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The Story of Mackintosh’s Tea Rooms

As a fan of Mackintosh’s work I have wanted to come to Glasgow for some time. One thing that I have really struggled to get my head around though is the story of the infamous tea rooms.

My Mum has previously visited Glasgow and said that there are two Willow tea rooms and the research I have done talks about a few other different tea rooms, most of which I have not heard of. I was very confused but have since managed to get my head around the situation after visiting the city and speaking to very informative people along the way. For anyone else who may be Confused this is the whole story, from the beginning.

Mackintosh was commissioned by local business women Kate Cranston to design/co design the interiors for her tea room business. In total Mackintosh was involved with the design of four tea rooms. The Buchanan Street Tea Rooms, the Ingram Street Tea Rooms, the Willow Tea Rooms and the Argyle Street Tea Rooms.

Eventually all of these tea rooms were sold and buildings were used for different purposes, interiors destroyed.

In the 1980’s two of  properties were bought with the intention of restoring the buildings back into the Mackintosh tea rooms that they once were. These are now the only two Mackintosh based tea rooms in Glasgow. One of these properties is the place I visited today ‘The Willow Tea Rooms’ at Buchanan Street, (only a few doors down from the original tea room site). This site was purchased and restored 20 years ago. The owner of this business also bought the name ‘The Willow Tea Rooms’ and all the rights to the name, even though this was not the original site of The Willow tea rooms but the Buchanon Street tea rooms. Which is why as my Mum said there are two Willow Tea Rooms. One question answered! This also explains why the people I met referred to this site as the Buchanan Street tea rooms rather than Willow tea rooms. Very confusing.

Be aware that if you go onto ‘The Willow Tea Rooms’ website they have another business: At The Watt Brothers. This looks like a beautiful building and was designed buy an architect that Mackintosh previously worked for. But is not a Mackintosh building inside or out.

The second renovated site was 217 Sauchiehall street, the original site for the Willow tea rooms, which again explains why people refer to this site as the Willow tea rooms even though its not actually called that as the other tea rooms own that name!

The plot thickens, just when you thought it couldn’t get any more confusing. 217 Sauchiehall Street (which was the more authentic of the two tea rooms having incorporated some of Mackintosh’s original work, his famous doors for example) was only opened on a lease. The property was opened 34 years ago as I’m told by the lovely lady I met at ‘The Willow Tea Rooms’ this lease has now expired and the tea rooms have closed once again. which is why I find myself today in Buchanan street instead of enjoying a more authentic Mackintosh experience.

I have been given conflicting information. The lady at the Glasgow school of art told me that 217 Sauchiehall st was closed for renovation whereas the lady in ‘The Willow Tea Rooms’ told me that 217 Sauchiehall st was closed indefinitely as the lease has run out.

As mentioned above one of the things I have heard a lot about and was very excited to see were the original Mackintosh doors. Unfortunately these were in place at the 217 Sauchiehall tea rooms so I haven’t been able to see them. I am given a glimmer of hope when the lady at the ‘Willow Tea rooms’ tells me that as the doors belonged to the building they have remained with the building. She then said that the owner of the building has since donated/sold them to the Kelvingrove museum which is lucky because my hotel is only a few minutes walk from there.

Bad news (for me) is that my hunt for the doors was unsuccessful. I absolutely loved the Kelvingrove museum, especially the Mackintosh exhibit but I saw no doors! Before I left I asked at the help desk about the doors and was told that the doors were on temporary loan to the museum and have since been returned to the owner. I found this news very disappointing.

Good news. A few days on and I have now found out that there is a planned renovation of the 217 Sauchiehall Street site. The willow Tea Rooms Trust is currently renovating the site which is due to open 7th June 2018. This date marks the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth, and I am really, really, really hoping that this is where the doors are now!

I hope this clears things up.

Sources for all of the information that I have used in my blogs about Glasgow:

The House for an Art Lover

The Glasgow School of Art

The Willow Tea Rooms at Buchanan Street

The Lighthouse

The Kelvingrove Museum

The Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society

Visiting Charles Rennie Mackintosh- Roger Billcliffe

Charles Rennie Mackintosh – illustrated book produced in collaboration with Glasgow School of Art

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