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Black walnut clergy seating by Luke Hughes treads softly on Westminster Abbey’s Cosmati Pavement

Luke Hughes & Company was commissioned by the Dean & Chapter of Westminster Abbey to design and make clergy seating and sacrarium stalls to be used over the Cosmati Pavement. One of the most important medieval floors in Europe laid down in 1268 by order of Henry III, it incorporates symbolic patterns and innumerable semi-precious stones. For this particularly special furniture, Luke and his team turned to a particularly special sustainable hardwood, American black walnut. The Abbey’s conservation team undertook a four year restoration of the historic Cosmati Pavement immediately in front of the high altar, but in doing so it became apparent that the existing furniture was damaging the unique and remarkable mosaic whose complexity and subtlety of design and workmanship can be seen nowhere else on this scale. The challenge was to design new pieces which would not only complement the Abbey’s architecture but also sit lightly on, and deal with, the unevenness of the floor surface which can vary as much as 40mm in localised areas. As the clergy seats have to be moved into a variety of positions for grand ceremonial occasions, including royal visits, as well as the more usual weekly liturgical requirements, the furniture needed to be easy to adjust to ensure it is both level and stable and must also spread any weight across the feet to minimise point-loading. Choosing American black walnut instead of oak, the conventional timber for ecclesiastical seating, and a simple streamlined design in keeping with the Abbey’s monastic traditions meant that the furniture is 60% lighter than the original seating.  Black walnut also offers a sumptuous colour and elegant grain. Luke Hughes & Company devised an unusual solution to accommodate the irregularity of the floor surface: “We designed the feet specifically to sit on the delicate stones of the Cosmati Pavement. They are fitted with a series of felt-lined sliding wedges in American black walnut, which are retained in position by earth-magnets,” said managing director Luke Hughes. “These can be swiftly adjusted by Abbey staff to take up any discrepancies in the floor levels, leaving the uneven but priceless 13th century floor undamaged. The lightness of the furniture has also given the Abbey the flexibility to use the seating in varying configurations to suit the occasion. The new seating has already been used during His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI visit to the Abbey and for the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton last year. Source: American Hardwood Export Council Read more news related AHEC published at Infurma For more information on American hardwood species and case studies, visit www.americanhardwood.org. Photo Credits: Luke Hughes & Co Ltd. Visit the Luke Hughes & Co Ltd. website
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