Our History






Mackintosh met Miss Cranston for the first time in 1896, which would mark the beginning of a long working relationship. Cranston and Mackintosh would go on to work together up until she sold her tea rooms in 1917. Cranston was a firm advocate for the temperance movement and the daughter of a Glasgow tea merchant, and had devised the idea for a series of art tea rooms which would hold a collective of beautifully decorated spaces that people might be able to enter and enjoy without relying on the inebriating effects of alcohol for entertainment.

In 1896 Mackintosh designed murals for the walls of her new Buchanan Street tea rooms which had been built by George Washington Browne and furnished with interior design by George Walton. Here we would have seen stencilled friezes of female figures and roses within the ladies tearoom and smokers gallery.

Cranston would go on to commission Mackintosh again in 1898 to design the furniture and interiors of her existing Argyle Street tea rooms. This is where we see the first appearance of Mackintosh’s distinctive high back chairs.

In 1900 Mackintosh would design a whole room for Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street tearooms – the White Dining Room.

Finally, in 1903, Miss Cranston commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design the proposed new tea rooms at 217 Sauchiehall Street. Mackintosh was given free artistic reign to create every element of the tea rooms from the interior design, furniture, external façade and layout.  This was Miss Cranston’s fourth and final tea rooms, and the most renowned.

Mackintosh works alongside artist Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh to design the tea rooms, you can her gesso panel in the Salon de Luxe. The two were married and worked brilliantly together in design projects.

Mackintosh submits his intricate designs, and the tea rooms are opened to the public on October 29th 1903. Mackintosh was commissioned for one last time by Miss Cranston in 1917 to create what would be the Dug Out. This was a whole new room, added with a flight of stairs from the front saloon, that was in reference to the trenches of the war. When Miss Cranston’s husband passed away in 1917 she sold her business.

Over the years we would see the tea rooms take on various forms. In 1920 it would be the Kensington Restaurant. In 1928 Daly’s Department Store took over the building, Daly’s adapted the Willow Tearooms building as part of their department store and the Salon de Luxe was in use as the stores tea rooms until the early 80’s. The Salon de Luxe would also be used during this time as a wedding dress shop for brides to be to try on new gowns.

In 1978 Daly’s moved to new premises and restoration attempts by Geoffrey Wimpenny of Keppie Henderson took place to try and revive Mackintosh’s interiors. The building reopened under Hendersons the Jewellers, with the restored ground floor façade forming the shop front and the business occupying the ground floor and the reconstructed gallery. The Salon de Luxe was also refurbished and back in operation as a tea room.

In 2014 Celia Sinclair purchased the building to prevent a forced sale as well as closure of the tea rooms and the loss of its contents in order to protect Mackintosh and Miss Cranston’s Legacy.

The Trust held a restoration launch in 2016 and continued to fundraise and work hard to reopen a fully restored tea room experience. Their aim was and remains, the advancement of the arts, heritage and culture through acquiring, restoring, preserving and maintaining the property at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and enabling public access to the property. Works on 217 Sauchiehall Street began in 2017 and welcomed a royal opening in 2018. The official opening, on the 7th September 2018, was performed by The Duke and Duchess of Rothesay.

This marked the official opening of the newly restored original Willow Tea Rooms building, now known as Mackintosh at the Willow.