White Furniture Company of Mebane NC

Can You Name My White Fine Furniture Collection?

White Fine Furniture Collection

Can you name my White Fine Furniture collection? And what’s its value?

Since I started writing posts about White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, I’ve receive lots of questions about style numbers belonging to a White Fine Furniture collection, and estimated values.

I addressed strategies for determining the value in your local market here: https://irisabbey.com/the-market/much-white-fine-furniture-worth/

As for an individual White Fine Furniture Collection, I can now identify five — out of who knows how many? My understanding is that White Furniture destroyed their patterns when the company closed in 1993. But catalogs could be out there; I just need to track them down.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill houses the catalogs of the five collections presented here. For the price of copies, UNC sent me an electronic file. It’s a start..

Living With Tradition

This collection came in a choice of two finishes: Chantilly and Antique White.

Chantilly finished products had solid cherry drawers, posts, and rails. Its tops and end panels were made of “choicest walnut veneers.” (Living With Tradition Catalog, 1982)
White Fine Furniture of Megan

White Fine Furniture Mebane
Living With Tradition Bombé Chest, 225-34-11-F

The Antique White finish offered two handpainted artwork choices: Chinese landscape painting or Floral, shown above. The Floral design depended on the customer’s selection of color for the trim: yellow, blue, green, or gold. Raised Gesso Chinoiserie, seen on the Chantilly finish, provided another choice. Obviously, no two looked exactly alike.

Whiteleigh

To bring you furniture with a new feeling of grandeur and graciousness, the Whiteleigh combines the elegance of Empire with the classic grace of Regency. Both were the “modern” styles of their day. The rare and valuable pieces which have come down to us reflect a simplicity, quality, and vitality that blends perfectly with White’s own brilliant concepts of Contemporary styling.  (Whiteleigh catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. 2).

White Furniture Company Mebane NC

White used two exotic woods to create Whiteleigh:

All solid parts are African Teak, one of the finest Mahogany-family cabinet woods, very light in color, and imported from the famous African Gold Coast. All veneered tops, drawer and door fronts are richly figured Prima Vera from Central America, are also light in color. Both woods have “open pores” as opposed to the “closed pores” of woods such as Cherry. (Whiteleigh catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. 27).

The Lorraine French Provincial Collection

Three custom hand finishes . . . Old Spice, a rich fruitwood; Old Bisque, a delightful dominance of brown with gray shadings; and Old Bone, the ever loved and ever lovely white and gold.” (The Lorraine French Provincial Collection catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. 3).


White Furniture of Mebane NC

Every fascinating facet of French Provincial charm scintillates in White Lorraine Collection . . . free hand carving, decorative brass grilles, dainty scroll feet, graceful cabriole legs, hooded pediments, parquetry inlay, delicate gold etching, sweeping escalloped curves and aprons, carved corner posts and end panels–a wealth of fine detailing and a beauty that never palls. Age can but enhance its charm and value. (Lorraine catalog, no date, p. 15).

Unfortunately, that last sentence — written decades ago — could not take into consideration a  future with mass production, cheaper furniture, and very little wood composition. Look how comfortable people have become with the idea of replacing sofas, chairs, dining sets every few years.

This next bedroom set image doesn’t come from a catalog. I found this Lorraine White Fine Furniture Collection advertisement online hereImportantly, this ad has a date: 1954.
White Fine Furniture Collection

Adaptique

In many ways this is a collector’s collection. No two pieces are identical. Each is a custom-designed Original. There is no rigid adherence to any one genre of design. But rather a general echoing of those Country English and traditional Mediterranean styles so compatible with today’s decorating trends. (Adaptique catalog, White, the South’s Oldest Makers of Fine Furniture, Mebane, North Caroling, no date, p. intro).

As best as I can determine, this collection offered multiple features within a piece and multiple choices of said piece. This buffet (Style 30-7, I believe), for instance, is primarily Early English but incorporates Mediterranean/Greek dentil molding, along with the Greek key motif on fronts of drawers and doors. But Tudor roses appear on the doors instead of a true Greek key.

White Fine Furniture Collection
White Furniture Co. Adaptique Collection

Then we get into the various styles of Adaptique furniture: 3 choices of buffets and 3 of china tops, as shown here:
White Furniture Company Adaptique
Adaptique came in two finishes: Artisan, a warm, rich brown; and Florentine, a Venetian grey-green.

