The Willow Tearooms

Glasgow (1901-1903)

‘Mr Mackintosh meets Miss Cranston…'

The Willow Tearooms are located at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, Scotland. Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, they opened for business in October 1903. They quickly gained enormous popularity, and are the most famous of the many Glasgow tearooms that opened in the late 19th and early 20th century.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, Glasgow’s department stores were adopting the ‘American system; whereby customers were allowed to walk through the shop without being pressed to buy anything. One of the facilities offered to encourage customers to visit and stay longer was the ‘tea room’. Early in his career, in 1896, Mackintosh met Catherine Cranston (widely known as Kate Cranston or simply Miss Cranston), an entrepreneurial local business woman who was the daughter of a Glasgow tea merchant and a strong believer in temperance.

To respond to the shift in retail focus, Miss Cranston secured the lease for the building and commissioned Mackintosh to design the entire building, exterior and interior. The decoration of the different rooms was themed: light for feminine, dark for masculine. The ladies' tea room at the front was white, silver, and rose; the general lunch room
at the back was panelled in oak and grey canvas, and the top-lit tea gallery above was pink, white, and grey. In addition to designing the internal architectural alterations and a new external facade, in collaboration with his wife Margaret, Mackintosh designed almost every other aspect of the tearooms, including the interior design, furniture, cutlery, menus, and even the waitress uniforms.

Willow was the basis for the name of the tearooms, but it also formed an integral part of the decorative motifs employed in the interior design, and much of the timberwork used in the building fabric and furniture.The Willow Tea Rooms were very successful for over a decade and eventually closed in 1919, when Mrs Cranston retired. Keppie returned to this significant project almost 80 years later and through painstaking detective work, tracking down drawings, photographs and physical evidence, the practice reinstated the Willow Tea Rooms.