MACKINTOSH, Charles Rennie
(b. 1868, Glasgow, d. 1928, London)

Interior in Willow Tea Rooms

217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

The photo shows the front salon in the recreated Willow Tea Rooms.

The best-known Mackintosh interiors were those created for Miss Catherine Cranston's four Tea-Rooms in Glasgow: Buchanan Street (1896), Argyle Street (1897), Ingram Street (1900) and the Willow (1903), of which only the last-mentioned survives at 217 Sauchiehall Street. At this time, tea-rooms in the city were numerous and popular; when hung with paintings by the Glasgow Boys some of them became almost like art galleries. None could match the tea rooms of Miss Cranston with their startling decorations and the provision of such amenities as billiard rooms and ladies' rooms.

The Buchanan Street tea-room was created behind an earlier neo-Flemish façade under the direction of the Glasgow designer George Walton. Mackintosh's contribution included mural decorations, the most striking of which was a frieze of stencilled women whose silhouettes, stiff and hieratic like Byzantine saints, were entwined with briars. The roles of Walton and Mackintosh were reversed in 1897 in the Argyle Street tea-room, for which Mackintosh designed the furniture; in 1906, he added a basement, the Dutch Kitchen. The fireplace is framed by the swooping curves of a screen beyond which the wall is cross-hatched.

In furniture, as in other areas of design, it seems that there was an early affinity of approach and method between Mackintosh and MacNair; initially, at least, the latter may have led the way, although, in time, Mackintosh's architectural discipline provided a more structural rationale. His early individual pieces of furniture made much use of dark or green-stained oak and often incorporated beaten metal figurative panels. With the commissions for the tea-rooms, Mackintosh could extend his repertory and experiment further by using the chairs to complement the interior decoration while defining a particular location. In the Dutch Kitchen, high-backed chairs were set in the inglenook; elsewhere the low Windsor chairs were a foil to the elaborate decorations on walls and piers.

In the Willow Tea Rooms, Mackintosh had total control of the project both inside and outside; his wife contributed some of the decorative motifs. On the ground floor, he set up an unpainted frieze of plaster panels, their angular outlines leading the eye deeper into the stems and branches of the willow wood. Above, in the Room de Luxe, a leaded-glass frieze with pink and green insets was placed against white painted walls, and on the curved bay, leaf-shaped mirror glass shimmered like the stirring of willow leaves. In the Room de Luxe, the chairs, of two sizes, are silver with purple upholstery; the tops of the higher chairs are pierced by a grid of squares, a favourite Mackintosh device.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.