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1 Dec 2017

An extraordinary house

A black and white photograph of the Hill House, shortly after it was completed.
The Hill House
The Hill House in Helensburgh is Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s domestic masterpiece.

The Hill House was built in 1902–03 by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), arguably Scotland’s most famous architect and designer. Commissioned by the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, it remains a remarkably complete example of Mackintosh’s unique vision and is a masterpiece of domestic architecture. It is also widely acclaimed as a work of art and design associated with the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century.

The Hill House represents a union of two architectural opposites: traditional Scottish values and modern international aspirations. Mackintosh’s almost magical ability to distil new forms and shapes from conventional ingredients transforms the building into something completely innovative.

Walter Blackie requested traditional building materials that were expressive of Scotland’s character. Sturdy old Scottish houses and castles are brilliantly evoked in the structure – sometimes literally, as in the spiral stair tower, and sometimes more abstractly, as with the suggestion of turreted towers in the intersecting gables at the south-east end. Inside, the almost black panelling of the dining room brings to mind the atmosphere of the great hall in a 17th-century castle.

The dining room at the Hill House. A polished wooden dining table stands at the centre of the room, upon a red patterned rug. The walls are lined with dark wood panelling. A Mackintosh-designed light fitting hangs low over the centre of the table.
The dining room at the Hill House

However, the use of local building materials and techniques can be easily overlooked in the novel appearance of the Hill House. In the interior, Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald created a highly personal sense of place. Many features are tightly interwoven with the immediate location of the garden, the hilly riverside and the Blackie family itself.

Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the globe, the Hill House has gained an iconic status as one of the world’s most celebrated houses. Visitors to this house engage with Mackintosh’s work on an emotional, intellectual, sensual and imaginative level – the diversity of the appeal of the Hill House speaks volumes about the depth of Mackintosh’s creative gift.

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