Mackintosh at the Willow, A Wee History – Part 8.

This week we will be discussing the Billiard Room at Mackintosh at the Willow, which is also definitely a staff favourite! The Billiard Room is located on the second floor of 217 Sauchiehall Street and occupies the space directly above the Salon de Luxe. From the outside of the building, this can be identified as the three windows above the bowed second floor windows, taking on the first features that will make up the asymmetric facade as it grows upwards.

The entrance is a rather small door made of a wood so dark it is almost black, studded carefully with little opaque glass squares of a deep navy-blue colour. The Billiard Room is as simple in its construct as it is complicated. The concept of the design was based on an old country house, meaning that the colour scheme employs the use of dark wooden wall panelling and fixed bench-style seating. Forest green adds further depth to the space in the leather of the rush seating that encircles the room while the lilac walls and lighter green carpets lift the atmosphere with softer touches. These benches were expertly recreated by the talented Frank McGourlick.

In contrast to the lady’s room, otherwise known as the Salon de Luxe, this space would have traditionally been a male only area, with the exception of the waitresses working there. A small room to the back-right hand corner from the door now functions as a little servery but originally operated as a smoking area. Though we do not have a lot of references for how the smoking room might have looked, we do know that it would have had the obvious effect of making the Billiard Room a very hazy space. This element would have undoubtedly added to the moody atmosphere that the Billiard Room holds, with plumes of smoke billowing amongst the low hanging lights and adding opacity to the air.

The billiard table was vast, sturdy and would have dominated the space with significance – taking up about seventy percent of the floor space in the room. Even the very table itself was designed by Mackintosh, incorporating the square motif that we see on the carpets, doors and stencilled on to the walls. Above it, six lights with coned shaped shades hang over the table from retractable chords so that the height can be aptly adjusted to suit the players. Each light is dotted with square holes to tie in with the rest of the room and allow small beams to filter through.   

Today the Billiard table has been lost to time and the decision was made to admit this in the recreation of the Billiard Room. Guests often ask why and there are two very good reasons for this.

Firstly, to be true to the original design of the Billiard Table, we would have to create it with its original materials which would make such a vast object incredibly heavy. As the Salon de Luxe directly below the Billiard Room has a barrel-vaulted ceiling, this could result in quite severe structural damage over time. Secondly, the extra space gained without the table means we can use this room for events. This is incredibly important to Mackintosh at the Willow as an additional area for custom, especially as a charity and social enterprise.

Mackintosh was aware of the psychological effects of light and the way it could alter the emotional reaction to a space. Delicate details such as this play with light and dark in a way that manipulate the psyche. Gentlemen would meet here for business discussions, so the seating is designed to be both private but allow for the guests to look around the room and observe other customers as well as the game itself. The benched seating that lines the back and front walls are broken up into two-seater brackets to encourage some privacy. Each booth has a semi-spherical steel light that rests just above it. Each light has multiple squares punched out of the metal, encircling the lamps at their midpoints. As the are fixed to the wall, the squares are projected on to the wood back board behind, creating a small arch. This would have lightly framed the guests sitting on the sections of these benches, emphasizing the intimacy of their own private booths.

The existing fireplace in the Billiard Room is a replica, while the original resides in the V&A in Dundee. The royal blue tiles adorning it are in harmony with those of glass applied to the door, while metal work decorates the hearth with a large candle holder flanking each side.

Finally, we can look to the windows. These are leaded glass constructs made from a series of small panels that are in keeping with a slightly older architectural ideal than Mackintosh usual presents. This may have been because it was cheaper to use small panes of glass and Mackintosh has applied his allowances on more important parts of the building. It may also be because it was more in keeping with the concept of a country house, with more antique design notions.

A theme of tear drop shapes is seen throughout the building, likely meant as representations of the catkins of a willow tree or perhaps the linking element of water that is intrinsically connected to the willow trees symbolism. In the Billiard Room they can be found inserted in a line across the upper section of the windows, providing an additional pop of royal blue to the space. When the building was taken over for the restoration project only two of the original blue glass panels remained. In this case we went back to the original manufacturers, as they are still very much in business, and procure more glass of this nature. Mackintosh would often be quite cheeky in acquiring his materials in that he would often over order for a project and then only pay for what he would use. In this case, this worked very well for the restoration as the original manufactures were actually able to locate samples of the glass made for the tearooms in their archives. This was then used to recreate the panels to restore the Billiard Room.

When the Willow Tea Rooms Trust took over 217 Sauchiehall street the Billiard Room was being used as a store room and had suffered serious damage and poorly applied modern interiors. We are proud to be able to present the Billiard Room to the public in its first fully restored state since its primary conception in 1903. 

If you are interested in hiring the Billiard Room for meetings or events please get in touch with our events team through isabella@mackintoshatthewillow.com and we can get planning!

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