Sitting Pretty – the background story

Last December, Design Exhibition Scotland launched its Open Call to designers, artists & architects from across Scotland to design a series of park benches for the grounds of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute. We are now delighted to have selected four design teams. And not forgetting seating for the interior, we are also thrilled to be working with artist James Rigler on a bench for Mount Stuart’s glorious Marble Hall. The benches will be on show at Mount Stuart until 15 October.

Rekha Maker

C. A. Walac

Chris Dobson

Dress for the Weather x Stefanie Cheong


James Rigler

James Rigler Console Table I & II, 2018. Slip-cast, press-moulded and glazed ceramic, metal leaf, wood.
Block, 2018. Slip-cast, press-moulded and glazed ceramic, metal leaf, wood. Design Exhibition Scotland, 2018 at
Lyon & Turnbull. Image Ruth Clark

James Rigler

Mount Stuart’s Marble Hall is a beautifully intense interior space punctuated by ranks of marble columns & Gothic arches topped by a soaring heavenly blue ceiling, inset with stars. Thanks to support from the Hope Scott Trust, James has been invited by Design Exhibition Scotland to create a bench for this dazzling interior. The bench will be ceramic & echo the interior’s decorative delights. It will welcome visitors inviting them to sit & gaze skywards.

James Rigler is based in Glasgow where he predominantly works in ceramic crafting & moulding forms that are frequently inspired by architectural details from classical motifs such as the acanthus leaf to classical orders. He recently exhibited at London Design Festival with Local Heroes & in 2018 he was commissioned by Aberdeen Art Gallery to complete a new permanent installation for their refurbished space. He exhibited at DES 2018 & in 2019, he collaborated with Laura Aldridge, on a series of drinking fountains.

Rekha Maker

Rekha Maker’s proposed bench is a beautifully rhythmic massing of moulded marblised forms. Conceived to provide both a place to sit & an array of flat surfaces on which to place picnics, drinks or books, Rekha’s design also carefully considers how the park bench can welcome those in wheelchairs. 

Inspired by the architectural motifs & rhythms of Mount Stuart House, a richly decorated Victorian Gothic stately home, Rekha’s park bench is a clean-cut sculptural functional form. Made of Jesmonite, the colour palette is inspired by Mount Stuart’s sumptuous Marble Hall.

Rekha Barry is an architect who designs functional objects. Based in Glasgow she founded Rekha Maker in early 2020. She has since produced a range of homewares. In 2020 Local Heroes commissioned Rekha Maker to design the award for the winner of The Scottish Album of the Year. Rekha also works as an architect for the Glasgow based practice of Anderson Bell + Christie.

Rekha Maker’s proposal – ‘a bench for space & coming together’ which is made of moulded Jesmonite.

C. A. Walac

Keen to explore how to effectively ‘repurpose’ unwanted materials, C. A. Walac’s bench will be constructed from materials salvaged from fellow artists’ studios at Glasgow Sculpture Workshop. Embracing the given forms of the found materials, Walac will create a bench that is both functional & eye-catchingly sculptural. Entitled ‘Bending your knees without falling’ the bench will enable visitors to pause & observe Mount Stuart’s magnificent Victorian Gothic facade, or look towards the landscape & the Forth of Clyde beyond.

A cross-disciplinary artist who is particularly drawn to exploring the relationships between the physical body, architecture and everyday furniture, C. A. Walac’s work investigates the domestic realm objects. Working across construction & assemblage to create functional objects, she conjures up playful sculptural forms. Originally from France, Walac is now based in Glasgow. She exhibited at Design Exhibition Scotland 2019 & more recently in The Future of Home at London Design Festival with Local Heroes. She currently has a solo show, Flat Versions on at Custom Lane, Leith which runs until 5 June.

C.A. Walac’s original proposal for a park bench as sculptural functioning object.

Dress for the Weather x Stefanie Cheong

Responding to the geology of the Isle of Bute, Dress for the Weather x Stefanie Cheong’s collaborative proposal dives deep into the hidden subterranean landscape of the island. A fault line divides the island’s north and south with Dalradian rock to the north & to south Devonian or Old Red Sandstone.

Mount Stuart sits on Old Red Sandstone and is itself constructed of this stone. And it was this that shaped Dress for the Weather & Stefanie’s concept: how to connect geological material from the deep past with the most visually ubiquitous pollutant of the Anthropocene – our current period of geological time where human activity is known to be detrimental to our habitat – namely plastic. Working with the local quarry, they have sourced stone will be tooled into bench-like structures & then inlaid with plastic made of recycled plastic waste.

