It is the only surviving tearoom designed in its entirety by one of Scotland’s most internationally acclaimed architects and a throwback to an Edwardian era of grandeur when Glasgow was the second city of the empire.
Now Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Willow Tea Rooms has secured a £3.579m award from the Heritage Lottery Fund which will help pay for the interior restoration of the art nouveau building in time for the 150th anniversary of the architect’s birth on June 7, 2018.
The refurbished frontage of the three-storey tearoom in Sauchiehall Street was revealed for the first time today to mark the half-way point in the ambitious project, which will fully restore the interiors according to Mackintosh’s plans.
Windows have been set-back to their original positions, reversing alterations made in the 1930s, and a neighbouring building has been purchased to become a future exhibition and museum space.
Heritage bodies and the local authority hope the tearoom will become a focal point for cultural tourism in Glasgow city centre, attracting both domestic and international visitors.
“We started this project in June 2014 and have worked very hard to get to this stage,” said Celia Sinclair, founder of the Willow Tea Room Trust. “In total, it’s an almost £10m project which will recreate and restore this famous Mackintosh work.
“We purchased the neighbouring building as we realised we couldn’t achieve our aims without having somewhere we could house a world-class visitor facility -visitors now expect to have interactive exhibitions, retail and conference facilities.
“It is a self-imposed deadline to be open and trading by June 7, 2018. We’re confident that when we complete the project it will stand up to international academic scrutiny.”
Phase two of the refurbishment will include the restoration of the intimate Salon de Luxe, which was designed as “a fantasy for afternoon tea”. The original Mackintosh-designed doors to the intimate dining room have been insured for £1.5m. “The value gives us an indication of the quality of the craftsmanship throughout the building,” added Sinclair.
Catherine Cranston, the original business owner who opened the tea rooms in 1903, will also be celebrated within the new visitor centre. She first met Mackintosh in 1896 and was known for her entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen, as well as her enlightened views on the role of women, social enterprise and philanthropy.
Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret MacDonald, had total control over both the architecture and decorative elements of the original tearoom - from the interior and the design of the cutlery to the waitress’s uniforms.
The restoration project will conserve and interpret the buildings unique heritage, increase accessibility with the installation of new visitor facilities and provide a range of opportunities for learning and skills development.
The board of trustees are supported by an Expert Mackintosh Advisory Panel who scrutinise every detail of the restoration.
Professor Pamela Robertson, emerita professor of Mackintosh studies, said “The Heritage Lottery Fund grant is major step for the refurbishment of Mackintosh’s Willow Tea Rooms. With this funding we will be able to bring the tea rooms back to their former glory.”