On view March 8 – May 25, 2019
Opening Reception: Mar. 8, 6-8PM

Winning Designs in 3D: April 5, 6-8PM

It is our pleasure to announce that Tête-a-Tête: Reinventing the Conversation Bench has been extended through Saturday, May 25–with an additional reception Friday, April 5 from 6-8pm, featuring the furniture and prototypes of category winners Austin Ballard, Kristyna and Marek Milde and Anastasios Kokoris.

In partnership with Westport Arts Advisory Committee, this concept exhibition takes place at the Westport Arts Center and features artists that reimagine and reinvent the Victorian-era conversation bench–also known as a tête-à-tête, courting bench, conversation bench, kissing bench and gossip’s chair. This unique piece of French furniture emerged in the 19th century, and translates to head-to-head–describing the early functionality of these seats during the Victorian era. The traditional tête-à-tête seat features chairs with S-shaped, curved backs facing opposite directions that share a center armrest. Early tête-à-tête pieces were designed to enhance many kinds of discrete yet intimate conversations such as courtship.

Our conversation bench project is envisioned as a symbolic way to encourage conversation and civility within our community. We aim to foster dialogue in these polarized times–as people sit, talk and listen, their understanding and tolerance of each other will organically improve. A contemporary re-imagining of the conversation bench will make this project relevant to today’s sensibilities. Our categories—fantastical, functional and collaborative—allow for a wide range of exhibitors with diverse artistic training and abilities.

Our hope is that, ultimately, the winning bench will find a home along the Saugatuck River or be an installation piece that travels around town or becomes part of Westport’s Permanent Art Collection (WestPAC). Creative programming developed by community organizations and centered around the idea of listening is the natural outgrowth of this project.

 The Jurists

John Edelman – CEO, Design Within Reach
Patricia Kane – Curator of American Decorative Arts, Yale University Art Gallery
Paul Goldberger – Pulitzer Prize-winning American architecture critic and educator

Award Categories

Fantastical: Perhaps impractical to fabricate, this work encourages imagination and fantastical ideas and design.
Functional: Designed to build, this practical and workable design considers functionality, form and everyday environments.
Collaborative: This is a cross-disciplinary submission, for example, an architect & artist or graphic designer & industrial engineer

The Winners

Winning Designers Prototype Presentation:


Austin Ballard
Ridgewood, NY

Austin Ballard constructs immersive, domestic settings with his fantastical furniture fabricated out of cane webbing and epoxy clay. Intended as functional sculptures, the forms are reminiscent of iconic Victorian furniture. Combining contemporary technologies with handicrafts, Ballard’s work conflates innovation and tradition, man-made and natural materials, high and low art, subverting societal and cultural assumptions of gender and labor associated with weaving, as well as with contemporary art. The inventive upholstery which covers the furniture forms also question the relationship between domesticity and leisure in an age of constant, digital interfacing.

Having grown up in North Carolina, where the textile industry historically played a fundamental and utilitarian role, Ballard seeks ways to make art approachable and accessible. He utilizes traditional techniques of textile pattern-making, cane weaving, natural dying and ceramic slab-building. Ballard pushes epoxy clay through the underside of the webbing to create a dotted, outer surface that evokes a digital reproduction, such as a landscape of pixels, screen printing or a three-dimensionally printed object. Ballard’s intention is to create ‘shameful works’ with the artist’s hand and labor revealed in contrast to high-end, minimal, modern furniture.

Referencing the scrolling woven patterns of early 19th century wicker chairs by Heywood-Wakefield, Ballard reimagines the tete-a-tete in both its specificity of function and otherworldly design. Ballard suggests the furniture forms retain, ‘a quirky intimacy, and offer a place for gossip and rumors to not only be shared in private, but be performed.’


Anastasios Kokoris
Westport, CT
Nautilus (Come Out of Your) Shell

This design is based on the sublime geometry of the nautilus shell. The seats and canopies provide comfort, shelter, and encourage open discussion of ideas and free expression of emotions. Geometry and orientation encourage the holding of hands at the center of the composition.
Above all, architecture must be functional. Design parameters such as site characteristics, solar orientation, building codes, and construction budgets are necessary elements that give specific shape and form to a final configuration of structure and space. The visual aspects and aesthetic presence of the design must be a natural outcome of the functional problem-solving process. The critical transition from a conceptual design to a physical structure requires constant attention, seamless guidance and frequent physical presence on the construction site.


Kristyna Milde & Marek Milde
Brooklyn, NY

A living sculpture reframing and elevating the environment, transforming the landscape into a bench to create a space for a dialogue. Made of a sturdy aluminum frame that is filled with soil and planted with different mosses, evergreen ferns, and perennial plants to reflect the local diversity. It invites visitors to sit down, rest and relax and experience the sensuality of natural materials.
Our art practice investigates the shifting culture-nature relationship, themes of environmental deprivation, and alienation from place and land. We create sculptures, installations, and public art projects that explore a variety of models in which design and built spaces function as interactive platforms for direct environmental experience. We are interested in changing the passive consumerist role of the audience into an active participatory one and developing a sensible design, places, and environments that don’t remove but promote experience. In our projects, we aim to address the current fragmentation and virtualization of life while creating awareness of our inherent environmental connections.

All Accepted Participants

Andrew Algier
Andranik Aroutiounian
Austin Ballard
Stephanie Becker
Thomas Berntsen
Lucienne Buckner
Trace Burroughs

Louise Cadoux
Frederic Chiu
David Dear
Stephen Dull
Jeanine Esposito
Jason Farrell
Barbra Fordyce

Ben Geboe
Shiela Hale
Vesna Herman
Kevin Huelster
Jana Ireijo
Anastasios Kokoris
Lauren Kushner

Heather Lawless
Kristyna Milde
Marek Milde
Constance Old
Ivan Simandi
Scott Springer
Dina Upton


Skip to content