Almost 50 years since it was last seen, the Oak Room will be unveiled as a centrepiece of V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries when the museum opens to the public in 2018 thanks to a long-term loan by Glasgow Life and grant funding from Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland. It was salvaged ahead of a hotel development in the 1970s and taken into Glasgow City Council’s museum collections, it is the first time all 600 surviving pieces of the interior will be reassembled and put on public display.
At 13.5 metres long, the Oak Room is described as ‘the sleeping giant’ of the Ingram Street tearoom. Staff from Glasgow Museums and V&A Dundee will work together on the conservation and reconstruction project. The double-height Oak Room, designed by Mackintosh in 1907 and completed in 1908, is acknowledged as an important interior that would inform his design ideas for the Glasgow School of Art Library, which was completed a year later in 1909. The interior last functioned as a tearoom in the early 1950s. Only a very small part of the room has ever been on display at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum since the interior’s removal from the original building in 1971.
“This major conservation project preserves and presents an outstanding piece of Scottish design heritage for a broad public audience. It is extremely exciting that it will be unveiled at the opening of V&A Dundee in 2018, the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth,” Joanna Norman, Senior Curator at the V&A and Lead Curator for the Scottish Design Galleries. “The Oak Room will be the only historic interior on display in our galleries and its reassembly will allow visitors to immerse themselves fully in the brilliance of Mackintosh’s spatial and decorative design.”
The conservation, restoration and reassembly of the Oak Room will be complex. When the tearooms were removed each room was numbered, each wall given a reference, and each piece of panelling coded. Plans and elevations of the rooms were drawn to show how everything fitted together. Between 2004-5, with the help of this coded information Glasgow Museums quantified and documented all surviving Oak Room panelling. Scottish Government funding enabled the developmental stage that has informed the work which will now take place to recreate a lost Mackintosh gem.
“This is a fantastic example of joint working, which will bring back this lost gem for public display, confirming Mackintosh’s unique and internationally significant contribution to Scottish design history,” said Councillor Archie Graham OBE, the Chair of Glasgow Life and Depute Leader of Glasgow City Council. “Each time our staff work on these rooms they discover Mackintosh’s ingenuity for creatively arranging interior spaces into complete works of art. We hope this exciting collaborative project will allow us to uncover many more of Mackintosh’s design secrets for everyone to enjoy.”
The Oak Room will be displayed in V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries, a set of galleries which will showcase the significance and relevance of design with a particular focus on Scottish achievement. The galleries will display around 250 objects drawn largely from the V&A’s outstanding collections with additional important loans. The displays will span a wide range of design disciplines from furniture to fashion, architecture to digital design. The galleries will focus in particular on the international reach of Scottish design, both historically and today, with a strong emphasis placed on the design process, materials and technological innovation, and on particular centres of design in Scotland. Displays will showcase the breadth of Scottish creativity and innovation over a broad historical period right up to the present day, also presenting the most recent cutting-edge Scottish design.
The V&A Museum of Design Dundee is currently under construction and is scheduled to be open in the summer 2018.
Left Joanna Norman, Senior Curator, V&A and right Alison Brown Curator, European Decorative Art from 1800. At the Kelvingrove Musuem in Glasgow with a scaled model of the Oak Room. Picture Robert Perry