Cup of cheer as historic tea room reopens
Celebrations as Glasgow tea rooms open on 150th Mackintosh anniversary
FROM the moment you walk through the door, the touch of Scotland’s greatest architect, designer and artist is everywhere.
Every high-backed chair is precisely lacquered, each window handle and umbrella stand a work of art in itself. On the tables, cucumber sandwiches, crisp white napkins and Willow-patterned cups and saucers hark back to a more elegant age. Welcome to afternoon tea Charles Rennie Mackintosh style.
Yesterday was the Glasgow-born artist’s 150th birthday and it marked a double celebration as guests, including the city’s Lord Provost Eva Bolander, were given a sneak preview of the stunning restoration and recreation of one of his greatest works.
Four years after an ambitious plan was created to bring the original Willow Tea Rooms Building in Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, back to its former glory, the scale and success of the project was revealed.
Hundreds of craftspeople from as far afield as Chicago, Hong Kong, Cumbria and Kirkcaldy have worked to meticulously restore and recreate Mackintosh’s original vision. And it is magnificent.
Mackintosh at the Willow as it will be known (the Willow Tea Rooms name is owned by Anne Mulhern, who runs another cafe just yards away) won’t open to the public until July 2. But it is worth the wait.
As well as a 200-seat tearoom and restaurant, a place to discover and rediscover the work of Mackintosh, there will be a visitors’ centre as well as exhibition, retail, conference and education space, creating a cultural and community hub. Elements of the site will open throughout the summer.
The Willow Tea Room Trust, which conceived and co-ordinated the £10million renovation, hopes to welcome at least 360,000 visitors a year, providing a boost to tourism in a part of the city centre that has declined in recent years, not least after the recent fire in Sauchiehall Street.
Conceived as a a social enterprise, the Trust already provides training and work for 40 staff, many of them young people involved in the Prince’s Trust charity. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society will also have a base at the site.
The original Willow Tea Rooms, opened in October 1903, was one of a series commissioned by Glasgow entrepreneur Miss Catherine Cranston, and the only one created by Mackintosh – her partner in design – in its entirety, from the architecture of the building to the furniture and cutlery.
It also featured stunning panels by Mackintosh’s wife, the designer Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and is recognised as one of the finest complete Art Nouveau schemes in the world.
The expert team behind the renovation project worked mainly from black and white photographs contained in an art periodical to get every aspect of the interior detail right. And the woman behind the transformation is delighted with the result.
“This is such a happy day,” said Celia Sinclair, chairwoman of the Trust. “This is a landmark heritage restoration and re-creation that is all about engaging the next generation of artists, designers and entrepreneurs. It’s also about instilling civic pride in Glasgow folk.
“I hope Mackintosh and Miss Cranston would be pleased by what we have
done, and I rather suspect they would love what we are trying to achieve.
“Mackintosh was neglected by his fellow Scots during his own time and I was amazed by the lack of interest when I originally approached various organisations over this project. But, four years on, this is an exciting new beginning. Toshie, your day has come.”
Pamela Robertson, Professor Emerita of Mackintosh Studies at Glasgow University, a member of the expert panel who oversaw the
This was a journey of discovery for all of us
renovation, described the day as a “milestone in the history of the building”.
She added: “This was a journey of discovery for all of us.
“The Willow was undoubtedly Mackintosh’s finest commission for Miss Cranston and has been extremely challenging for us to reinstate.
“But the analysis of the photographs has allowed us to re-engage with the textures and forms of this stunning design, to really see what Mackintosh envisioned.”
The magnificent detail from the salon deluxe Seona Reid, Eva Bolander and Celia Sinclair-Thornqvist
Tea smith Holly Murphy in the salon deluxe with worker Stevie Burrell, above
The expert team behind the renovation project worked mainly from black and white photographs contained in an art periodical to get every aspect of the interior detail right