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Seating at Graves Gallery

Seating at Graves Gallery

Furniture Single Piece for a Public Space 2009

Location: Sheffield
Furniture Owner: Museums Sheffield
Architect/Maker:
 Christian O’Reilly
Dimensions: 52 x 72 x 244
Wood Species: European Oak

The Graves Gallery is in a purpose built Art Deco building, which also houses Sheffield Central Library. The Gallery commissioned new seats as part of a full refurbishment programme, which was made possible by both local and national funding, including the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) Wolfson Foundation. The brief was for three freestanding, oak seats for multiple occupants, both young and old. The seats needed to complement the building and the oak chairs original to the gallery, which were designed specifically for the building. They had to be comfortable and encourage visitors to spend more time in the gallery and incorporate storage for information about the art works. They needed to ‘blend in, but be beautiful’.

Being a gallery of rare and important paintings, the lighting is very diffuse. This led me to pursue a sculptural route, with minimal surface detailing, which would be lost in such conditions. The elegant, serpentine curves of both the backrest and the overall form draw the eye through the gallery, helping it to feel more informal and accessible. The benches are designed to be welcoming and to both look and be comfortable, inviting people to take a seat. They offer a great degree of flexibility as in the centre area, visitors can choose to sit facing either direction. The curves of the bench also tie in with the original gallery chairs, which have gentle curved backs and wide generous seats.

The literature is stored in an under mounted container in the centre of the bench, accessed through an opening in the seat of the bench. This can hold literature of various sizes and gives easy access to people facing in either direction. When I first visited the gallery, I saw a bench with the literature lying on top of it. Whilst this looked a little untidy, it did encourage you to pick it up and look at it. I wanted to keep this idea of the literature falling easily to hand but in a tidy solution.

As required by the brief, the benches are made from oak, in this case European oak. To ensure the longevity of the seats, each bench is constructed from two long skirts made from laminated constructional oak veneer. This gives the benches huge strength whilst allowing some flexibility to compensate for any unevenness in the wooden floors. The seat backs are block laminated and hand shaped, complementing the Gallery’s parquet floors and creating visual and surface texture.