INTERIORS Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed just two houses. One is no w up for sale. But buyers, warns Jonathan Glancey, must leave their possessions at the door. Photographs by Richard Davies
"Have nothing in your houses", said William Morris, "that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." This was the cri de maison of the Arts and Crafts movement and profoundly affected the few houses built by one of the greatest of all British architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

When Windyhill, the first of Mackintosh's houses, was completed in 1902, its lovely interiors were the apotheosis of Morris's dictum. And, yet, Windyhill, as with all Mackintosh's work, belongs to no readily- labelled school of art, craft, design or architecture. Mackintosh was, more than almost any architect, his own man. Of course, there were powerful influences at work on him, yet he was one of those rare talents who seem to emerge, fully-formed and at the height of their powers at a prodigiously young age.

He was, too, one of those talents that flower magnificently for a brief season before quietly folding in on themselves, as if the one great creative surge had drained him of energy. This is not quite the whole truth, but there is little doubt that Mackintosh's architectural heyday was the ten years between 1896, when, at the age of 28, he won the competition to design the new Glasgow School of Art, and 1906, when his major buildings were all but done.

The architect's most famous building is the Glasgow School of Art, but he built two important houses, one - Hill House, Helensburgh (1903-06), now a monument open to the public - and the other - Windyhill, Kilmacolm, 20 miles from the centre of Glasgow (1899-1902), currently up for sale. To say, as an estate agent might, that here is a rare opportunity to buy a house by Mackintosh, is to put the sale in false perspective; if you want a Mackintosh house, you can buy Windyhill or nothing. Le Corbusier's villas seem commonplace by comparison.

The asking price - something in the region of pounds 750,000 - seems reasonable given the fact that a Mackintosh chair sold in auction for pounds 250,000. Mackintosh means money. Big money. He has become a legend, a tourist attraction since the mid-Seventies, the profitable generator of countless postcards and posters, books and calendars.

In fact, the moment visitors arrive in Glasgow, by air or rail, they are seized hostage by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh industry. Mackintosh has become to Glasgow what Gaudi is to Barcelona

When Windyhill, the first of Mackintosh's houses, was completed in 1902, its lovely interiors were the apotheosis of Morris's dictum. And, yet, Windyhill, as with all Mackintosh's work, belongs to no readily- labelled school of art, craft, design or architecture. Mackintosh was, more than almost any architect, his own man. Of course, there were powerful influences at work on him, yet he was one of those rare talents who seem to emerge, fully-formed and at the height of their powers at a prodigiously young age.

He was, too, one of those talents that flower magnificently for a brief season before quietly folding in on themselves, as if the one great creative surge had drained him of energy. This is not quite the whole truth, but there is little doubt that Mackintosh's architectural heyday was the ten years between 1896, when, at the age of 28, he won the competition to design the new Glasgow School of Art, and 1906, when his major buildings were all but done.

The architect's most famous building is the Glasgow School of Art, but he built two important houses, one - Hill House, Helensburgh (1903-06), now a monument open to the public - and the other - Windyhill, Kilmacolm, 20 miles from the centre of Glasgow (1899-1902), currently up for sale. To say, as an estate agent might, that here is a rare opportunity to buy a house by Mackintosh, is to put the sale in false perspective; if you want a Mackintosh house, you can buy Windyhill or nothing. Le Corbusier's villas seem commonplace by comparison.

The asking price - something in the region of pounds 750,000 - seems reasonable given the fact that a Mackintosh chair sold in auction for pounds 250,000. Mackintosh means money. Big money. He has become a legend, a tourist attraction since the mid-Seventies, the profitable generator of countless postcards and posters, books and calendars.

In fact, the moment visitors arrive in Glasgow, by air or rail, they are seized hostage by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh industry. Mackintosh has become to Glasgow what Gaudi is to Barcelona (and Wren would be to London, if only you could see his steeples between the office blocks). Mackintosh has a thriving society dedicated to his memory, while his exquisite watercolours of flowers (painted when he exiled himself to the Suffolk coast) are sent as birthday cards by many people for whom the name means little or nothing.

