In 1898, early in the career of renowned Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), entrepreneur Catherine Cranston - known simply as Miss Cranston - commissioned him to furnish her new rooms at her tearooms on Argyle Street, Glasgow. Miss Cranston was to be an important patron for the young architect, who came to rely on a relatively small number of patrons throughout his career. The commission afforded Mackintosh a new freedom to experiment, whilst leading to further projects, including the Ingram Street Tea Rooms (1900) and the Willow Tea Rooms (1903).
The work at Argyle Street followed on from his previous work at Miss Cranston's new Buchanan Street Tea Rooms, which had been conceived two years earlier in 1896, in collaboration with designer George Walton who designed the furnishings. In this new undertaking, however, Mackintosh found himself in a role reversal, being fully in charge of the furnishings whilst Walton was preoccupied with designing the interiors. Walton had just opened his new offices in London and his involvement with new projects in the south probably curtailed his ability to take on the commission of designing all of the furniture for Miss Cranston's new venture.
The furniture Mackintosh designed for these new rooms exhibit a new, more robust evolution of his repertoire and established a style for much of his work up to 1900. Combining English Arts & Crafts and Scottish vernacular design, Mackintosh produced furniture in a bold and simple aesthetic which marked him out from his contemporaries. The distinctive furniture he produced was also employed to define and separate the rooms as designed by Walton. Their collaboration suggested that they were ‘moving away from each other’. The rather delicate refinement of Walton’s scheme was not emulated by Mackintosh, and his furniture for the Argyle Street Tea Rooms demonstrates a far more robust manner. All the pieces are made of oak with an emphasis on broad, unmoulded planes, the timber being clear-varnished or, more usually, dark-stained and waxed as in the present example. The use of broad laths to the backs and subtle tapered elements to the top rail and legs enliven the rectangular blocked outline.
Used at one end of the Luncheon Room about twenty chairs of the present design appear in contemporary photographs, of which five are known to survive. Mackintosh went on to develop this chair design for a chair at Ingram Street. Related chairs, probably produced as replacements but with design differences including a kidney-shaped handle, were produced later but it is thought not with Mackintosh’s involvement. The Argyle Tea Rooms closed in 1920, and much of the furniture was dispersed.
This table formed the base of a writing table made by Frances Smith for the Ladies' Rest Room at Miss Cranston's Ingram Street Tearoom in 1909. The Rest Room formed one of two new adjacent rooms created by Mackintosh for the Ingram Street Tea Rooms: The Oval Room and the Ladies Rest Room. This latter room was dark stained and panelled with recesses for couches and other furniture. The fireplace was surrounded by gold mosaic tiles and open columns supported the mezzanine of the Oval Room above. The desk originally had a superstructure with dividers which allowed for four people to sit at the desk at any time and may in any case have been removable. Although the original layout of the room is not known, it may be that the circular writing desk offered here sat in the bow window next to the fireplace at one end of the room.
We are delighted to present these impressive pieces by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Cranston's Tearooms in our 12 October DESIGN Since 1860 auction alongside two studies and a design by Mackintosh as well as a book of elfin rhymes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald interest.
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