In search of... Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow

Although he died in obscurity, the modernist pioneer left enough architectural legacies in his native Scotland to keep Juliet Clough busy for many days
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The Independent Travel

Rings a bell: remind me who he was

Come on... One of Glasgow's most famous sons, a pioneer of the modern movement, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was hugely influential in the development of European architecture and design at the start of the last century. His style is instantly recognisable: a masterly use of space and light marrying elements of vernacular, Scots baronial and art nouveau to create a unified effect that is highly original, functional and user-friendly. CRM and his artist wife, Margaret Macdonald, collaborated in creating interiors in which every detail, from chairs to light fixtures, was designed as part of the organic whole.

Where do I start?

Ideally at Queen's Cross Church on Garscube Road. Here the CRM Society (0141-946 6600; www.crmsociety.com) has its headquarters in a fine CRM church and gives guidance, including arranging tours if given advance notice. With its asymmetrical approach and stylised animal and plant carvings, the church offers an intriguing taste of things to come. There's an excellent shop for stocking up on CRM memorabilia, too.

I've time to see only one CRM building. Which?

Built in two stages between 1896 and 1909, The Glasgow School of Art in Renfrew Street (0141-353 4526; www.gsa.ac.uk) is probably his masterpiece. This is the only one of CRM's public buildings still being used for its original purpose. Book a guided tour (£5). First admire the north front, whose colossal studio windows come bracketed with iron roses. Full of architectural quirks and oddities, of soaring spaces and friendly detail, the scuffed and paint-spattered interiors of the GSA, say student guides, make an inspirational setting in which to work and hang out. The famous library, still furnished with original CRM pieces, conjures up a tranquil forest clearing, lit by three-storey windows and a starry cluster of art deco-style lights.

I'm devoting a day to CRM. Route me round some highlights

You can fit the next four in with ease. Visit the Glasgow School of Art, then walk round the corner to 217 Sauchiehall Street, where the McLellan Galleries (0141-331 1854; www.glasgow.gov.uk) are providing a temporary exhibition space for star attractions from the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. There's plenty of CRM furniture here from the famous ladderback chairs to an ebonised desk, inlaid with mother of pearl and ivory. Enter designer Margaret Macdonald, CRM's wife and close collaborator, represented here by some of the decorative panels which complemented his furniture and interiors. Margaret's erotically charged designs - majoring on roses and swooning, etiolated females - influenced Gustav Klimt among other Viennese Symbolists, besides giving an enigmatic buzz to a generation of Glasgow tea shops.

Tea shops? Now you're talking

Cross Sauchiehall Street for a smoked salmon bagel at the Willow Tea Rooms, last survivor of the dazzling series of premises CRM created for the temperance queen and doyenne of the avant garde tea shop, Miss Kate Cranston (0141-332 0521; www.willowtearooms.co.uk). Get a seat in the Room de Luxe upstairs, sometimes referred to as the Room de Looks. You've already seen its sumptuous leaded glass doors and Margaret's Rossetti-inspired panel in the exhibition across the road, but several original details remain. Besides, when did you last sit on a purple and silver chair before a three-decker cake stand complete with paper doilies?

I'm revived. Now what?

Unless unusually determined, you are now confronted with a choice. In either case, buy a Discovery ticket (£1.70) for unlimited travel on Glasgow's friendly underground system, "the Clockwork Orange". From Hillhead, a 10-minute walk will get you to the University of Glasgow's Hunterian Art Gallery (0141-330 5431 www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk) where interiors from the Mackintoshes' home have been carefully reassembled. The drawing room, pale and uncluttered, a symphony in ivory whites set off by CRM's perfectly judged furniture and Margaret's silver and pink panels, adds up to a very serene domestic space.

Alternatively?

Take the Clockwork Orange south to Shields Road for Scotland Street School, CRM's last major commission. Now a museum of education showing imaginative exhibitions and interactive displays, (0141-287 0500 www.glasgow.gov.uk), this is the work of an assured architect, full of useful light and space, funky tiling and child-friendly details.

Anything outside Glasgow?

In Helensburgh, the wonderful Hill House is CRM's most intimate and complete domestic building. Its baronial walls shelter nurturing interiors designed to express everything the architect considered conducive to "sweetness, simplicity, freedom, confidence and light". Now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (01436 673900; www.nts.org.uk), it's worth a trip itself.

So, a mega-celebrity in his day, then?

Sadly not. Despite his incalculable contribution to the architectural confidence of today's Glasgow and to its current perception as style city - there are regrettable instances of "Mockintosh" all over the place - CRM never "took" in his native Glasgow. And although hailed in Europe as a leader of the modern movement - he and Margaret exhibited together in Vienna and Turin - they fared no better in London, eventually leaving Britain to live in the French Pyrenees. Mackintosh died in poverty-stricken obscurity in 1928.

So how do I get there

To book a short break in Glasgow consult Visit Scotland's Autumn Gold programme of shortbreaks (0845 2255121; www.visitscotland.com).

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