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Customized seating meet aesthetic and technical requirements

New colors, fabrics and styles offer leaders a myriad of options to outfit their sanctuaries.

Les Lundburg

The Brooklyn Tabernacle includes well-spaced seating.

Theater seating offers church leaders the capabilities to have adaptable worship centers that can feature longer rows, fewer aisles, greater capacity, improved sight lines and better comfort. This type of sanctuary seating can also be customized to many different specifications that can reflect the character and personalities of church leaders and congregations.

Leaders have many variables to consider: What does the sanctuary look like? What colors are used? What accessories are needed? How tall should the seatback be? What size chairs are needed?

One chair model does not fit all applications; however, most chairs can be customized to meet the design challenge. End panels, back styles and upholstery treatments can be modified to meet individual sanctuary design requirements. Design options range from pew-like end panels for the traditional look, to open aisle ends which offer a more contemporary feel. Chair components can be manufactured from woods, fabric, plastic laminate or plastic accents to complement any sanctuary finish.

Brighter and bolder

Fabric choices for sanctuaries are becoming brighter and bolder. The use of multi-colored fabrics are increasingly more common and it adds drama to the look of the space. Many different types of fabrics are available to provide the style, durability and price point demanded by most churches. Another popular trend is the use of recycled and sustainable fabrics at very affordable prices. One such option is polyolefin yarns, which are made from waste products from gasoline manufacturing.

More churches are using a shotgun color pattern for seating.

Storage for Bibles, hymnals, welcome cards, offering envelopes, communion cup holders and writing instruments are also important considerations for seating selection. Each church has to decide options that will meet the needs of their congregation and incorporate this into the seating design. Careful consideration and planning about how the chairs will be occupied during services will result in higher satisfaction after installation.

Theater seats come in a variety of back heights. For years the standard back height was 32 inches measured from the floor to the top of the back. Today, back heights are changing due to safety code requirements for chairs placed on risers and treads or in balconies. It is common in today’s sanctuaries to use various back heights in the same space.

Higher rise means taller back

Standard back height chairs may be used on the main floor and a taller back if risers and treads are used. Standard tread heights vary building to building but, for a church with a 12-inch rise tread to tread, the 38-inch back now feels like a 26-inch back due to the fact that the row in front of it is 12 inches lower. Remember the higher the rise the taller the back.

In addition to back height you want to consider chair width. This is the measurement center of arm to center of arm or the width of the chair. Chairs are available in multiple sizes from 19-24 inches.

This leads to the age old question of comfort verses capacity. Using only large chairs will reduce the capacity of the sanctuary; however, using all small chairs does not lend itself to great comfort.

Shaped like a fan

The general rule is to use multiple chair sizes minimizing the amount of smaller 19” chairs whenever possible. Most churches today are shaped like a fan where row lengths grow progressively longer front to back of sanctuary.

Les Lundberg is worship seating sales manager for Irwin Seating Company, Grand Rapids, MI. [irwinseating.com]

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