Mackintosh at the Willow, A Wee History! Part 1.
The original Willow Tearooms was opened in October of 1903 after only a year of construction. This was Miss Catherine Cranston’s fourth tearoom and set to be her most extravagant project yet. At this time, Miss Cranston already had a very successful and loyal following from her three existing tea rooms based on Argyle Street, Ingram Street and Buchanan Street. In order to maintain the interest of her patrons, Cranston knew her newly acquired premises on Sauchiehall Street would need to surpass the others. To execute this plan, she hired the young and talented Charles Rennie Mackintosh, an artist and architect who had already contributed to her previous three venues in part. Mackintosh would have free reign over the whole venue to create the fantastical tea rooms Miss Cranston was so well known for.
217 Sauchiehall Street started as an old warehouse building in an urban infill. Mackintosh took the existing structure and added a series of elements to create separate spaces within the building with the idea of having a place for everyone. The result of this are the five main areas we see today: The Front Saloon, The Back Saloon, The Gallery, The Salon de Luxe and The Billiard Room.
In keeping with the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk or ‘total work of art’ popular among the Art Nouveau movement, every aspect of the interiors of The Willow Tearooms would be exclusively designed and handcrafted. This even included the smaller elements such as the cutlery and the waitress’s uniforms. The location of the building on Sauchiehall Street had a huge influence on the design concept as “saugh”, is the Scottish Gaelic word for a willow tree, and “haugh” means meadow. This was a perfect fit for Mackintosh and his Art Nouveau tendencies, which employed the movement of nature and floral motifs.
And so, our story begins!