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It's customized. It's stylish. It's RTA?

Glazed doors with mullions. Lighted soffits and pillars. Solid cherry, oak and walnut doors. Fully-adjustable hinges. Hand-rubbed oil and wax finishes. Traditional and Mission styles. -- These are not the features you commonly associate with ready-to-assemble furniture. But CWD (Custom Woodwork & Design) of Bradley, Ill., is not your everyday RTA furniture manufacturer.

The company specializes in Woodmore, a line of high-end, modular audio-video cabinetry with features that firmly position it in the fine furniture category. A customer-assembled system sports the handsome look of a custom built-in, with a big plus. Because it is modular, consumers can start with just a few simple pieces and expand it, design a system according to their needs, rearrange it, and then take it with them when they move.

Woodmore cabinets are 24 inches, 30 1/2 inches and 47 1/4 inches wide; projection screen cabinets are 78 1/2 inches wide and 60 1/8 inches high. The cabinets are available in four door styles: 3/4-inch solid hardwood flat panel, raised panel, glass mullion and glass with a touch latch. Grass ball-bearing hinges, Accuride slides and Comtrad casters are standard. Tops, bottoms and shelves are veneered 3/4 inch particleboard with a lumber band inset. Metal inserts are used for the cam and dowel construction.

Design possibilities are endless. Cabinet options include: wine and glassware accessories, slide-out trays, swivel shelves, drop-leaf and tambour doors. Hand-rubbed Danish oil finishes include natural, dark and black oak, walnut and cherry. "Living Color" polyurethane paints in a textured finish come in a choice of white, ebony, almond or pewter. Glass door hardware is available in chrome, brass and black.

Value and function

Spencer Kalker, one of the principals, said CWD started with a vision. The product lines were based on how Kalker and his partner, Jeff Kirsch, perceived consumers' needs from a lifestyle standpoint as well as from an electronics integration standpoint.

"Most consumers aspire to have better products than they can typically afford. Using our furniture, they can start with a simple system and build up," Kalker said. "A problem with expensive built-in furniture in today's society is that people move or tire of the furniture before it wears out. They give it to the kids or put it in another room and lose the original function and value -- the value of living with it everyday.

"Our idea was that if you can rearrange your furniture, change the way it looks with new doors, wall mount it or move it around to accommodate your needs and changing audio-video technology, you are always going to enjoy it and it will function for you. So our concept was function before form, and the form would be shaped by the function," Kalker said.

Design guide

Because Woodmore cabinets can be configured in so many ways, retailers were always asking Kalker to "design something for a 10 or 12-foot wall." He solved this problem with the "Woodmore Entertainment Furniture Planning Guide," a booklet with 1/2-inch = 1-foot grids for laying out media rooms and front view elevations of entertainment centers, punch-out products drawn to scale with illustrated doors and shelves and a worksheet for specifying components and accessories.

One of the best ideas yet for anyone who wants to visualize what he is getting without moving and stacking furniture, the booklet is available through CWD's retailers or for a small fee through some shelter magazines.

"A way to make better furniture'

Kalker said RTA helps to educate consumers about what good furniture is and why it has investment value. For example, the company uses only 1/2-inch-thick inset backs for its cabinets. "We do that for strength and perceived value," Kalker said. "The standard is 1/8 inch or 1/4 inch, and that is stapled on. Some manufacturers look at RTA as a better way to make promotional furniture. We see RTA as a way to make better furniture.

"The consistency has to be there. We work with very tight tolerances, just like the metalworking industry. Many furniture producers need more flexibility, because they can't hit specific dimensions time after time, as in detail work. It takes Jeff's precise engineering skills to do that," Kalker said.

"We look at our product the way a consumer would when taking it out of the box. People will see a high-end piece and think it's beautiful and really well made. But here's the difference: take a drawer out of the high-end piece and look up underneath the cabinet -- it's not finished," he said.

"Every inch of our product is sanded and finished because when the consumer takes it out of the box, he looks at every part," Kalker continued. "If there is sandthrough on the bottom of the cabinet, we can't send it out, because the consumer is going to think that's poor quality.

"When you talk about good quality RTA as opposed to a good quality assembled product, there is more attention to detail, and more attention to precision in the RTA. We can't get away with components that aren't properly finished or that don't fit together properly."

