Charles Rennie Mackintosh at 78 Derngate – Northampton
The Cultural Quarter of Northampton includes the Leather & Shoe Museum, Royal & Derngate, NN Contemporary Art Gallery, Errol Flynn Film House and 78 Derngate, where you can view the only house designed and modified in England by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of the most famous architects and creative designers of the twentieth century.
On the day I visited 78 Derngate it was the 150th anniversary of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s birth. Celebrations were taking place, which included cakes topped with an iconic Mackintosh `Lantern` motif, champagne and soft drinks.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was hugely influenced by the major design movement of Art Nouveau, which was inspired by natural forms, particularly in the curved lines of plants and flowers. He was also an influential figure in the rise of the later decorative style of Art Deco and Modernism.
‘Life’ is the leaves which shape and nourish a plant, but ‘art’ is the flower which embodies its meaning.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
The Georgian terraced house at 78 Derngate had been built in 1815, but the interior was not extensively remodelled by Mackintosh until 1916, just over a hundred years later. Now meticulously restored, the house attracts many thousands of visitors, to this multi award-winning visitor attraction. It is the stunning interior décor by Mackintosh which is the real contribution to the beauty of the house.
The refurbishment had been a commission for Northampton businessman and model making entrepreneur Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke. It is the only house in England designed and renovated by Mackintosh and became his last major architectural project and commission, before his death, twelve years later, at the age of sixty.
“A gem of a building in a jewel of a town”
I joined a small group guided tour which took about 90 minutes to view the whole house and gardens. My guide was extremely knowledgeable and informative about the house, the design work, Mackintosh and the inspirational Bassett – Lowke. Remarkably, Mackintosh never ever visited the house!
My guide told our group that Mackintosh had reputedly said, “ There should be nothing in your home, that is older than yourself! It got me thinking about my own home!
Created during the challenging conditions of the First World War, Mackintosh’s initial design included a striking black room: the hall-lounge, with a yellow-stencilled wallpaper motif of inverted triangles.
The stairwell panel was the `tour de force` for me. Twenty panels of yellow triangular shapes, single thin black lines and seven squared panels across the bottom, all with light illuminating and enhancing the forms.
The guest bedroom with its decoration of bold ultramarine, black and white stripes is striking. For many guests to the house, it may have been difficult sleeping in such a room. The stripes running down the wall, across the ceiling with similar matching curtains was designed to give the impression of a four poster bed.
Despite this, Author George Bernard Shaw managed to sleep in the room on his visit to the house, because as he remarked, “ I always sleep with my eyes closed`. There was a small bust of the playwright, celebrating the authors visit to the house, in the hall-lounge.
The dining room is very different to the other rooms in the house but Mackintosh was responsible for the design of the whole room including the impressive Mantle Clock. The rear extension and the large window allowed a lot of light into the room. A small round table with a circular range of marble patterns was also designed by Mackintosh.
The border in the master bedroom is a familiar Mackintosh stylised rose design and there was a large American was basin in the corner, with hot and cold running water, of course! The large bathroom includes an Edwardian shower, deep bath and most unusual for the time, a hot towel rail. I thought the walls were covered in small mosaic tiles until I realised it was a very convincing waterproof wallpaper.
Bassett – Lowke was keen to introduce all of the latest modern technology into the house including central heating and indoor plumbing. It was in the kitchen where an electric oven, grill toaster and a kitchen range competed for attention.
The rear of the house features the two elevated balconies which would have overlooked open meadows when built in 1916. The garden today is a bright open space with seating and benches for when the weather allows visitors to sit outside.
“A charming and up-to-date miniature residence”.
1920 Ideal Home Magazine
Between 1964 and 1993 the building had been used by Northampton High School for Girls, initially as offices but later as classrooms, before their move to Hardingstone. Much of the design work had been painted over or covered up, before a major renovation programme started in 2002 to return the house to Mackintosh’s original design.
The work involved a team of specialist contractors for expert restoration, or replication of, the original features of the Mackintosh period scheme. After eighteen months of restoration, the house was opened to the public in late 2003.
The house is also an elegant and special venue with meeting rooms for business, corporate events and functions, a stylish design shop, visitor reception and administration offices.
A supporting museum is housed in number 80 Derngate and in May 2007 a new visitors centre at 82 Derngate was opened to provide further facilities and exhibitions for visitors. This building houses a wonderful restaurant serving afternoon tea and there were a couple of exhibitions taking place in the light-filled galleries.
A regular programme of exhibitions and events is offered and there is an active ‘Friends of 78 Derngate` group.
You too can follow in their footsteps and see this unique work from one of Britain’s most influential and celebrated designers. Try visiting the excellent website and its virtual tour, to experience more of the house before and after your visit.
If you are planning on visiting Northampton, interested in the arts or simply want to visit an historic house, art gallery or fancy a bit or a cuppa in a boutique – style café & restaurant, I would fully recommend a visit to 78 Derngate.
The Charles Mackintosh House,
01604 603 407