Promethean

The undated Promethean catalog claims this style mixes “Oriental glamour with Old World charm.” To my thinking, the Old World must refer to Scandinavia because this collection has a Mid-Century Modern sensibility.
White Furniture of Mebane Promethean
Here’s the catalog explanation of the woods’ drama:

This whole collection is marked by the use of pearly pink Maple Burl, the taupe richness of brown Walnut, and the tone-on-tone color of highly figured heart Walnut.

Thanks to everyone who sent me emails and comments about the pieces in their White Fine Furniture collection. If your collection isn’t featured here, just know that I’m on the trail and will share more when I uncover new information.

Ann Marie and David

Read my other White Furniture Company posts:

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 1

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 2

How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

Clothes Press by White Furniture Company, Mebane, NC

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4 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

MCM Dining Table Sets

After several barren weeks of estate sales devoid of bargains and success, our luck finally changed. We bought 2 Mid-Century Modern dining table sets in one weekend (along with several additional pieces), to add to the 3 dining sets we have distributed between our booth and warehouse.

This seems a good an opportunity to discuss what characteristics we look for.

  1. Clean Lines

    Mid-Century Modern dining table sets should convey a sense of lightness, sleekness. The shape should capture your attention. As a rule, MCM tables and chairs are more compact and, therefore, perfect for smaller spaces. Once you begin studying tables and chairs, their differences become evident.

  2. Manufacturer

    We always check the name of the manufacturer before buying Mid-Century Modern dining table sets. That means one of us is slithering around under the table and tipping over a chair. If we find a name like Drexel or White Furniture, we’ll stop our investigation right there. An unknown manufacturer, however, isn’t dismissed; we just double our efforts to make sure the pieces structurally sound and aesthetically appealing.

  3. Wood Grain

    Although MCM designers experimented with other materials such as plastic, glass, vinyl and shaped plywood, the tables we buy are made of wood. Tabletops are covered with good, wood veneer, which is a thin slice of actual wood. This process changed in the 1970s when furniture companies began to incorporate particle board and MDF to save money.

  4. Condition

    How much work will the pieces require? Our biggest expense is outsourcing a table for sanding and refinishing. Are the pieces sturdy? If any legs are wobbly, can we easily fix them? We hope for good padding and original fabric on the seats. Both of these, if problematic, can be remedied. All these elements, however, add to costs that can lower our profit margin

Now that we’ve covered the characteristics we consider when evaluating MCM dining table sets, let’s look at our sets.

  1. Drexel Profile

This dining set belongs to Drexel’s Profile Collection, designed by John Van Koert. Drexel manufactured Profile between 1955 – 1961. This set dates from 1956 and includes table, 6 chairs, and 3 leaves.

Mid-Century Modern dining table sets

First, look at its shape: tapered legs, gentle curves, borders on the table top, and chair spindles. It’s Drexel made, so the quality is excellent. Rich brown color, made of pecan and walnut woods. When we encountered this piece at an estate sale, I froze in horror seeing  that heavy metal container on the bare wood.

The chairs look great. I made sure to dust between every one of those exquisite spindles. One chair has a small stain on the fabric, but I think we can clean and avoid the recovering process.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

2. Caldwell Furniture Company

Caldwell Furniture of Lenoir, NC, manufactured this table and chair set in 1961. My research hasn’t led me to any rich details on Caldwell’s. The company started in 1906 and Thomasville bought it in 1968. Despite knowing very little about the manufacturer, this is a well-designed table.  I like the way each side gently bows. Caldwell Furniture, Lenoir NC

The tabletop had sustained topcoat damage. Davis stripped the top and outsourced the table and its 2 leaves for refinishing. The final result reveals a highly grained walnut with contrasting light and dark grains.

Here are 3 of the 4 recovered chairs. The backs remind me of bow ties. We recovered, and seriously upgraded, the 4 dining chairs seats, which we wrote about in a previous post. At present this MCM dining set sits in our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery.

MCM Dining Table Sets

3. White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC

White Furniture, known for high quality, manufactured this set, probably in the late 1970s. It came with 6 chairs and 2 leaves.White Furniture MCM Dining Table & Chairs
The chair spindles gently curve, the legs taper. The oval top contrasts with the square and rectangles of the chair and there’s an Asian sensibility to these chairs.  David believes the wood is walnut but we haven’t studied it enough to identify the finish. As for the condition, the table needs refinishing.

