Unfinished Furniture - Pros & Cons

There is definitely a trend toward using reclaimed wood in all types of furniture designs. You are seeing salvaged wood used in modern designs, rustic designs, transitional designs, Tuscan designs, eclectic designs – the list goes on and on. But a new trend seems to be emerging – a trend whereby the wood used in these furniture designs has “no” finish or stated another way “unfinished”. It is raw wood without a traditional lacquer, oil, varnish or polyurethane finish to protect and seal the wood. The wood utilized is usually old and naturally distressed or made to look aged through distressing and antiquing techniques. The wood has an antique weathered feel to it. Here’s the million dollar question, “does it make sense to use raw, unfinished wood either old or new in furniture designs where it will get used in a home with normal everyday use?”

 

The verdict is still out as this is a fairly new phenomenon, but there are many things to consider. First, the cons. As a person that has been in the furniture business for fourteen years now the first thing that came to mind when I realized the popularity of this new trend is “what happens when you spill a cup of coffee or a glass of wine?” I walked into a national retailer’s store (one that sells this type of unfinished, raw furniture) in Troy, Michigan last year and posed this question to the salesperson. To use a northern Michigan metaphor “she looked like a deer caught in the headlights.” For our customers around the country not familiar with white tail deer - when it’s nighttime and a deer is in the road and sees oncoming headlights, it becomes transfixed and unable to move; thus, causing the thousands of annual car crashes between automobiles and deer. This poor salesperson paused for several very uncomfortable seconds (seemed longer) and then politely (but nervously) explained that you could sand out the stain with sandpaper. I could tell she was told to say this, and I did not want to challenge her nor did I want to continue her pain as we both knew this was not the truth. I let her off the hook, smiled, thanked her and left.

As my friend I were leaving the store I asked what he thought of her answer, and he said “boy, she was reluctant to say that” I agreed. For the sake of argument let’s say you could sand out the stain (which is not possible as it would penetrate too deep into the wood), the surrounding wood would still have a different tone to the area just sanded. Why? Even though the wood does not have a finish over it - it still oxidizes and even small amounts of UV light will slightly change the wood’s natural tones. Any first year woodworker can tell you that even when you sand freshly cut wood in one spot it will show “lighter” than the remaining non-sanded board. This spot would stand out like (feel free to insert any obvious comparison here).

My mind then went to the natural oils in our skin. Every person on this earth has natural oils no matter how many times a day you wash your hands. The oils are always there giving our skin much needed elasticity and softness. I theorized that after several months of everyday use those areas where people rest their hands or elbows would create dark, blotchy areas. This theory was confirmed when I dropped off a custom made wreath to a client’s home in a suburb of Detroit this past fall. They had purchased one of the tables from the same nation retailer I referenced above and sure enough it had the stains & blotchy areas where people sat. I did not want to embarrass the customer so I did not point them out. We were both standing by the table and the customer stated (warning - here comes the shameless self-promotion) “she wished that she had found our store first as you guys offer many nice furniture designs and many wonderful finish color options.” She then asked “maybe we can discuss you refinishing the table at some time in the future as it has some stains.” I stated “we would love to help” and on my way I went.

Over the past several years we have received many online requests as to “how to repair” this type of furniture from people who had accidently spilled something on their unprotected wood table. I gave my opinion, and it was usually met with frustration and anger at themselves for not researching the product better.

What are the pros of using furniture made from unfinished raw wood in your home? This answer is simple “it looks cool, chic, unique & paradoxical”. The weathered texture combined with distressing (sometimes natural and sometimes man enhanced), blemishes, nicks, scratches, natural knots give the wood great character, and this character translates into warmth and rustic chic charm. Also, the wood appears to have either a bleached appearance or a silver driftwood patina. The wood with these muted tones combined with the aforementioned characteristics used in Tuscan, Mediterranean, modern, rustic, country, eclectic, or traditional furniture designs seems counterintuitive, but this is exactly what makes it so unique, eclectic & chic. It is refined, yet it appears old or antique. It is sophisticated yet rustic. It is modern yet worn. I could go on and on with different oxymorons, but I think you get the point.

So how do you get this unique, raw, driftwood look, but also get the functionality of using it in your home as everyday furniture - without having to worry that one spill of juice, tea or wine will ruin this unique look? Until now there was no good answer. I am happy to write that the expert finishers at Woodland Creek Furniture have perfected several new finishes that mimic the color tones of raw, unfinished, unprotected wood – but instead the furniture has a finish that will repel liquids. Let’s be clear “it looks unprotected, it looks raw, it looks weathered, it looks natural; it looks old; it looks distressed; it looks like it does not have a protective clear coating – yet is does have a special finish that protects the wood from oils and stains. For all our competitors out there who plan to call and ask probing questions to try and figure what we are doing - “Sorry Charlie” – we are not giving it up. We have spent months and months experimenting with techniques to give this look to our furniture and customers, and this proprietary information is staying in-house.

Be aware that we are custom furniture builders and most of the 1,350 unique furniture designs shown on our web site can be made with one of these new finishes (even though they may not be shown in one of these finishes).

In closing I would like to thank you for reading this article and invite you to see over 1,350 unique, customizable furniture designs available through Woodland Creek Furniture. We are a small family business with the simple goal of offering the highest quality, handmade furniture available in the market today. If you do not see a design that you had in mind, be sure to discuss your idea with us as we welcome custom made furniture projects. We will work hard to make you a lifelong customer.

Sincerely,

Rob Evina
CEO
Woodland Creek Furniture

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