This marks my first experience designing and building a 'religious' piece and as such, it warrants a description of how it evolved. I was approached, by way of a designer friend, by individuals representing a local synogogue, inquiring about the possibility of creating a special cabinet for them. It was to be made for the express purpose of housing a haftarah scroll in a cabinet, or ark. It would need to be on display, accessible and secure. It would also stand alongside the sanctuary's main ark which housed the 5 scrolls of the Torah. (As I learned, a haftarah is not a 'half-torah' but rather a separate compilation of selections from the book of 'Prophets' often read publicly as part of the Jewish service.)
The sanctuary, with high walls and a vaulted ceiling, encompasses a large space and already has an ark that houses its Torah scrolls. Like the interior space, the cabinet is huge. From an aesthetic standpoint, part of my challenge was to design a piece that would go with the existing cabinet, complementing but not upstaging. From the practical side, my charge was to make a safe place for the haftarah scroll, visually and physically accessible but secure.
As I went about researching the design for the cabinet, I found that very few existed, at least in terms of published images. As I learned, many Jewish sanctuaries have arks for their Torah scrolls but not one for a haftarah, if they even have a haftarah. The piece that I would design would be truly one of a kind. Using the existing cabinet as a reference point for design style, proportions, color and wood, I developed a design for a cabinet that would serve as a 'transition' from the assembly to the primary ark. Having glass paneled and locking pocket doors enclosing an indirectly lit interior, the scroll would always be visible and approachable. The cabinet itself, suspended between two massive wood end panels, created a solid presence all its own without being dwarfed by or competing with the main cabinet. Details like the arched doors, the primitive hardware, the shaping of the end panels were all intended to lend a stateliness or ecclesiastical feeling to this piece of furniture in harmony with its primary purpose: to house a sacred treasure of the congregation.