Park benches are given a contemporary rethink by five Scotland-based designers, as part of an initiative by Design Exhibition Scotland. Designs by Rekha Maker, CA Walac, Dress for the Weather and Stefanie Cheong, Chris Dobson, and James Rigler have been inspired by the architecture and landscape of the Isle of Bute’s Mount Stuart house and gardens.

Local materials including wood and quarried sandstone, recycled plastic, marbled jesmonite, ceramics and scrap metal form the basis for designs that are part of a temporary, site-specific exhibition at Mount Stuart. It is the culmination of a project that began with an open call to designers to create objects that could connect people to nature, inviting users to pause and reflect, enjoying a moment of stillness.

Two contemporary park benches, by Dress for the Weather x Stefanie Cheong, in the grounds at Mount Stuart house
C.A. Walac ’Bending your knees without falling’

For studio Rekha Maker, the project is the chance to explore the relationship between functionality and aesthetics, with textured jesmonite imbuing pieces with a desirable tactility. ‘This is the biggest work I’ve made for Rekha Maker and I’m over the moon with how it’s turned out,’ says founder Rekha Barry of the result. ‘It’s been quite an undertaking and I’ve learned so much along the way. Designed to reflect the sumptuous palette of the Marble Hall inside the house, I’ve worked to create a piece of luxury for everyone outside. The arched inserts allow wheelchair users to use the benches too, as a surface to place picnics/maps.’

Artist and designer CA Walac draws on her sculptor’s eye for her bench, which rethinks waste with its sleek silhouette.

Meanwhile, in the collaboration between Andy Campbell of Dress for the Weather architects and designer Stefanie Cheong, sustainability is also a concern, with their design crafted from sandstone and a plastic seat made of recycled waste. ‘The benches are formed from two monolithic pieces of Devonian sandstone that dates back 400 million years,’ they explain in their juxtaposition of the past with the present day. ‘Working with Bute’s Ambrisbeg quarry, we sourced sandstone salvaged from a demolished church that once stood in Rothesay, and tooled it into two bench-like forms. The plastic inlay is 100 per cent PET and made from recycled packaging. It provides a wipeable seat and warmth when compared to often cold stone.’

Two concrete park benches by Chris Dobson, titled ‘Monolith’, 2022
Dress for the Weather x Stefanie Cheong ‘Stone + Plastic Bench 01 + 02’

Local traditions have also attracted architect Chris Dobson, who infuses traditional designs with brutalist-inspired concrete from bus shelters on the Isle of Lewis. For ceramic artist James Rigler, Gothic traditions were the inspiration behind his theatrical design in ceramic. ‘I liked the idea of furniture that speaks the same decorative language as Mount Stuart, yet doesn’t quite fit,’ he says. ‘The imitative materials, exaggerated colours and comic form produce a seductive but unsettling presence.’

Adds Susanna Beaumont, director of Design Exhibition Scotland, ‘There’s something so generous about a bench. Benches offer the possibility that somebody can sit next to you, creating a kind of hospitality of the outdoors. You could be there on your own, chatting with a friend or eating a sandwich: but there’s something in that sense of a bench for all. A bench is a piece of sculpture and then you sit on it and it’s a functional object.’ §

James Rigler with furry animal-like park benches inside Mount Stuart house in Bute
James Rigler, ‘Passing Bench’, 2022