Sunday, 11 March 2012

The House that Mackintosh Built

A trip down to Northampton to see the House that Mackintosh Built was a treat at the weekend. Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh has been described as an art deco visionary and the Glasgow School of Art is an international tourist attraction. 
Mackintosh's one work south of the border is a fascinating visit. Northampton model engineer Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke decided to commission Mackintosh to take up the design of his £250 house, an astronomical sum, in 1917 after a chance meeting on a golf course. 
Mackintosh, initially referred, had fallen out of favour, and work, after marrying long-time love and collaborator Margaret MacDonald instead of his boss' daughter. He would go on to live in the south of France where rents were cheap and Mcdonald's work sold well but took Bassett-Lowke's commission and redesigned the terraced house at 78 Derngate from Scotland using model's designed by Bassett-Lowke and never visited the house itself. 
Now restored to its Bassett-Lowke hay day, the house is now conjoined with a gallery, gift shop and cafe but is an entirely authentic experience. Under the watchful eye of the Heritage Trust, its restoration took several years and £2m. The narrow property brings in strong geometric patterns with clever extensions that the wealthy entrepreneur was able to whisk past local planning permission. The back of the house, and its balconies, looked over the fields of Cow Meadow while the front of the property comes straight out onto the street. 
What makes the little home fascinating is the mix of the unmistakable monochrome flourishes of Mackintosh with bizarre inventions from its model-maker owner. As such we get little internal windows and hot and cold water indoors from the Scot juxtaposed with light fittings from boats installed by nautical nut Bassett-Lowke. 
It is the latter's egotistical arrogance that makes the underpins the fun to be gleaned from the visit. The ostentatious expense of his possessions - an electric clock, an indoor toilet, a wet room, adjustable lighting cords - is entirely for show, evidenced most amusingly by his own plain bedroom matched against a stripey black, blue and gold ensemble in the guest quarters. His long-suffering wife Rachel said she got her own way on the bedroom. 
Mackintosh's designs are excellent. The black and gold walled bombastic hallway features an art nouveau screen instilled with stained glass, a wooden bannister designed in the shape of a stem and trees painted on the wall in geometric triangles to give the impression of a forest. The outside of the house also bears a black and white stripy motif that belies either a love of Notts County or a Bettlejuice fascination surely? 
There are great touches everywhere in the property, Bassett-Lowke's love of boats even came down to the horse hair carpets, embedded within wooden flooring to become flush to the floorboards and never move. There's even models he created to advise the British army during WW2 around the house. 
This strange little phenomena provides reason enough to visit the Midlands town. The idiosyncratic tour guides and the introductory video by an hilariously bland Eric Knowles from the Antiques Roadshow provide the perfect off-set to a thoroughly engaging and unique experience. 

1 comment:

  1. Very pleased the visit went down so well, quite like those outings of yesteryear.
    Love your writing style
    love Mom x