Kate Cranston was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most generous and consistent patron. During their twenty-year partnership, Mackintosh created some of his most memorable interiors for her. Between 1897 and 1917 he designed or restyled rooms in all four of her Glasgow tea room establishments.
Mackintosh’s first involvement with Cranston was in the new Buchanan Street Tea Rooms at 91-93 Buchanan Street. Here his input was limited to some wall murals, with the interiors and furnishings being designed by George Walton. In his next commission, however, the roles were reversed, with Mackintosh designing the furniture and interiors of Cranston’s already existing Argyle Street Tea Rooms, and Walton being responsible for the wall murals.
It was in Ingram Street in 1900 that Cranston first allowed Mackintosh to redesign an entire room and he created the White Dining Room. Entry to this room was directly from the street, along a hallway separated from the tea room by a wooden screen with leaded glass inserts through which visitors could catch a glimpse of the room itself.
In 1903, Mackintosh moved onto the Willow Tea Rooms at 217 Sauchiehall Street. For the first time he was given the opportunity not only to design all the interior fittings, but also the exterior and internal layout of the building itself. The Willow Tea Rooms opened its doors in November of that year and at its height extended over five levels. From the outset, the Room de Luxe was the main attraction. With its unprecedented silver furniture and leaded mirror friezes it offered a unique experience.
Mackintosh returned to Ingram Street on several occasions, and in 1911 created the Chinese Room in an existing space. This room incorporated a series of vertical and horizontal lattice style screens, designed to reduce the high ceiling and increase the room’s intimacy. He fixed wooden lattice type screens to the walls, which were lined with hessian, and supports filled with mirrored glass and red and green plastics on which the overhead canopies rested. The room was painted a very vivid blue and the distinctive oriental style chairs and bench seating were upholstered in blue corduroy.
Following the death of her husband in 1917, Cranston sold her businesses and the buildings were subsequently put to other uses.