But in the past couple of years, a revolution has taken place in unfinished pieces. Hardwoods such as oak began to appear. Boxy designs began to be replaced by true furniture designs, some even based on good period pieces. For example, you can now buy round oak pedestal dining tables typical of tables produced just after the turn of the century, and the chairs to go with them.
Old-line furniture manufacturers such as Kroehler and Norwalk have added "whitewood" (the trade designation for unfinished furniture) pieces to their lines, and good furniture stores in major cities (for example. Homcmakers, a division of John M. Smyth, and Marshall Fields, both in Chicago) have begun showing excellent unfinished hardwood furniture in a variety of pleasing designs.
It is true that good unfinished furniture has always been available, but only from specialized sources, usually by mail order. Many people have not been aware of this availability. Now the better furniture is within easy reach.
The prices on this new kind of unfinished furniture are higher than the pine boxes of the past, but the costs are still low enough to be attractive. The pieces add an interesting dimension to the do-it-yourself field because it is possible to put in some "sweat equity," —extra time in sanding, filling, staining and varnishing — and end up with a very creditable collection of furniture.
The market for unfinished furniture also has changed. Business Week magazine reports that buyers of unfinished furniture have a new profile. They are now middle-class, middle-aged white-collar workers who own their own homes and have incomes in excess of $17,000 a year. This group is not looking for cheap unfinished pieces. Instead, it wants something good enough so that with the investment of time and personal craftsmanship, the completed furniture is both attractive and valuable. Marketers suspect that there is another deep-rooted dimension to the movement: these buyers are looking for the glow of satisfaction that comes with creativity, and finishing good unfinished furniture seems to provide it.
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