Following two years of work in a secret location, now the new V&A at Dundee is open and the publicity embargo is lifted, we can reveal that – in close and happy partnership with Charles Taylor Woodwork – we have restored and installed this amazing artefact in the museum. After a two-stage fixed-price tender, Smith & Garratt took charge of project management, the structural frames, procurement of specialist parts, the interface with services in the gallery and financial monitoring; while Charles and his team led the care of the Oak Room, its restoration, all craft activities, installation and funding. We are delighted to say the Oak Room was delivered on time and on budget. The third measure of success – its quality – is for others to judge.
The Oak Room is a two-storey interior of around sixteen metres by six, formerly one of Miss Cranston’s famous tea rooms in Ingram Street, Glasgow. Built of dark oak to a rhythmic design streaked with coloured light and punctuated with glass jewels by Mackintosh in 1907, the room was removed to store in 1971 in 850 distressed assemblages, broken and over-painted. After almost 50 years, its 1,500 individual components have been catalogued and restored, and around 500 more pieces have been added – the structural frames, floorboards, air-con, modern lighting, alarms, &c. The walk-through exhibit is around 95% original, with the modern additions behind … the Smith & Garratt contribution is out of sight.
Both Philip Long (director of V&A Dundee) and Tristram Hunt (director of the V&A) have pointed to the Oak Room as their favourite exhibit. At the opening celebration Philip said, “It is particularly poignant to see the Oak Room reconstructed so soon after Mackintosh’s most famous site, the Glasgow School of Art, was devastated by a second fire in four years; and in the year the country is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the architect’s birth … it is very special, very fitting, to show you today one of his great lost interiors.”
At a private view on Tuesday evening, Mackintosh experts from Glasgow and Dundee museums, the Huntarian, the Willow Tea Room, the Glasgow School of Art, the Mackintosh Society and others, gave the restoration an enthusiastic ‘thumbs up’. Following the press preview, Phil Millar (The Herald) called the Oak Room “lustrous and elegant”. Severin Carrol (The Guardian) described it as “painstakingly reconstructed as the centrepiece of the Scottish Design Gallery”. Lucinda Cameron and Conor Riordan (The Times), uncharacteristically awestruck, simply say it is “one of the highlights.” Will Gompertz (BBC) says the other exhibits “perform the role of warm-up act for the star attraction”. Muir Dickie (Financial Times) faithfully records: “The centrepiece of [the V&A’s] permanent display is a restoration of an oak-panelled tea room by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a celebrated Scottish architect, held in storage in pieces for 50 years”.
I believe that celebrated Scottish architect would be surprised and pleased to see it looking so well. From a project manager’s point of view, that’s the three balloons in the box … and the lid shut!
Smith & Garratt and Charles Taylor Woodwork offer special thanks to the curatorial team at Glasgow Life (owners of the artefact); Dundee Life (project leaders); management, curatorial and gallery staff at the V&A; John Tavendale of Turner Townsend (V&A project managers); Colin Hardie and his team from BAM (V&A main contractors); SWP Engineering (bespoke aluminium frames); Rainbow Glass (leaded glass); Smith & Rodger (stains and polish); Robertson Eadie (engineers); Marti Larg (site carpentry); Cel-Tec (metal restoration); Frances Russell (lighting); Stevie Russell (electrician); Glashutte Lamberts (glass); Charlie Stern (glass blower); West End Flooring (lino); Didcock & Son (upholsterers); Pro-Duct (ventilation); Krantz (ventilation); A G Donaldson (metalwork); Kenneth Fisher (plaster); Black Light (lighting); Lutron (lighting controls) … amongst the many clever, dedicated and cheerful people who helped us and kept our secret safe.