Behind the Scenes
Our furniture is always designed by Angus Ross however we made an exception recently when we were commissioned by the Willow Tearooms Trust to make all the tables and chairs for one tearoom in the newly restored original Willow Tearoom on Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. This building has international importance as the first building where Charles Rennie Mackintosh (along with his wife Margaret Macdonald ) designed all of the exterior and interior including furniture, lighting, tableware and gesso panels. The Willow Tearooms Trust have overseen the meticulous restoration of the building back to it’s condition at opening in 1903. It will fully re-open as “Mackintosh at the Willlow” along with a new visitors centre next door in September. There will be various booked events and limited opening through the summer.
We specialise in steam bending and this allowed us to invisibly strengthen the Ladderback chairs. Of the original 125 only a handful survive as the back rails were cut from solid wood, this way of making the curved shape is vulnerable to breaking. (Cheaper reproductions of ladder back chairs have straight back rails.) We cut the rails from solid and then steam-bent the rails to create the curve. Steam-bending means working with the grain, keeping the wood fibres intact, and manually pushing the intact fibres to slide over each other, when boiling hot and malleable, and therefore to take up the curved shape. Once dry this is a very strong component.
Images below show Steven working on the 3250 mortice and tenon joints on the chair backs (125 chairs x 13 ladder back rails x 2 sides) The ladder back tenons were hand trimmed with a Japanese saw.
Usually when making chairs with a drop-in seat, the chair would be made first and the drop-in seat made to fit second. In this heritage project the seats were to made like the originals with hand twisted rush – a very labour intensive process taking a day per seat. Therefore the seat bases were made first and sent out to a rush specialist (Tony Handley) and to two local artisans (Istvan and Karla) so that they had sufficient time to make 125.
Mike then made the chair fronts. All of these chairs had to be millimetre perfect to fit the rush seat bases.