We can’t visit right now to marvel at its beautiful interiors, dine in the historic tearooms or visit the new interactive visitor centre, but as we approach what would have been Mackintosh’s 152nd birthday (June 7), we’ve asked Caitlin Divers, Operations Manager at the venue to share some of her stories about its fascinating history and restoration.
I feel so lucky to be able to enjoy the surrounds of this exquisite building every day. Since our official Royal opening, we’ve welcomed visitors from all over the world. I’m constantly learning more about Mackintosh, his genius and the strong females that supported him – tearoom owner, Miss Cranston and also his wife, Margaret Macdonald.
Located on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow city centre, the reason for the use of the willow tree as a dominating motif at Mackintosh at the Willow is simple – it refers to the street name “Saugh” which is the Scottish Gaelic word for a willow tree and “haugh” which means meadow. This was a perfect muse for Mackintosh as an Art Nouveau artist and architect because the use of natural form was paramount to the creation of Art Nouveau works.
The Salon de Luxe is one of the most breathtaking and luxurious spaces at the Willow, even the waitresses were given special uniforms crafted in Paris. It was also known as the lady’s room because it was designed as an area for women to meet outside of their home without being chaperoned. Tearooms gradually became popular locations for the suffragette movement gatherings so it’s interesting to note that the space incorporates all the colours of the suffragette colour scheme - purple for loyalty and dignity, white for purity, and green for hope. The exact colour for the chairs in the newly renovated Salon de Luxe were matched to scraps of velvet in Margaret Macdonald’s sewing box.
Another ambitious project during the restoration was making two enormous chandeliers to hang in the Salon de Luxe. The design is mathematically complex and the designers only had one black and white photo to work from. We asked that the ‘seeds’ or bubbles were added into the glass; a glassmaker normally spends their whole career trying to get them as smooth as possible! This was so that the ‘seeds’ caught the light and danced around the room, reflecting on to the vaulted ceiling.
This room was traditionally designed as a masculine space, with male-only patrons admitted. In contrast to the Salon de Luxe, the Billiard Room has dark oak panelling and furniture. Two of the panes of glass in the Billiard Room windows were badly damaged and when sourcing replicas the original workshop that supplied the initial glass panes was found. The ‘new’ panes of glass were actually from the original order that Mackintosh placed back in 1902. Apparently, and luckily for us, he often ordered more than he needed! Just in case.
Walking through the vestibule into the main tea rooms, guests will notice the willow frieze on their left-hand-side and glass panels with an abstract willow design on their right. The frieze is mirrored on the furthest wall of the Front Saloon, creating an abstracted forest surrounding its inhabitants. Both friezes are original and have been restored having, until then, been covered by shop fittings. A lot of the original features in the building were partially hidden or covered up with shop panelling so remain but had been damaged.
We have been doing lots to keep you engaged with our venue and the team until we can welcome visitors through our doors once again. Home Sweet Home is our weekly blog where we have been sharing recipes – the carrot cake is out of this world!
We’ve also been publishing a weekly blog about the history of the building and you can sign up to our monthly newsletter and follow our social channels to find out more of what we’ve been up to and ‘meet’ some of the staff.
Our friends at some of the other Mackintosh venues across the city have also been helping you to enjoy his work virtually with tours of The Mackintosh House and Mackintosh Queen’s Cross available online. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society based in Glasgow are also inviting people to get involved with their ‘Letters to Mackintosh’ creative writing project.
Mackintosh at the Willow is the last surviving example of Mackintosh’s tearoom designs and is a truly important part of Glasgow and Scotland’s heritage.
We operate as a not-for-profit social enterprise and have recently set up a crowdfunding campaign to ensure that we are able to re-open following on from this challenging period in our story. It will help ensure the tearooms do not fall back into disrepair but will also help us to continue to provide education for young people and employment, training and support for those who work with us. We are incredibly proud of our work with the community and schools and have welcomed over 3000 people to learn about the history of Mackintosh through a wide range of activities.
In an astounding way, Mackintosh’s designs capture a Scotland we all recognise today: a spirited union of creativity, collaboration and shared citizenship. That there is joy to be had in thinking outside the box, dreaming big and putting ordinary people at the heart of great works of artistic and social enterprise.
Another way in which you can show your support is to buy a voucher for Afternoon Tea for when the venue reopens. Use code MATW20 for a 20% discount.
To mark Mackintosh’s birthday, Mackintosh at the Willow will be giving you the chance to win a celebration package including an afternoon tea voucher, a venue tour and gifts from our retail store. Keep an eye on our Mackintosh at the Willow Facebook page for details on how to enter.