The square cushions are in great shape, generously padded and covered in a white vinyl. I’m not a fan of vinyl, but it can be useful if children are anywhere near food. Here’s a chair detail:

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

4. B. F. Huntley of Winston-Salem, NC

My research hasn’t led to any unusual discoveries. A small business, Huntley’s started in 1906, sold to Simmons in 1929, burned in 1935 and reemerged as Huntley once again before Thomasville bought it in 1961. Although the table has a series of stenciled numbers on the bottom, each company had its own system of identification. I can’t say definitively when Huntley made this set without a code to decipher the numbers.

This drop leaf table came with 6 chairs and 1 leaf. Ironically, a previous owner had the table refinished but neglected/forgot the leaf. As a result, the leaf doesn’t match the table’s newer finish. David claims the table needs work, and Michael tells me the seats need recovering.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

When David and Michael picked up the set from the estate sale, they — and the sales rep — realized it was a drop leaf. The rep claimed, had she realized that when pricing, she’d have marked it higher.

What I appreciate about the chair design is the “H” back, and the upper back slat reminds me of a surfboard. At a glance the padding and fabric looked OK to me but I haven’t studied it. I know at least one of the chairs wobbles.

Mid-Century Modern Dining Table Sets

5. Drexel Today’s Living

Milo Baughman designed Drexel’s Today’s Living Collection, Our set was manufactured in 1952. The shape of the table holds interest because its thickness narrows down from the center.  I wrote about our struggle to acquire these pieces at an estate sale.

Milo Baughman Drexel 1952

The woods are elm and beech; the finish is beech. Between its wood color and the matching orange fabric, there’s a sense of lightness. Happily, we kept the chair seats as is.

Lastly, our son Michael will choose one of these Mid-Century Modern dining table sets for his personal use. He narrowed his selection down to two sets (#1 and #5), both manufactured by Drexel, Michael’s considering either the Drexel Profile set by John Van Koert (4 chairs, 3 leaves) or the Drexel Today’s Living set designed by Milo Baughman (6 chairs, 2 leaves).

If Mid-Century Modern dining table sets appeal to you, which would you choose?

Ann Marie and David

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2016: Top Mid-Century Modern Style Posts

2016: Top Mid-Century Modern Style Posts

Take a look at the top 5 posts I wrote in 2016. They all deal with Mid-Century Modern style. Not a stunning surprise.

When David and I started Iris Abbey, we planned to paint and sell furniture . Our work, though beautiful, didn’t sell. We developed a belief that our local market is pretty saturated.

Our son, Michael, directed our focus to Mid-Century Modern and we haven’t looked back.

Every so often I sneak a painted piece into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery, but the majority of what we sell is Mid-Century Modern, as you’ll see from these posts.

Cara Greenberg coined the term Mid-Century Modern in her 1984 book by the same eponymous name. This Christmas, Aunt Linda gave Michael a signed, first-edition copy of Greenberg’s Mid-Century Modern.

In furniture, modern came in all price brackets. Those who could afford it filled architect-designed homes with furniture from smart department stores which, in those days, promoted furniture even more vigorously than fashion. A sophisticated home of the early Fifties might have featured, for example, a pair of Eero Saarinen’s all-enveloping Womb chairs in bright red, or had as its pièce de résistance the free-form walnut-and-glass coffee table of Isamu Noguchi, its sculptured two-part base subject to rearrangement at its owner’s whim. — Cara Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern, 1984

1. 5 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Mid-Century Modern Living Room
Source: Chris Barrett Design

The best of it was designed by architects who, during the war, when nobody was building houses, had turned their talents to furniture–or who, in desperation for furnishings that made sense in the smaller, sparer postwar house, decided to design their own.  — Cara Greenberg, Mid-Century Modern, 1984

Step into 1956 and see . . .

2. Kent-Coffey’s Sequence Collection 
Kent Coffee Sequence bedroom furniture

3. Painted Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Sometimes, because the damage is too great or the piece isn’t significant, we opt to paint. With Mid-Century Modern pieces we’re judicious with how much we paint. Take a look at these two pieces:
Mid-Century Modern Dixie chest and nightstand

4. Clothes Press by White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, is a furniture company close to my heart. I’ve written about them in other posts, but here’s an unusual clothes press:

How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

5. Broyhill Premier Saga Desk Meets Heywood-Wakefield Chair

We found a Mid-Century desk, stylish and curved. Alas, no chair. What are the odds that we’d find a single — not part of a set — Heywood-Wakefield chair? It’s not a perfect match, but close enough to convey the spirit of the times, especially with the period upholstery fabric we ordered.

