Dutch furniture company ‘t Spectrum was founded as a subsidiary of De Ploeg Textiles in 1941 in Bergeijk, the Netherlands. During World War II, the market for upholstery and fabrics shrunk; so De Ploeg director Piet Blijenburg (1896-1967)—a real go-getter—decided to tap into the more general, more durable market for domestic “industrial arts.” After the war, Blijenburg aligned ‘t Spectrum with the “Goed Wonen” (Good Living) movement in the Netherlands, which, much like the “Good Design” movement in the US, emphasized design work that embodied a healthy, modern lifestyle at affordable prices. The early objects produced by ‘t Spectrum—from tableware and lighting, to stools, magazine racks, and children’s furniture—quickly earned a reputation in the Netherlands for frugality, utility, and durability.
In 1954, engineer-designer Martin Visser (1922-2009) became ‘t Spectrum’s Head of Design—in charge of developing the collections and overseeing production—and piloted the company’s “form follows function” ethos into the booming postwar era. As the wartime ban on metal consumption lifted, Visser designed a number of popular furniture pieces—chairs, tables, and more—in tubular steel, including his iconic BR 02.7 Sofa Bed (1955-58). Visser also commissioned outside creatives to contribute to ‘t Spectrum’s line, including graphic artist Constant Nieuwenhuys, designers Benno Premsela and Kho Liang Ie, and, most famously, architect Gerrit Rietveld. Although ‘t Spectrum’s aesthetic through the end of the 1960s was quite industrial, Visser, in fact, held a preference for handmade furniture; as a result, ‘t Spectrum's seating and storage products were always finely crafted and often too costly for the mass market.
In the early ‘70s, with cheaper, foreign products bringing stiff competition, ‘t Spectrum’s directors decided to liquidate the company. Some employees, however, wanted to continue; and so they opened a smaller manufacturing outfit under the name Arspect, selling a small number of ‘t Spectrum pieces alongside new designers. Unable to weather financial problems in the 1980s, Arspect also closed; but luckily another former ‘t Spectrum employee bought the original, ‘60s-era design licenses and set up Spectrum, as it is known today, in Eindhoven. This latest incarnation still offers high-quality pieces by Visser and Rietveld, among others.