Glasgow's Willow Tea Rooms to reopen in time for Mackintosh's 150th birthday

A £10 million overhaul for one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's most famous creations in Glasgow is to be completed in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2018.

Glasgow's famous 'Willow Team Rooms' are set to reopen in 2018.

A £10 million overhaul for one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most famous creations in Glasgow is to be completed in time for the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2018.

Work has just started on an 18-month transformation of the original Willow Tea Rooms buildings, on Sauchiehall Street, two years after they were taken over by a charitable trust.

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It is hoped more than 150,000 visitors a year will flock to the new look tea rooms, which are expected to open ahead of Mackintosh’s birthday on 7 June.

The entrepreneur behind the development believes it will help raise the profile of Mackintosh’s work in Glasgow to the level of Gaudi in Barcelona and Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago. An expert group of Mackintosh experts is said to be examining “every detail of the restoration.”

It was opened in 1903 by the entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, one of the leading figures in the development of boutique tearooms in Glasgow in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Heritage Lottery Fund is ploughing almost £4 million into the project, which is also being backed by the city council, Scottish Enterprise, the Glasgow City Heritage Trust and the Dunard Fund, which was set up by American arts philanthropist Carol Grigor.

As well as a restoration of the tearooms, which were closed this summer ahead of the restoration work, the buildings at 215-217 Sauchiehall Street will also become home to a visitor centre and exhibition dedicated to Mackintosh, who designed a number of “Miss Cranston” tearooms.

The future of the buildings were secured after being bought over by a charitable trust headed up by property developer Celia Sinclair, founder of the Willow Team Rooms Trust.

She believes the revamped tearooms will be a “catalyst for the regeneration of Sauchiehall Street” and a magnet for cultural tourists visiting the city.

Ms Sinclair said today: “The aims and objectives of the trust are to restore and preserve this iconic piece of Glasgow’s heritage for the benefit of the general public.

“Our hope is that it will educate, inspire, encourage art, creativity and entrepreneurship by informing local and international visitors about the architecture, design and artwork of Charles Rennie Mackintosh as well as the business, social history and success of Catherine Cranston.

“The Willow Tea Rooms will be the only Mackintosh building where members of the public can still enjoy and participate in the buildings’ original use, namely taking tea and dining in an authentic Mackintosh interior.

"Just as many people intrinsically link Barcelona with Gaudi, Frank Lloyd Wright with Chicago, we want them to visit Glasgow to see Mackintosh.”

Pamela Robertson, emerita professor of Mackintosh Studies at Glasgow University, said: “The Willow Tea Rooms are of outstanding importance in Mackintosh’s career as one of his most accomplished interiors, where he had input as an architect and designer.

“The building will provide a unique experience for visitors telling the rich story of Glasgow’s rise as an economic powerhouse at the turn of the last century.”

City council leader Frank McAveety said: “The Willow Tearooms are a celebrated part of Glasgow’s social and architectural heritage, and this project will add an exciting new chapter to their story.

“The city council is delighted to support the restoration of this Glasgow institution, and I look forward to generations of Glaswegians enjoying a visit to the tearooms.”