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23/04/18

A chair for having tea

The extravagant Miss Catherine Cranston decided to open her first tearoom at 114 Argyle Street in Glasgow, Scotland. It was the first of a large chain of luxuriously decorated establishments in which elegant ladies could meet without the need of masculine company. The one on Argyle Street was immediately successful thanks to its billiards, its game room, its reading room, its smoking room and the tea room for women. Said businesswoman, who ran her business with an iron fist, intended to offer an abstemious alternative to the pubs that invaded the city.

Years later, on the occasion of her marriage, Cranston received the entire Argyle Street building as a bride’s gift so she decided to expand the tearoom entrusting its furnishing to George Walton and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The first was responsible for the wall coverings, chimneys, billiards and electric lighting. The second, the furniture. It was how this architect, greatest proponent of Art Nouveau in Scotland, designed the first of his disproportionately high-back chairs that would end up being his hallmark. 

 

andreu_world-chairpedia_argyle 

 

The set of chairs for the dining room of Argyle Street was characterized by a great modernity presenting the Gothic inspiration of the Arts and Crafts movement initiated by William Morris and the delicacy of the modernist curve. They were made of oak, dyed and varnished in black, while the seat was upholstered in horsehair. The verticality of the backrest was accentuated by the two uprights on each side that narrowed when reaching their maximum height. The headboard consisted of a wood oval that had been perforated with the stylized figure of a flying bird. 

The chair must have been one of Mackintosh’s favorite as it ended up decorating the house he shared with his wife and collaborator Margaret Macdonald, whom he met when they were both students at the Glasgow School of Art. 

That same chair design, known today as Argyle, was exhibited later in the Eighth Exhibition of the Viennese Secession (1900), specifically in the “Scottish room”. It was a synthetic but at the same time very expressive space designed by "the Glasgow four": Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald and Herbert MacNair. This interior was so successful that it ended up greatly influencing the so-called Wiener Werkstätte or Vienna Workshops, that group of artists, architects and designers established in the Vienna of the early twentieth century. 

 
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