The first time Ruth and I went to Glasgow, Scotland, we were lucky enough to discover the Willow Tea Rooms. One is at 217 Sauchiehall Street. Scottish-Gaelic for alley of the willows, Sauchiehall was completely designed by architect/designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. There’s a 2nd Mackintosh designed tea room at 97 Buchanan Street where Ruth bought a pin that has become her favorite piece of jewelry. Whenever she wears it, people notice it and ask where she got it.
Mackintosh isn’t too well-known in the United States, but he’s a big deal in Scotland, especially in Glasgow. The Hunterian Art Gallery on the campus of the University of Glasgow that I wrote about on August 11, 2013 (Whistler’s Mother and Wife), has lovingly recreated his home above the museum. It can be toured by special arrangement for free. We had no trouble getting on a tour an hour before it left.
One of 11 children, Mackintosh’s designs, to me, are an excellent mash-up of Art Nouveau, Frank Lloyd Wright, Japanese style, Scottish tradition, and his own genius. He was born in 1868, died in 1928, and was fortunate in his marriage. He wed Margaret Macdonald, also a gifted designer, and they consistently collaborated. Ian, who gave us the tour of their Glasgow home now in the Hunterian, told us that many think she was the true genius.
Their home and a couple of added museum displays are a 5 Compass experience. Charles and Margaret moved into a Victorian house on 3 levels and poured their combined creativity into every inch of its space with unique light fixtures, fireplaces, furniture, table arrangements, lots of black and white with color accents, etc. Their bedroom with a four-poster bed is, in my opinion, the show room. Also seen on the tour is a startlingly original 1917 guest bedroom that caused trouble.
I believe that part of the reason why Charles Rennie Mackintosh isn’t better known internationally is due to personality and misfortune. Commissions began to dry up and he agreed to design a house for an eccentric millionaire named W. J. Bassett-Lowke. The results had critics. For example, Bassett-Lowke was a friend of playwright George Bernard Shaw, who visited. Bassett-Lowke showed Shaw the guest bedroom and said, “I trust the decor will not disturb your sleep.” Shaw replied, “No, I always sleep with my eyes closed.”
Sensitive to criticism and apparently disheartened, Mackintosh went to France and became a watercolor painter of less than genius for the rest of his life. Too bad. He was an original talent.