The Argyle Chair: From Miss Cranston to Blade Runner

Fiona Rose

A little while ago I was lucky enough to purchase two good quality reproduction Charles Rennie Mackintosh Argyle chairs and so I started to explore the history of this iconic chair.

At the turn of the 19th century, Miss Catherine Cranston invented the Glasgow tea room phenomenon. Her Tea Rooms created a social centre that served many purposes: a safe meeting place for bourgeois men in a city famed for the evils wrought by drink and unique "ladies rooms" where respectable women could meet at a time when genteel women did not venture out unaccompanied by men folk. These tea rooms were not cafes but rather offered a private meeting place, for lunch, tea, to read or write, play billiards, in a public world.

For 21 years, from 1897, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was Miss Cranston's designer and she his stalwart patron. In these tea rooms his designs for furniture, fabrics, glass and light fittings gave form to an art of public life. The commission for the Argyle Street Tea Rooms, after which this chair is named, gave him the opportunity to establish his own style in a public place. Made of stained oak, the chair's legs are rectangular at the foot, becoming in turn oval and then circular at the top. The oval back panel has a cut out of a stylised bird in flight and the high back (surprisingly comfortable!) was intended to give a sense of privacy and enclosure to people sitting around a table sipping tea.

I wonder what Mackintosh would have thought about his elegant chair gracing the set of classic science fiction film Blade Runner in 1982? The chair features in a scene in lead character Deckard's (Harrison Ford) apartment. The film is set in a Los Angeles of 2019 so the chairs have born the test of time! I wonder if director Ridley Scott was an admirer of the Arts & Crafts Movement as Deckard's apartment is filmed in Frank Lloyd Wright's glorious Mayan inspired Ennis House. In any case, a little bit of Glasgow looked fantastic in the LA of the future.

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