Mackay Baillie Scott’s ‘Moving Walls’, by Andy MacKay

Eldest son of a wealthy Scottish landowner, Baillie Scott was born in 1865 at his parents’ house on the Kent coast. Sent away to school yet refusing to attend Cambridge, instead he studied ‘science and drawing’ at the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester (1883-5) and trained in the Bath architectural practice of Major Charles Davis (1886-9). It was on his honeymoon to the Isle of Man in 1889 that he and his new wife Florence (descendant of the 18th century dandy Beau Nash) fell in love with the sleepy Celtic island and decided to stay – apparently “unable to leave” due to his seasickness! Although he later set up a fashionable practice of his own in London (designing for a German Grand Duke and a Romanian Princess), here at rural Douglas, Baillie Scott built the home he is perhaps best remembered for and where he and Florence would live until 1901.

M H Baillie Scott

The home he built in 1893 was named, significantly, ‘The Red House’. In many ways it was a deliberate homage to Philip Webb’s ground-breaking Arts & Crafts architectural ‘manifesto’, also called ‘The Red House’ (1859), at Bexleyheath in Kent – famously the home of the movement’s founder William Morris. Incorporating local vernacular styles with proletarian red-brick, Baillie Scott’s ‘Red House’ – on the surface a straightforward example of suburban architecture – is in fact one of the forgotten links between the 19th century’s English Arts & Crafts Movement and the 20th century’s International Modern Movement.

The Red House

Whilst the architecture of his contemporaries Charles Voysey and Charles Rennie Mackintosh are better known, Baillie Scott should be remembered for the very real and lasting design innovations he brought us. The most influential and long lasting of these are – prosaically – folding, retractable screen doors. Unlike his contemporaries, Baillie Scott sought to go further in his manipulation of interior space by actually ‘breaking’ walls. Anticipating 20th century changes in domestic routines he realised the need to discard with traditional delineations of function by creating ‘moving walls’. Here at his very own ‘Red House’ he provided a living manifesto for his own vision of the domestic future. With large dividing screen doors which folded away he allowed for the opening up of the interior space; both healthy and aesthetically pleasing. It is interesting that such a truly radical innovation – so intimately associated with the modernist urban architecture of Bauhaus, Le Corbusier, even Ikea – found its earliest manifestation in a suburban ‘cottage’ on a sleepy little island.

Chairs designed by Baillie Scott, 1900

During this period Baillie Scott built the extraordinary ‘Blackwell’ in The Lake District (1898-1900) for Sir Edward Holt and famously published his Houses and Gardens (1906), before going on to restore several ancient farmhouses of his own in Bedfordshire and Kent. As respected Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, he died – half forgotten – in 1945 and was buried at Edenbridge in Kent close to his beloved home ‘Oakhams’.

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