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.”

Photo by Colin Mearns

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

Pic­tures by Colin Mearns

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

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