Non-traditional RTA

The same attention to detail has been applied to CWD's other lines, the new Theater Collection of stand-alone pieces and Fineline Furniture Systems, a moderately-priced line of component furniture introduced in the mid-80s. Two pieces are available at present in the Theater Collection. Woodstock is a Shaker style entertainment center with a painted finish and a cherry top or in birch with a black top and base. Rialto, in solid cherry and with Mission styling, is a very non-traditional RTA piece over 7 feet high and 40 inches wide. It is also freestanding but has optional side columns with glass doors for storage.

Fineline comprises seven units designed to build entertainment centers around 27-inch and 35-inch televisions, and is designed for faster retail floors, Kalker said. Two short cabinets equal the height of a tall module, for easy configuration. Fineline is made of particleboard with oak veneers and has wood grain or glass doors and melamine shelves.

To change from the Woodmore line to the more elaborate Theater Collection pieces requires manually changing profile tooling, changes in profile sanding blocks and computer programming changes in the panel saws and boring machines. However, all products were designed to conform to the company's ability to produce them -- so they fit within the system. "Doing variations on a theme gives us parameters in which to work," Kirsch said. "Every day we may run a hundred different things, but they all fall within the parameters of our standard product."

Most of the design and engineering work is done on AUTOCAD. Designs are based on what Kalker and Kirsch believe consumers want, as opposed to being based on what either thinks is a good idea. "I always try to look at trends and to stay on top of what is happening in the electronics industry," Kalker said.

"We have to be aware of what products the consumer is going to have to deal with," he continued. "We look at our business as a problem-solving company for the consumer. Our business is to help consumers integrate electronic systems into their homes. "

Flexibility and foresight

"When we introduced our first cabinet system, we obviously didn't know there were going to be 35-inch televisions," Kalker said. But the company came up with a system for consumers to use all their existing cabinets, with the addition of one cabinet for the 35-inch television. A rear projection television can be accommodated by moving one cabinet out and rearranging the others. When digital discs were announced, CWD produced drawers for them that could be retrofitted into drawers consumers already had.

"The idea is flexibility," Kalker added. "Our furniture has unlimited options for expanding or reorganizing and is adaptable to any future development in electronics technology.

"We saw the electronics revolution coming and we got a little ahead of ourselves," Kalker continued. "I talked early on with Henry Kloss, who developed the Kloss video beam. We discussed how we could integrate it and the whole concept of creating home theater."

In 1984, CWD received an award for its cabinetry systems that house two-piece (projection) video. In 1986, Kalker and company were designing systems for motorized, flat 80-inch screens that drop down in front of bookcases.

A basement beginning

Kalker and Kirsch met at Washburn Vocational School and in 1975 set up a woodworking company in Kalker's basement in suburban Chicago. The shop was 1,000 square feet and was equipped with table saw, drill press and joiner. Seventeen years and five moves later, CWD has moved up to a 60,000-square-foot facility with capacity for $20 million annual production, equipped with a Jenkins double-end tenoner, C.R. Onsrud inverted router, Brandt edgebander, and computerized Giben panel saw and Morbidelli boring machine. (Kalker and Kirsch were at IWF last month checking out additional CNC equipment for boring, routing and sanding.)

As the business evolved, Kalker focused on product development and marketing aspects; Kirsch took on the engineering and manufacturing responsibilities. The arrangement works very well, they say. It works so well, in fact, that their last move, at the end of July, from Bedford Park to Bradley, was accomplished with less than two weeks downtime.

Kalker's concern was to continue serving the customer base, more than 500 retailers and 40,000 consumers who plan to add to or change their existing furniture setups. Kirsch laid out the new plant facility in AUTOCAD, made a Gant (scheduling) chart and used Timeline scheduling software "to keep us out of trouble." He was assisted by Joel Rago, production plant manager, and Dave Kalker, Spencer's brother, who oversees plant maintenance and equipment.

CWD hit the ground running. Within a few days of moving 60 truckloads of materials and equipment into the old Roper Stove Co. building in Bradley, crews were working 16 hours a day, seven days a week, Kalker said. At the end of the second week, products were being packaged.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Design Lines; Custom Woodwork and Design Inc.; ready-to-assemble furnitures
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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