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Design Notes

A Spiritual Angle


Stephanie Kerley Schwartz has created clothes for supermodels, movie sets for superstars and furniture for fussy clients. But her latest commission demanded that she not only blend tradition with practicality, but please a thousands-strong congregation. And there was an unrelenting deadline.

Three months ago, Kerley Schwartz, a member of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, accepted the difficult assignment of designing liturgical furniture for her synagogue and to have it completed by the High Holy Days, which begin at sunset Friday with Rosh Hashanah.

The new pieces--a large ark, Torah stand, candle table and lecterns for the rabbi and cantor--replace splintering oak ones that bear the marks of three decades of weekly use as well as dents gathered by being moved to larger halls to accommodate a swell of participants during the High Holy Days.

Kerley Schwartz wanted pieces with clean lines that not only were appropriate for Kehillat Israel's contemporary building but that allowed for the synagogue's "spiritual home" to move with the congregation to the larger Veterans Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles for this year's services.

"I wanted to solve the needs of the service and have a spiritual essence," says Kerley Schwartz, who worked closely with Kehillat Israel's clergy and carpenter Dave Hieronymus.

The pieces are made of solid maple and Finland birch plywood. The plywood's layers are exposed at the edges, creating bands of straight lines. The updated Arts and Crafts design has specific nods to Gustav Stickley with its angled top supports.

The ark, which is almost 7 feet wide and tall, holds four Torahs, the sacred scrolls of Hebrew Scripture. Two bi-fold glass doors display sandblasted images of flames in reference to the Bible passage in which God spoke to Moses from a burning bush. "It's a dramatic moment when the ark doors are opened," says Kerley Schwartz.

When the 400-pound ark must be moved, it can be disassembled into seven sections. The smaller pieces can't be taken apart but are portable because of streamlined dimensions--the lecterns are about one-third smaller than the boxy old ones--and they have custom dollies to transport them.

The rabbi's lectern weighs 100 pounds and has a 30-inch-wide top surface and three closed sides. The open side has shelves to hold prayer shawls. "A rabbi's lectern is a platform from which to send prayers, blessings and hopes out into the world," says Rabbi Sheryl Lewart, one of the synagogue's two rabbis.

The 150-pound cantor's lectern is 6 inches wider and almost a foot deeper than the rabbi's to accommodate a Torah and sheet music. It has two shelves and a drawer, and a pullout surface on the left to extend the work space.

The Torah stand is almost 5 feet high with a tilted back to support the 25-pound scrolls. It has angled feet, as does the ark and cantor's lectern, while the small candle table has straight legs. "I wanted the pieces to work together, but have individual aspects," says Kerley Schwartz.

For more information, call (310) 200-5758;

Glass Advantages

Decorative glass has been grabbing attention for centuries; even Jamestown settlers found the time to make the showy stuff for windows. And, sure, it can enhance architectural elements and be seen as luminous art, but don't think of it as just a pretty luxury. In a world of big houses squeezed onto tiny lots, and condos stacked together like crates at Costco, translucent glass can also soften a few modern realities.

Gary Kazanjian, who's made a career of mixing glass with lead, says it can artfully conceal the view of an ugly fence, roof or trash can, or stop passersby from peeking into your home. It's all a matter of design and material.

Take, for example, a house in Huntington Beach. The owners wanted a bright, contemporary look for their double-door entrance, but they also needed privacy. Kazanjian delivered by using six types of glass that blur the view, but don't block the light. He assembled ripples, droplets and waffle-weave textures to create an abstract of swoops and ribbons. Light emanates differently through each, which adds another dimension to the piece and the entry room.

"In a lot of my work, shape and design are separated by density of texture rather than by color," says Kazanjian, who is celebrating 30 years as a stained-glass artist in Hermosa Beach. (He received his bachelor's degree in civil engineering and an MBA from UCLA, but chucked the idea of building bridges after seeing a glass artist polishing away at a festival in Venice, Calif., in 1969.)

To make a door panel, Kazanjian draws the design--a "cartoon"--then traces the pattern onto heavy paper. He cuts the glass--handmade in Europe, South America and the Pacific Northwest--and assembles the pieces with lead. He adds a little putty, buffs with a bristle brush and, about two weeks later, the door is in place and foiling the efforts of nosy neighbors.

For more information, call (310) 374-7798;

Janet Eastman can be reached at

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