If you seriously intended to buy Windyhill, however, you would be sure to know Mackintosh and all his works. The house is certainly very beautiful, but although it remains a more or less exact representation of the architect's original drawings from the outside, it has been redecorated since the original owners sold it in 1918.

The latest owners have given the house a gloss it did not see in earlier days and have added their own Mackintosh- style curtains and other decorative details. Whether you like these or not is a question of taste, but it does prove that buying and living in what is as much a work of art as a house is a tricky thing to do. This is hardly the sort of home where you can move in your G-Plan living room units or Ikea sofa. Not exactly the place for that standard-issue, middle- class gaff rubber plant either. And certainly not for mass-produced prints of Mackintosh flowers. If you did buy Windyhill, you would be living in the hands of an artist whose strength of presence would never really leave you free to reinterpret the house for yourself. Windyhill is strictly for the Mackintosh brigade.

It was commissioned in 1899 by William Davidson Jr, a wealthy Glaswegian art patron as a wee, seven-bedroomed Lowland retreat. Davidson had previously commissioned several pieces of furniture from the young architect and had these incorporated into his new house. When Davidson sold up, Windyhill inevitably lost some of its essential character, because the furniture he brought here and the new pieces he commissioned were very much a part of the architecture. Windyhill was always meant to be a complete artistic statement; removing pieces of furniture from it (most of these found a new home in the Glasgow School of Art) was a bit like painting out a few of the picnickers from Dejeuner sur l'herbe.

The young and dandyish Mackintosh was then almost at the height of his powers. Almost, because a succession of critics have found aesthetic flaws in the design of the house, which is not considered as rigorous an architectural performance as the later Hill House. But, such criticism is specious when confronted by the house itself, with or without its original furniture, with or without some questionable contemporary decoration.

Windyhill has a lovely setting, looking over tussocky, rolling farmland. The house sits low down in a garden that steps down in a slope of steep terraces. It belongs here as surely as any traditional Scottish farmhouse. It is both venerable and modern, relaxed and rigorous, pretty and bleak. Contradictions, maybe, yet the house adds up to a more than convincing whole, a meeting of old Scotland and the Arts and Crafts, if not the early Modern Movement, as critics and historians once wanted to believe.

The house is as solid as it looks; it is built of local whinstone, with brick around doors and windows, all smothered in rough-cast. The walls rise higher than the gable ends, in the old Scottish manner, to protect the slate roofs from rain and snow that sometimes drives horizontally. In the spirit of Arts and Crafts structural "honesty", the exterior of the house is a faithful guide to the rooms behind the walls. The front of the house, however, is considerably more articulated than the straight-up-and-down back which could be almost any 18th- or 19th- century farmhouse of the area when seen from a distance.

This balance between new forms and old, between Mackintosh's exquisite sensibilities and the rough-hewn aspect of the external walls, caused one historian to describe Windyhill as "a country dance by a ballerina". Which makes sense, because, for all his love for nature, Mackintosh orchestrated this apparently "natural" house to the finest degree: trees and plants were part of a complete architectural pattern. Nothing was left to chance.

The same was true of the interiors, and yet for all the architect's insistence, Windyhill does not come over as a house designed by a control freak. Mackintosh was not Frank Lloyd Wright, his supremely arrogant contemporary, who would visit the houses he had built after their completion and throw pots and other decorative gewgaws he disapproved of out of the windows.

Mackintosh was a humane designer, as witnessed not only in the houses and schools he built, but also in his infinitely gentle studies of larkspur and fritillaries, veronica and rosemary and in his highly-wrought seascapes painted in the years (1923-27) he spent at Port Vendres in the South of France.

If you have ever dreamed of rising and going to Scotland, of owning a house by one of the world's greatest architects and, if you do not mind the idea of being, politely, bothered by a beard of academics, an invoice of photographers and a gosh of architecture buffs, Windyhill is the house for you. The problems will start when, having stripped the polished interior back to near enough its original condition, you realise that for the price of the house, you can buy less than half of a dining room suite. And, having bought a house by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, you would know that only the most useful, most beautiful and, sadly, the most expensive things would do

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