Charles Rennie Mackintosh Furniture
Though most well known for his architectural endeavours, such as the Glasgow School of Art and The Lighthouse, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was also a prolific furniture designer. He was a pioneer of the Arts and Crafts movement, and of the Modernist movement, which moved away from the older style of heavy furniture with lots of decoration and embellishment, and focused more on making the furniture enhance the room it was in.
Mackintosh met Catherine Cranston, a Glasgow-based businesswoman who was passionate about the arts, and who became one of the most important figures in his career as she admired his work and helped him to showcase his talent. She had an idea of opening a series of tea rooms in Glasgow, which would feature artistic interiors (as well as artistic tea and buns, of course!) She invited Mackintosh to work with George Walton, another architect and designer, on the interior of a new premises in Buchanan Street in 1896. The following year they collaborated again, in designing Cranston’s Argyle Street Tea Rooms.
Mackintosh tried and succeeded with his furniture to create a feeling of a “room within a room” by making his chairs very high so that they made a screen around a table, which would give diners a feeling of intimacy with their party even in a busy tea room. One of his most famous pieces was the Argyll Chair, which is a beautiful example of Mackintosh’s furniture design. It is unusually high, and features long tapering uprights with an oval headrest on which is carved a stylised swallow in flight – a nod to Mackintosh’s admiration of the natural world. The Argyll Chair was exhibited in Vienna in 1900 to great acclaim.
The majority of Mackintosh’s most famous and easily recognisable furniture comes from his collaborations with Catherine Cranston and her tea rooms. His chairs were all high backed and elegant, and very distinctive because of this, especially as they were so different from most of the furniture being produced at the time. Mackintosh was very impressed with Japanese styles, being exposed to it around the time that Japan relaxed its ways and allowed its navy and engineers to travel abroad. You can catch a glimpse of an Asian minimalist style in Mackintosh’s work, and also elements of the natural world which he loved.
Very few of Mackintosh’s furniture pieces exist in the UK, and those that do are museum pieces. They are well worth a look, if you have even the most passing interest in design and beautiful furniture pieces – or even the great man himself.
Despite the fact that Mackintosh is most well known for his architectural achievements, his furniture was massively acclaimed and influential, and definitely deserves a mention. If you happen to be visiting Glasgow and are looking for Glasgow attractions, head on to one of the tea rooms where he made his big furniture break, and breathe in the atmosphere that this great man once breathed. No Glasgow tour is complete without taking the time to admire some of one of its most famous exports!