Benches for York. An interview with Christian O’Reilly

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From the archives…

Furniture maker Christian O’Reilly is now back in his workshop in Cornwall following a trip to York to deliver an order that’s been his main focus for the past 6 months. York Art Gallery have been undergoing extensive redevelopment over the last 2 years and Christian was commissioned to design and make their main visitor seating. We had a chat with Christian to find out more…

Tell us a bit about the brief. 

I was commissioned by York Art Gallery to create their new gallery seating. This began back in November/December of last year and the gallery reopens next month, so it’s taken up a lot of space and time but it’s been incredible.

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I submitted two design proposals, one based on the seating I designed for The Graves Gallery in Sheffield and a new design inspired by the York Gallery building. The two different designs had to compliment each other as well as fit the space aesthetically. The designs also had to be practical, as they needed to incorporate storage for information about the art works within the gallery. I had a fixed budget and a lot to consider.

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A lot of time actually passes at the very beginning of a project because the wood needs to be prepared, stacked and completely dried out.

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Can you tell us a bit more about how you used the building as inspiration? 

I spent a morning walking around York just taking everything in. I like to look at the fabric of a place, the architecture, the materials and how they are used. The aim for my final designs on any project is to come up with something which fits into the galley, that looks integral, harmonious.

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Around the city and within the gallery itself I kept seeing the different types of arch used in buildings. I wanted to incorporate this into the design. I also spent time in the museum gardens and walking the walls. I loved the way the structures thicken at the base giving them a feeling of great stability, of permanence. In fact York seemed to have a huge sense of solidity. This lead to the other strong design cue of the tapered legs.

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We’ve only seen pictures but can tell how silky they feel! The finished benches are so clearly yours! 

Thanks, yes.  We have built a reputation for designing furniture with elegant lines and proportion. I use a lot of oak in my work, it is very hard wearing and lends itself to my sense of aesthetic.

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And I’m very happy with the end result…

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Are you having a well-earned rest now or is it straight to the next project? 

A little bit of both. When coming off a huge project I feel like Wile E Coyote going off the cliff : the legs are spinning frantically but there is no traction. I like to spend some time straightening up the workshop, clearing overdue paper work and inevitably my head so I can hit the next project refreshed. It’s also fair to say that I have spent a fair amount of time riding around the area on my bike.

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With their beautiful fluidity and immaculate finish there’s no mistaking that the benches are Christian’s. York Art Gallery reopens on the 1st August so if you’re visiting and need a moment to rest your feet do take note of what you’re sitting on! The Gallery will also be home to the new Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) which will showcase more than 2,000 works, including a 17 metre long ‘Wall of Pots’. If you’d like to see more of Christian’s work, including his beautiful Alice Chairs, or if you’d like to contact him about a commission please follow this link.