An interview with Renzo D’Anselmi, Designer at Laudate Sacred Art
Many priests and parish renovation committees wonder why they should hire a church interior designer. This is a helpful interview for anyone embarking on this process.
Interviewer: Why should a parish pay for a designer for their church interior? What does a church interior designer offer?
The church is not a building constructed for this world alone. When we enter a church we are reminded of our final end which is union with God. We should have a sense or foreshadowing of the Heavenly Jerusalem. Part of the designer’s work involves achieving the sacred sense, which requires restoring beauty to the church interior. What gives a church its unique beauty? The qualities of radiance, unity and proportion. (See our article, “What Makes a Church Beautiful?“) A church interior designer helps you to develop a vision to restore beauty and translates the vision into a plan, both as physical drawings on paper but also – in conjunction with the project manager and finance committee – a plan and timeline for successfully executing the project within budget.
Interviewer: Haven’t liturgical designers wreaked havoc in Catholic churches, especially in the “wreck-o-vations” many of us have experienced?
Unfortunately, the Church has suffered through a craze of “Change for the Sake of Change” for the past fifty years. Some of this craze for change has been based on misunderstandings and well-intentioned calls for liturgical relevance. Therefore, it is important to find a designer who understands the history of church architecture and design and is not trying to be “original” per se. This requires both knowledge and humility.
Your designer should be able to incorporate necessary changes without violating the principles of ecclesiastical art and architecture. Your designer should be able to see new possibilities while respecting the traditions of the past 2000 years.
Interviewer: What about the painters or other crafts persons? Can’t they make the design decisions?
At Laudate Sacred Art, we work closely with painters and other crafts persons and value their insights and suggestions. Often they have just the solution for a problem at hand. However, painters and craft persons are usually experts in their own specific field. A church interior designer has the training and a broader perspective to see the unity of the work as a whole.
Interviewer: What if we have an historic church and don’t want a church interior designer coming in and making things “new” or “original”?
Your instinct to preserve your historic church is a good one. A church interior designer should respect and work carefully to preserve the existing patrimony of the church. We do not want to squander the beauty we have inherited! So much has already been lost. So it requires respect for the beauty that is present in the existing architecture and an understanding of the principles behind it.
Interviewer: If there is an artistic and tradition-loving parishioner with a good design sense, who will do it for free, wouldn’t they be able to design the church interior just as well?
An artistic or tradition-loving parishioner would be excellent to include in the parish renovation committee. However, this person should not take the place of the designer. It is tempting to think that because a person successfully designs a home interior and selects their own colors, furniture, etc. that he or she will be able to design or redesign a church interior. Although the church is the Domus Dei, or “House of God,” designing a church interior is different from designing a home, even a beautiful home.
Interviewer: Why can’t we just ask a parishioner who is also an architect?
Most architects understand the principles of designing a secular building. Unless they also understand the principles of ecclesiastical architecture and art, the church will end up looking and/or functioning like a secular or civic building and will not serve the liturgical or spiritual needs of the parish. The designer needs to understand the liturgical and ecclesiastical principles of church design within the tradition of sacred art and architecture.
Interviewer: What if you are stuck with an ugly modern or art brut church? Is there anything can be done short of tearing it down and rebuilding it?
I would want to see what its strengths are and what is there already that we can work with. This is how the Church meets people; she does not reject them because of their sins, rather she finds out if there is something there to work with. Not every modern church should be torn down and rebuilt. Sometimes it would, in fact, be better to tear it down and rebuild, but you cannot afford to do so and you still have a parish yearning to glorify God. You may not have the budget to rebuild or you may not have the permission of the bishop. How can we work with the structure and the situation? Sometimes the situation may require cosmetics, sometimes it may require major surgery. The ugly modern church may be well-constructed of solid materials and it may be part of local history. For more information, see our article, “What About Modernism?”
For an example of a modern asymmetrical church interior that was redesigned on a limited budget by Laudate Sacred Art, see “Church of Saint Margaret Mary.“
Interviewer: What if the parish budget is severely stressed? How can any of this happen now, at what we hope is the end, or near end of a world-wide pandemic?
The history of the Catholic Church is filled with churches, shrines, and monuments built in thanksgiving for the end of a plague or for the intercession of saints. Many times people who survive the sickness will want to donate for this reason, or memorialize a loved one. This is a beautiful and venerable way to honor God, one (or more) of His saints and our beloved dead. It also shows everyone that death and destruction does not have the last word. See our article, “To Build in a Time of Plague” for more inspiring historical examples.