Dress for the Weather is an architectural practice based in Glasgow & founded by Andy Campbell & Matt McKenna. The practice experiments with materials and sampling to connect craft, ecology and construction. Stefanie Cheong is a designer and maker who explores geology and rock formations to inform her work. She brings a contemporary aesthetic to traditional lapidary process by cutting found and discarded rock and has recently introduced making her own rocks from waste streams.

A model of Dress for the Weather x Stefanie Cheong’s bench which melds hand-tooled stone sourced from the Isle of Bute with recycled plastic waste.

Chris Dobson

Chris’s proposal weaves together two very different traditions: the traditional hand-made Orkney Chair & the more recent perhaps ‘brutalist’ concrete bus shelters found on the Isle of Lewis. In thinking how to provide a bench together with shelter, Chris has merged these two forms to create a communal seat with a hood. Chris proposes to use cross-laminated timber to give the seat a robust near monumental appearance with the curving dowel backrest conveying comfort, a welcoming embrace & draught excluder found in the woven straw curving high backs of the Orkney Chair.

Chris is an architect with the Edinburgh studio of the UK practice, 3DReid. He is also a co-producer of the Architecture Fringe, a bi-annual festival of multi-disciplinary events centred around our built environment.

Chris Dobson’s park bench fuses the traditional Orkney Chair with the functionality of a Brutalist bus shelter found on the Isle of Lewis.

Design Exhibition Scotland’s OPEN CALL – it attracted over 55 submissions – celebrates all that the public bench offers: the joy of sitting outside, the great outdoors & public space; the chance to pause for thought, take in a view, read a book & eat a sandwich or a place to meet with friends. And of course, the park bench should celebrate good design & well-crafted materials.

Mount Stuart is a stately home on the Isle of Bute. It is surrounded by over 300 acres of landscaped gardens & woodlands – all set against the backdrop of the Firth of Clyde. Every year Mount Stuart welcomes thousands of visitors who wander the grounds & visit the historic house. And Mount Stuart has a celebrated visual arts programme, annually inviting artists to make site-specific installations. This year the Montreal-based artist, Abbas Akhaven is showing study for a garden. There is also an exhibition looking at interior design entitled Fantasy to Fabrication: 19th century design at Mount Stuart.

Design Exhibition Scotland is delighted that Lyon & Turnbull are lead supporters of our park bench commissions. We also thank The Inches Carr Trust, The Hope Scott Trust & our DES Supporters for their support.

Mount Stuart House with is set within over 300 acres of grounds.
One of the ‘camel benches’ in the grounds of Mount Stuart. It dates from the 1870s & cast by the SLB Foundry in Sittingbourne. It was originally located on the Thames Embankment.

The selection panel for the Open Call is Sophie Crichton Stuart, creative director, Mount Stuart Visual Arts; Sophie McKinlay, director of programme, V&A Dundee; artist & designer, James Rigler & Susanna Beaumont, director, Design Exhibition Scotland. Design Exhibition Scotland plans to tour the prototype benches to other locations across Scotland in Autumn 2022. We will also explore the possibility taking the prototype park benches into wider production.

Fine benches . . .

Jenny Holzer’s Garden Bench from 2001 in the garden of The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice.
Gerrit Rietveld’s design for a concrete bench from 1961. Courtesy Kröller-Müller Museum, The Netherlands
Christine Borland’s To Be Set & Sown in the Garden, 2001. A series of hardwood benches with porcelain headrests, commissioned by the University of Glasgow, located outside the Hunterian Art Gallery. Image Alan Dimmick.
Christine Borland’s To Be Set & Sown in the Garden, (detail) 2001. A series of hardwood benches with porcelain headrests, commissioned by the University of Glasgow, located outside the Hunterian Art Gallery. Image Alan Dimmick.
Curving bench in Tormain Woods, Ratho designed & made by Ratho Byres Forge, West Lothian.
One of Paris’s numerous 19th century double-sided benches.
One of series of benches designed by Camila Walala & installed in South Molton Street, London in 2019.
Fern and Blackberry garden bench at Dumfries House, Ayrshire. It dates from the late 19th century & was manufactured by Coalbrookdale in Shropshire.