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Charles Rennie Mackintosh Stood on the Cusp of Art Nouveau and Art Deco

One of my favorite designers Charles Rennie Mackintosh stood on the cusp of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. I was fortunate to see an exhibition of his work last year in Australia. He was a very influential Scottish architect who had in turn been influenced by the designs of C.F. A. Voysey.

Voysey designed houses, wallpaper, textiles, carpets and furniture in the Art and Craft style. Mackintosh was to follow the same path. Charles had shown his work at the exhibition of 1895 in Paris. He had a great influence on German design particularly August Endell. His influence can been see in the Buntes Theater in Berlin where geometric forms were used.

Rennie Mackintosh was known as an interior designer during his life time. He worked with his wife Margaret Macdonald her sister Frances and Herbert McNair and they became known as The Four. Macintosh created tea rooms for Catherine Cranston in Glasgow. The Buchanan Street Tea Rooms were in the Art and Craft style. The Ingram Street Tea Room was in his own unique style. The furniture was painted white.

His interiors were bold in contrast. In his Main Street dining room he used wrapping paper in dull brown on the walls. The high backed chairs were stained oak. The ceiling and the wall above the picture rail were painted white in stark contrast.

The drawing room had white floor coverings, walls and furniture. He used white enamel paint on the furniture to ensure the joints and grains of the timber did not distract from the sculptural forms of the pieces. The windows were covered with muslin stretched to ensure maximum light and privacy.

What I love about Mackintosh; he worked from the inside out. He spent time with his clients to find out how they lived before he ventured toward creating a design. He followed this method in his design for Hill House (1901) in Helensburgh. White dominates the interior spaces.

He used stencils to create designs of pink roses and used rose coloured glass. Geometric forms were used in the door, window glass and shutters. His furniture was boxlike and linear. The famous Willow Tea Rooms built in 1904 had lead light windows with some mirror glass and he introduced silver high-backed chairs.

One of his greatest achievements; is the Library of the Glasgow School of Design. He suspended the bookshop over the ground floor of the library with steel strips. He did this to provide floor space on the ground floor. Exposed timber beams and lighting were used. The space appears larger than it is due to his great design flare.

The sad irony is Mackintosh was ignored in Britain during his life time. Yet he was admired throughout the rest of Europe as a master of his craft. I have always had a soft spot for Mackintosh. My husband and his family lived just up the road from Hill House. His mother told me some wonderful stories about the family who owned the house. She would often visit the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow. I was amazed to find she did not share my admiration for Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

  Life is the leaves which shape
and nourish a plant, 
but art is the flower 
which embodies its meaning.”
Charles Rennie Mackintosh

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