When showing homes, a good real estate agent will always instruct buyers to picture a space with their own belongings and style in place. Structure is important, but the personal touch that goes into furniture and fixture selection is what makes the space a home. The same is true for a house of worship.
Worship Facilities Magazine spoke with several professionals about selecting FF&E items for a house of worship and they agree that whether furnishing a brand new building or updating a space, the first thing to consider is your church’s brand. All interior items should complement that identity.
Foresight Pays Off
“Think of the type of services you hold, the personality of the people worshipping, and choose a style that conveys that personality,” says Paulla Shetterly, associate principal and director of the interiors studio for CDH Partners in Marietta, Ga. For instance, a contemporary church should choose contemporary pieces, as opposed to dark-stained woods or heavy fabrics, and individual seats vs. pews.
Interior design professionals also warn about trying to adopt “looks” seen in other churches. “What looks good in one church may not look great in yours,” says John Urban, principal of Urban Design Architect P.A. of Wilmington, N.C. “Aesthetics and function have to be considered.”
Formulating a plan for fixtures and furnishings early in design will ensure cohesive style in the end. “We are able to incorporate [these elements] into our building model during design development,” says Terra Douberly, an interior designer at Live Design Group in Birmingham, Ala. “Even if the exact pieces are not bought, the idea is implemented and stays part of the plan.”
Richard Baum, president of W&E Baum in Freehold, N.J., a designer and manufacturer of memorial products, explains that special installments need a certain amount of space and need to be constructed of material complementary to their surroundings. “A donor wall, for instance, isn’t the cornerstone of the space, but does require special lighting and therefore should be a part of the initial plans,” he says.
Seemingly smaller details need to be considered early on, too, such as lighting and restroom fixtures. Shetterly recommends that all end users, from worship directors to maintenance staff, collaborate in their selection. “Lighting varies for different functions, so every user needs to share their job’s needs so spaces can be specifically planned for that use,” she says.
Tips for Selecting Seating
Mitchell Kaye, director of U.S. sales for Galilee Church Seating in Marietta, Ga., points out that choosing seating early on is a must because it impacts costs and decisions in other areas—paved parking lot requirements, for example. “Generally, many jurisdictions require one parking spot for every eight seats. In the case of a traditional pew, a ‘seat’ is equal to 18 inches, even though most adults take up 20 to 21 inches, whereas individual seats count one for one,” Kaye explains.
Seating is one of the more expensive investments a church will make in terms of furniture, and it automatically defines the space. Kaye reports that whether looking at pews, stackable chairs, or theater-style seating, there are plenty of options, including mixtures of the three. “We offer all these products as well as a unique pew/ theater combo that has the sight line of a pew, but is actually a row of self-rising, individual seats,” he says.
Kaye continues, “Each type of seat has its own advantages. Stackable lend flexibility, self-rising allow rows to be closer together for more seats in less space. Churches should determine which advantages best meet their needs.”
Port City Community Church in Wilmington, N.C., an Urban Design Architect project, seats 1,800 on the floor of its auditorium with the use of individual interlocking seats in straight rows. “It’s nice to know exactly how many seats are available,” says Urban. “And there’s the added benefit of being able to move or rearrange seats in multipurpose areas.”
The Big (Cohesive) Picture
Equally important to choosing an overall style in keeping with the church’s identity is selecting colors and materials that will stay fresh and stand up to heavy use.
Michael Berkowicz, partner at Presentations Gallery Ltd., a design-build furniture company located in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., shares that church furnishings used to serve narrow functions, but now must meet universal needs and contribute to spiritual ambiance. “A simple table may fulfill various functions, so height and shape must be considered,” Berkowicz shares, “but material is also very important. Different woods offer different aesthetics and stand up to different uses, but in the case of a contemporary space, metal or glass may be best.”
“Staying with a neutral color palette and avoiding a lot of wood or very dark stains will keep the space from becoming outdated quickly,” advises Urban.
“If you want a trendy color, incorporate it in an inexpensive, changeable manner— like paint color or accessories—and keep expensive options, like sanctuary seating, neutral,” says Douberly.
It is also important to choose colors and materials that are age-appropriate and maintenance-friendly. For children and youth, Kaye recommends very durable, but also less expensive seating options. Foldable or stackable chairs made of highquality, washable plastic are a good place to start.
Shetterly recommends heavy-duty materials, such as Momentum Silica, which can be wiped clean and does not contain poly vinyl chloride, making it a healthier choice for children’s spaces. However, Douberly and Shetterly agree that most of the industry has caught on to the green movement. As such, the cost of green materials has come down considerably.
Even though green is a comfortable part of design vernacular, it’s wise to research and make sure the products chosen are safe for congregants and the environment. “Always look for solution-dyed fabrics and read up on certifications and standards,” says Douberly.
Being certain that the best and safest products have been selected for a space is definitely a task best left to the professionals. “We see mistakes all the time made by individuals too close to the project,” says Shetterly. “As professionals, interior designers look at the big picture, ask questions, and connect dots.”
“[An interior designer] will create something totally unique and will make sure the finished facility represents the heart of the church from top to bottom,” says Douberly.
Ultimately, a well-designed, furnished and finished space communicates to members and guests that they are important, while promoting respect and reverence in a sacred place.
Urban concludes, “Let the interior space tell a story that every person wants to be a part of.”