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Glasgow's most unusual house - designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh

I recently visited this beautiful house, set in Bellahouston Park in Mackintosh's city, Glasgow. Designed in 1901 as his entry for a German design magazine competition, it was finally built in 1996. The two-storey white house shows his mastery of his art, each room designed around its intended purpose, unique and amazing. Open to the public, the house and its furnishings will fascinate anyone interested in architecture, art, design and decor, especially art nouveau. I spent a very happy afternoon here, enjoying the beauty of the design and the craftsmanship, and learned a lot about a man who has influenced our modern design concepts.

Mackintosh was responding to the competition's brief, which was simply to design a "grand house in a thoroughly modern style", a suitable for a lover of the arts. He and his new wife, Margaret MacDonald, prepared the design drawings, which unfortunately, were submitted too late to qualify for entry. His entry did, however, receive a special prize for its " pronounced personal quality, novel and austere form and the uniform configuration of interior and exterior."

A Tour of the House

The exterior of the house is simple, with the exception of a large stone carving Art Nouveau rose at the back of the house, above the balcony. Entry to the house is through a fairly narrow door and passageway, leading into a grand hallway, which extends upward the full height of both storeys. To the left is a stairway in dark wood, the curved sides of which draw the eye upward to a balcony landing. The vertical nature of the room is enhanced by the dark timber of the panelling, and three tall windows. The room is decorated with small stained glass pieces and metal ornamentation, in the style for which Mackintosh is best remembered. Dark sliding doors (which can be opened to create one large reception area) lead to the dining room, to the right.

The dining room is dominated by a long table, around which are the familiar high-backed chairs of which he was so fond, each one inset with circular panels containing an open fretwork grille. At the end of the room, a large open fireplace drew me in, to inspect its curves, reminiscent of rose petals, one of his trademark motifs. The pale blue walls are also decorated with stencilled pastel roses, and the delicate pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling provide a faerie quality, whether reflecting the light from the windows, or their own. The room is lighter than the hall, and yet has sufficient substance to provide a fairly formal atmosphere.

Straight ahead from the hall are the doors which lead to the music room, and are decorated with small glass panels. Through the doors is a long, open, bright room, whose big bow windows face out across a wide balcony to the gardens beyond. The whole room is light in nature, hung with long fabric panels, which contrast the simple chairs. After taking in the bright, airy quality, I was drawn to the ornate piano, which at first seems out of place, reminding me of the somewhat overboard decoration of a golden music-hall instrument. After a while, though, it became at one with the rest of the room, restful and elegant. The room is regularly used for music recitals - this piano is not just for show.

The oval room is alongside the music room, and was orginally designed to be a ladies' drawing room. It is very simple in its design, open, bright and minimally furnished, with open, high-backed chairs and window seats overlooking the gardens. Curved cupboards follow the lines of the walls, and a dark fireplace provides a focal point. This is one room for which there are no design drawings, but it has been recreated from other, similar interior designs, which he produced at around the same time.

The remainder of the downstairs is taken with the Margaret MacDonald room (which has a display of drawings and a vast array of information on the research which went into the building of the house), the cafe overlooking the gardens, and the inevitable shop, selling quality prints and books.

Upstairs, the bedrooms are currently not open to the public, as work continues to create the interiors which Mackintosh envisioned. The landing provides a look at copies of his original plans, and gives a different perspective on the magnificence of the hallway.

Building the House

Although Mackintosh produced designs for most of the house, he had left much of the detail unfinished, and some of the actually building and decor is based either on preliminary sketches, or contemporary work in the same vein. He also left out exactly how some elements would be implemented, for example, whether he would use prints or tapestry for his hangings. This, and the creation of the stained glass panels, provided a tremendous challenge to the project leaders.

A great deal of work went into ensuring that the materials used were in keeping with those available at the time, and that the methods used to produce the stained glass and fabrics would be appropriate for the setting. Building began in 1989, and took nearly seven years, being opened in 1996. Specialist craftspeople, artists and builders were called upon, as well as art historians, all of whom worked togther to create this masterpiece of a dwelling.

Visiting the House

The house is situated at Bellahouston Park, 10 Dumbreck Road, Glasgow G41 5BW. Full details are available at the official website, given below, or by telephone at + 44 (0)141 353 4770. Most of the house is accessible to wheelchair users, and an interactive guide is available for loan as you enter. The tour is a very reasonable £3-50 (£2-50 concessionary), and is highly recommended. I can also vouch for the quality of refreshments in the cafe, having lunched there myself. Finally, the house is also used for exhibitions and conferences, and is available for hire for dinners or parties.

Further info at: http://www.houseforanartlover.co.uk

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