• Jessica Bellef

Why the bench seat is the friendliest furniture piece

If you were to rank furniture pieces on how friendly and social they are, surely the bench seat would come out on top. It’s a great people-equaliser, a leveler of sorts; a bench is symbolic of individuals coming together. To sit next to someone on a bench is to suddenly experience a moment of togetherness on some level of consciousness. A bench supports, grounds, and unifies people with a singular body of material, whether it be a rustic timber slab or a cushy upholstered seat.

This egalitarian approach to sitting breaks down divisions and creates a sense of camaraderie. Think about the seating situation at the cinemas or on an aeroplane. As soon as the armrest between you and your neighbour is removed, the dynamic changes. You may not have moved closer to each other but the fact that there is no physical barrier separating you means that you are drawn into a shared space.

The bench (and an army of wise old ladies) is at the centre of The Friendship Bench program which was developed in Zimbabwe to bridge the nation’s mental health treatment gap. In low-income countries like Zimbabwe, over 90 percent of people don’t have access to evidence-based talking therapies or modern antidepressants. Within the program, grandmothers (considered to be the custodians of local culture and wisdom, and known to be attentive and patient) are trained to deliver ‘talk therapy’ on park benches, making mental health support accessible and available to those in need. The bench creates space for healing, nurturing a sense of belonging and connection to society.   

A bench seat sidled up to a dining table will always make the space feel inviting. It's conducive to those memorable evenings when everyone is in sync and a sense of togetherness peaks. The bonus when you bench it? It's a great space saver if your dining area is petite, as there’s always room to squeeze another tushie onto a bench.

Blue ribbons all round for our friendly friend, the bench.  

Image by Eric Piasecki

Image by Jeroen Van Zwetselaar

Image by Ashleigh Amoroso