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31 May 2018

Looking back on Project Reveal at the Hill House

Written by Rhiannon Spencer-Jones
Colourful antimacassars on the back of a high-backed couch.
Project Reveal is an ambitious project to audit, label, photograph and describe every artefact and work of art in the Trust's collections. The first property they visited was Hill House.

As we approach Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s 150th birthday, I went back to speak Sarah Heaton, who manages the Project Reveal West team who were working at Hill House during last summer, to ask what their memories of their first Project Reveal property were.

‘Looking back, it was so different to any of the other properties we’ve been to since’, says Sarah, ‘it’s full of such iconic items and designs, it was a real privilege for my team to be there. After we had worked at Hill house we went straight on to Moirlanich Longhouse – which was certainly very different!’

The White Bedroom at the Hill House, showing the Mackintosh-designed bed and furniture. The famous ladderback chairs stand either side of the window. The walls have stencilled Mackintosh decoration.
It’s full of such iconic items and designs.

‘Working on Project Reveal at Hill House also stands out because we were working while the house was open to visitors. Spending time with the knowledgeable volunteers was a real privilege, and working alongside the public really helped us appreciate the house through other people’s eyes, though we did have one funny episode when our photographer’s pop-up light cube tent was mistaken for a baby’s play pen!’

I asked Sarah, with Mackintosh’s 150th birthday coming up, if she could tell me what her team’s favourite part of the collection in Hill House was. It’s fair to say it wasn’t an easy choice.

A selection of leather-bound books stand on dark wooden shelves. The books have colourful, decorative covers, designed by Blackie the publisher.
Selection of Blackie Books

‘One of the team adored the books. Walter Blackie was a prominent Glasgow publisher and used art nouveau designs on his books – they’re really beautiful. There was also the art deco hoover we discovered! It isn’t part of the original collection at Hill House, but was likely bought around 1927 when the gas fittings were replaced by electrical ones. It’s a fantastic piece of living history, telling us about the lives of the staff who worked at the house in the late 20s when the Blackies lived there.’

‘But for me,’ says Sarah, ‘my favourite item in the Hill House is light! I know that’s cheating, but the light in the house is just fantastic – everything has been thought about, from the light airiness of the Day Nursery, to the small stained-glass squares on the doors to the hallways. Mackintosh just knew how to use light to create atmosphere and a sense of living in a piece of art.’

Six small purple-blue stained glass tiles sit in a white wooden panel, in the shape of a six on a dice.
The light in the house is just fantastic.

With the Box the Hill House Appeal in full swing, I can’t help but ask if during their 8-week stay at Hill House the Project Reveal team had noticed any signs of damage from the water ingress at the house.

‘We did notice that in the summer the house felt very humid’, Sarah says, ‘the most obvious sign was that some of the windows had condensation and a few of the door frames became swollen. The linen cupboards, for example, were difficult to open, which made it a challenge to get to the collection inside. As damp is a potential threat to all the collections in the house, including the important textile works of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, it’s clear that we need to do something quickly.’

The Trust has launched its biggest ever urgent appeal to build the Box and save Hill House from further weather damage.

Project Reveal will result in an updated database with high quality images and unique object numbers for every item in the Trust material culture collections. Six regionally based project teams, supported by experienced project managers, will work across all of our properties with collections to complete the inventory in 18 months from July 2017 until December 2018.