Robert Horton asked for some help with a design challenge he faces building an alter table for a local church. He was thinking initially about re-purposing some lumber and elements from some no longer in use church furniture. I originally advised him to shy away from using the carved capitals on the gothic colunms and instead try to concieve a design that plays off some of the other elements in the interior. How would you aproach this? The following is Robert’s original request:
A local church has an old pair of stalls (referred to as “sedalia”?)
from its previous (pre-1890s) church building. They’re not being used,
are somewhat rickety and are currently taking up space in a side
aisle. Stained so dark that it’s impossible to tell what they are.
Pews elsewhere in the church are a mix of red oak, ash, and some other
ring-porous woods. Here’s one of them:
They’re in the way (technically a fire hazard) but proposing their
outright removal would likely rouse some sentimental opposition.
Anyone who has kids knows that it’s best to temper every loss with a
perceived gain. So in order to sweeten the deal, I’m assembling a
proposal to salvage some of the carvings and lumber from these
monsters to create a new altar. Here’s the chancel as it is right now:
Ignore the large, marble altar in the background as it is no longer
used. (Liturgy geeks will recognize it as a rear-facing altar that
went out of style a generation ago.) Suffice it for now that the
church has been using the small table in the foreground as a temporary
altar. It’s draped in a fitted shroud because the table is too low and
is jacked up on…wait for it…four concrete cinder blocks.
My vision now is to salvage four of the six columns from these stalls
and chop the midsections down to form legs. So far, it’s just a 2d
I confess no knowledge of the classic order beyond what a quick Google
search will tell you. This already told me enough, however, to see
that the capitals are quite big for a table this size. I tried
shifting things around until the proportions didn’t look totally daft.
The height, width and depth of the top are fixed because the church
would like to be able to use the frontals and linens that they already
have fitted for those dimensions. Proportioning the base is where I’m
The piece would be built out of the rest of the lumber salvaged from
the stalls, plus perhaps an old pew as well from the church
undercroft. (i.e. Mystery meat ring-porous hardwoods) The finish
would be quite dark to match the existing woodwork elsewhere in the
sanctuary…and I can’t imagine stripping all the nooks and crannies
in such intricate carvings all the way down completely clean.