Way before Syrie Maughan (God Bless her) was shocking the established rules of decorating in the 1920’s and 30’s with her all white colour schemes there was Charles Rennie Mackintosh! Major exponent of the arts and crafts movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he is more so remembered for his designs and less so than for his colour palette. Whereas we generally associated the Arts And Crafts movement with dark woods and liberty style prints, Mackintosh threw all this out the window when designing overall schemes.
The primary use of white in Mackintosh’s schemes was a radical departure for the day. He created light and airy spaces that counteracted the gloom of the Britain that was lurking outside his stained glass windows. A prime example of this predominately white colour scheme is still in evidence in the Willow Tree Tearooms in Glasgow Scotland. We see the typical hallmarks of Mackintosh in the high backed chairs and small solid blocks of colour used as decoration, adding to the starkness and the linear approach to design.
He was then able to use the smaller blocks of colour, such as in the cut-out of lampshades etc for a visual grounding. These were repeated to give rooms and schemes a sense of continuity. Any sort of focal point of a room wasn’t emphasised by colour, but by sculptural forms in white, illustrated in the designs below for a music room. Everyday things like fireplaces and pianos were given this sculptural treatment.
If white was not the main colour of decoration and wood was used, white or off white was usually included in the floor covering to give the sense that the furniture was floating in space
For the time and period Mackintosh’s work was groundbreaking. The Victorian era was characterised with heavy dark sombre carved furniture and equally gloomy interiors stuffed full of all manner of objects. Mackintosh’s schemes and decorations were a radical departure from this doom and gloom, to light airy spaces that influenced designers for now more than a century.
The great thing is that you can still see Mackintosh’s work in Glasgow today at the Willow Tree Tearooms or at the Hunterian Art Gallery, where some of these interiors have been preserved.