In 1903‑04, after working together on the Willow Tearooms in Glasgow for his patron Kate Cranston, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was invited to redecorate and refurbish her home ‘Hous’hill’, on the city’s outskirts. At this stage in his career, Mackintosh was in the throes of an innovative phase of creativity: experimenting with new materials, textures and forms, and how these contrasting elements could work coherently within a particular space. The ideas manifested at Hous’hill would inform future furniture designs and interiors, culminating in the commission for the second phase of The Glasgow School of Art in 1910.
Prior to his work on Hous’hill, many of Mackintosh’s interior schemes were white: elegant, white‑painted furniture adorned open white spaces which he decorated with flashes of coloured glass or stencilled roses. White interiors were also employed at Hous’hill however in the Blue Bedroom the furniture was typically stained or waxed and served as devices to break up what was a rather ordinary rectangular room. Stylised organic forms and Glasgow rose motifs were used sparingly; photographs and preliminary plans of the bedroom indicate that decoration of this kind was minimal and largely reserved for the stained glass on a few basket lamps which were carefully positioned around the room.
This striking bedside cabinet, one of two produced for the bedroom, is decidedly rigid in form and follows a preference for simple geometric outlines. The elongated rectangular structure is further emphasised by a series of rectangular inlets for storing books and magazines. This effect is enhanced by the fine graining of the timber, which flows upwards in the direction of tthe exterior panelling. The decoration is relatively restrained and relies on a precise arrangement of cut‑out and inlaid squares, some of which have been inset with mother‑of‑pearl. Mackintosh’s preference for geometric linearity was carefully balanced with the subtle use of a curved stained‑glass panel, originally located in the central alcove of the cabinet, but now absent. By staining the cabinet as opposed to painting it white, Mackintosh allows the timber to play a role in its simple decoration. Contrasting textures of glass, brass, mother‑of‑pearl and the grain of the timbers work in harmony to create an innovative design which evokes an elegant yet restrained level of decoration. Other examples of furniture in the bedroom follow these new ideas to create a visually arresting interior scheme which would dominate some of his later commissions.
The two bedside cabinets were made for the Blue Bedroom by Francis Smith, one of Mackintosh’s regular cabinetmakers. His original designs for the interior show this example standing tall on the left‑hand facing side of the bed, closely positioned by the bed for ease of use and with a chair alongside each to balance the room. However, period photographs indicate Miss Cranston opted to position the cabinets slightly further away from the bed than initially intended, and the chairs were moved elsewhere. The other bedside cabinet now resides in a private collection.
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OLIVIA ROSS | JUNIOR SPECIALIST
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