Spectrum, as we know it today, has an eventful history behind it. Nevertheless, despite the changing circumstances a number of principles have always been clearly recognizable: functionalist designs, items of furniture with no embellishment, whose beauty was determined by the well thought-out and carefully balanced form and proportion of the design. And the use of high quality materials and the desire to communicate the principles of good design to a broader public.

logo ’t Spectrum

The original ‘t Spectrum was set up in Bergeijk in the Netherlands in January 1941 as a subsidiary of the weaving mill Weverij de Ploeg, largely in order to prevent the employees of the weaving mill being sent to work in Germany. In addition to this, it also made it possible to maintain contacts with customers and ensured that the materials that were available were used to optimal effect. For example, the materials were used to make wooden accessories for the home, such as bowls, candlesticks and lamps.

Wooden home accessories

After the war ‘t Spectrum became a company with its own management and small items of furniture such as stools, magazine racks and pieces of furniture for children were added to the collection.
It was only in the second half of the fifties that the collection underwent a dramatic change as the company began to concentrate more specifically on larger pieces of furniture (armchairs, tables and sofas). By that stage it was possible to work with metal among other things in view of the fact that the ban on the use of steel for the production of furniture had since been lifted.

‘t Spectrum had very clear ideas about the principles of good furniture design - ideas that changed very little over the years.
During the Second World War the limitations of the economic situation had a significant impact on design: pieces of furniture had to cost as little as possible and designers had to be frugal in their use of materials. In addition to this, as far as ‘t Spectrum was concerned, furniture had to be functional, in other words, its form was determined by its function.
Soundness of quality and construction though the use of quality materials was also important. In attempting to give this soundness something of a timeless quality, the designers deliberately avoided making concessions to the fashion trends of the day.

Since the second half of the fifties larger furniture was made

At a certain point the directors decided that it was time for ‘t Spectrum to start operating on a larger scale and appointed the designer Martin Visser, whose numerous designs largely determined the character of the collection. He also enlisted the services of various freelance designers, such as graphic artist Constant Newenhuijs, Benno Premsela and Kho Liang Ie, all of whom produced different designs for the collection, consciously basing their designs on the function and use of the piece of furniture in question.
The culture of the business remained the same: the company wanted to make well designed pieces of furniture available to a wider group of consumers, to stimulate good design in general and to raise consumer awareness of the importance of good design. However, because of the high quality requirements the furniture was not cheap, so despite the company’s stated intention the furniture proved to be beyond the means of many.

Sixties designs Martin Visser

’t Spectrum was never really a furniture factory. Right from the start the company commissioned out much of the production to other specialized companies and only kept a few activities in hand. This meant that there was no need to invest in expensive machines or business premises. And items of furniture could simply be discontinued if they weren’t selling well. As a result ’t Spectrum was always able to respond to changes in the market.

Like many other companies in the Netherlands, ’t Spectrum encountered financial and organizational problems in the early seventies partly on account of the noticeable drop in spending power and also on account of the fact that increasing quantities of cheaper foreign products were being imported at the expense of the Dutch manufacturers.
In March 1974 the directors decided to wind up the company.

However, a number of the employees were interested in continuing the company and went on to do so under the name Arspect. They wanted to continue to sell a small number of the pieces of furniture designed by ’t Spectrum and supplemented the collection with new items. The company also imported several collections from Italy and Scandinavia.

At a certain point Arspect began to focus increasingly on project furniture. In doing so the company neglected the trade in furniture for private customers and failed to maintain its contacts with the retailers. When a number of the company’s larger clients withdrew their business in the eighties Arspect was unable to absorb the loss and was forced to close its doors.

One of the people who had originally been employed by ‘t Spectrum purchased the design rights of all of the pieces of ‘t Spectrum furniture and together with several other people went on to set up a new company with a view to keeping these designs on the market. This is the Spectrum we know today.
The small changes that Arspect had wrought in the original collection were reversed and, slowly but surely, the collection was expanded. The pieces of furniture designed by Martin Visser proved to combine very well with the designer furniture produced in the eighties and nineties.

In keeping with the spirit of the original ’t Spectrum the new Spectrum is now supplementing the collection with modern products that are compatible with the existing line in terms of design. Although the new designs are still based on a functional approach, there is more scope in the way that different forms are incorporated.

Tables 20/21/22 designed by Martin Visser and his wife Joke van der Heijden

Thus the designers are now using more diagonals and curved forms, while still preserving the characteristic austerity, clear construction and the use of authentic materials. Slowly but surely the collection is being expanded with the addition of designs by famous and up-and-coming designers, which are presented to the trade at various international furniture exhibitions, as well as being presented to the consumer in the showroom of the Dutch Design Center in Utrecht.

The above information is taken from the book ’t Spectrum, moderne meubelvormgeving en naoorlogs idealisme [’t Spectrum, modern furniture design and post-war idealism] published in March 2002. ISBN 90 6450 462 8