.
On the menu, in addition to Rietveld and the chief architects’ signatures, you will recognize those of Le Corbusier, Hans Wegner, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Isami Noguchi and Ernesto Nathan Rogers, among others. Remarkably, Karel Appel’s signature is also on the menu. He lived in Paris at the time and previously won the UNESCO prize.
Press Room Chair
De Press Room Chair is in 1958 ontworpen door Gerrit Rietveld voor het UNESCO gebouw in Parijs. Rietveld ontwierp de fauteuil als comfortabele lounge stoel aan de leestafel voor journalisten in de persruimte. Door het krappe budget en beperkte tijd, werd het ontwerp echter niet uitgevoerd en zag Rietveld zich genoodzaakt ze te vervangen door meubels die hij eerder dat jaar voor de Wereldtentoonstelling in Brussel had gemaakt. Gelukkig zijn de originele ontwerpen, tekeningen en maquettes bewaard gebleven waardoor de Press Room Chair in 2014 alsnog is uitgebracht.
The Martin Visser sofa bed: a timeless design classic that has been in production for 60 years. Have you been the happy owner of this beautiful design for years, but is the sofa ready for a new look? With new upholstery the sofa is completely up to date again. When the interior and suspension are replaced, this icon is ready for many more years of use!
When we provide your sofa with new upholstery, our craftsmen always look at the condition of the interior and the suspension of your sofa. If this is also in need of renewal, we will contact you about this. The interior (cold foam) and the suspension can be completely replaced. This makes both the seating comfort and the appearance of the sofa as good as new again!
Want to know more about reupholstering?
Would you like more information about the possibilities of reupholstering Martin Visser’s BR 02 sofa bed? Contact us or visit one of our points of sale near you.
Design connoisseur of today about the sofa of yesteryear
The BR 02 sofa bed, a proven classic, a 1960 design. The clear construction and minimalistic design language make this sofa withstand the different style periods easily. What would this sofa look like with all the extra knowledge, (production) possibilities and materials that are now available? We asked some of today’s industry peers how they see the sofa. And would they like to change anything?
THOMAS EURLINGS INTERIOR AND PRODUCT DESIGNER
“The sofa has become an archetype of Dutch design from this period. The archetype of a Dutch sofa, even. In many respects – format, multi-functionality, and transparency – it fits the Dutch mentality perfectly. Practical for small spaces, while it does not look out of place in large ones either.”
AART VAN ASSELDONK PRODUCT DESIGNER AND ARTIST
“Martin Visser was so good because he worked in an idiosyncratic, minimalist way. Industrial frames and material combinations. Purely technical, no embellishment. I wouldn’t change much about the BR 02, given the chance.”
PAUL LINSE DESIGNER AND INTERIOR ARCHITECT
“To me, this sofa is pure nostalgia. In our family it used to play a central role: a natural object on which people lived. Later it ended up in my own house as an heirloom, where it has since taken a prominent place among other classics. This has been the case for decades, without being superseded by newer options. The charismatic and subdued design retains its timeless power.”
EDWIN VAN ONNA PUBLICIST AND CURATOR
“A great sitting/sleeping sofa with the sleek functionalist look of the 1960s. The flat backrest and seat allow you to “actively sit” on this Spectrum classic. A very airy and compact design, perfectly fitting into the interior of the small post-war houses. I wouldn’t personally change anything about it. The design is rock solid.”