Broyhill Premier Saga Desk

That’s it for 2016. Next week I’ll share my top posts of all time.

Ann Marie and David

How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

How Much is my White Fine Furniture Worth
Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, often  referred to as White Fine Furniture. Thanks to the attention these posts garnered, I still receive emails and comments from readers asking about the worth of White Fine Furniture pieces that they own, or wish to buy or sell.

Location

While I’m not a licensed appraiser, I strive to provide general information to people who contact me. Knowledge of one’s local market remains key. We live in Jacksonville, FL, and our nearest metropolitan areas are Atlanta to the north, and Miami to the south. Dealers from those locations often stop by Avonlea Antique and Design Gallery and try to negotiate our prices downward.

We brought a high-end chair into our booth, for instance, that we priced for a higher-income household in Jacksonville. The chair just needed the right person to come into Avonlea and fall in love with it. Sadly, things didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

Instead, a non-local dealer made a much lower offer. She explained that she was unwilling to pay the asking price since there was no way she would make money on the resale. While we passed on her initial offer, eventually we settled on a more reasonable amount.

You may face a similar scenario. Consider these options:

  • decline the offer and hope the right client comes in someday, or
  • try to negotiate and complete the sale

Sure, we made a slim profit, but the exercise proved dispiriting. Our chair could — and will — command a higher price in a different market. But our business needs actual sales.

Keep this in mind: that perfect customer with deep pockets and a burning desire for your merchandise may not come along any time soon. What do you do then?

My Advice

Whether buying or selling furniture, a negotiation dance is usually expected. I send an email to readers who ask me about a valuation on specific pieces. Here are excerpts from my typical letter:

First of all, White Fine Furniture is built to last for generations. It’s sturdy and beautiful. You know that it is superior to any furniture made today. The problem is, not many other people understand this about furniture. They tend to buy as inexpensively as possible and replace in a few years.

I haven’t seen photos of your set, but that’s OK because I’m not an appraiser. I can, however, offer my opinion.

Your location is a factor. I live in Jacksonville, FL, between Atlanta and Miami. We have dealers and buyers from those areas come to visit us because we sell cheaper than those metro areas. If you are in a big city, you have more options.

Unusual styles (like Mid-Century Modern) command better prices than traditional styles. I saw a gorgeous White bedroom set at an estate sale that was priced slightly over $2,000. I had to walk away because I didn’t have the money and I knew I wouldn’t make much profit on it.

If you’re in a larger market, check with local antique malls. The procedure used by the antiques gallery where I have a booth is to accept electronic info and photos from community members wishing to sell, and direct this info to a dealer(s) who handles that type of merchandise. From there, it becomes a private negotiation between the dealer and the seller. The dealer wants to acquire the items for the lowest possible price and the seller wants the highest price. We all know that and hope to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

Consignment stores are a possibility but they take a sizable chunk out of the selling price. My understanding is that consignment stores usually reduce the price on your/their pieces each month. Furniture not sold during an agreed period may be picked up by you or donated by them. If you need to get rid of your furniture immediately, however, this is a serious option.

You could place photos and descriptions of your items on Craigslist.

My number one piece of advice — I should have started with this — is to contact a dealer in your area and get info about your market. This refers back to my discussion of Jacksonville vs. Atlanta and Miami.

White Fine Furniture Legacy Lives On

Sometimes people with actual ties to White Furniture Company, aka White Fine Furniture,   contact me. I get very excited when this happens.

How nice to find folks still enjoying some of the finest furniture ever produced. I worked at White’s for three summers while I was still in high school. Many of the folks pictured I knew and admired their skill (even at 16 years old I knew a craftsman when I saw one) these men and women took pride in their job. I picked up wood scraps and delivered them to the boiler to be burned for heat and other energy needs.) At times I would stand and watch for 15 minutes at the skill it takes to cut out the scalloped huge table tops, it was amazing to watch these guys handle these huge pieces with ease. The exact measurements used, the quality of wood, the skill to finish the pieces, the packaging for shipment was second to none. White’s also knew the skill it took to put out furniture of this quality and paid their employees a better than average hourly wage. My uncle worked there nearly 50 years, he and many others were able to raise families and put kids through college because of these fair wages. The book [Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory] does give a good look of the factory near the end, but the over 100 years before is the real story of American pride. I so miss the folks I worked with there, but my memory of each one always make me smile.  — Dennis

Recently, I received this comment:

Just a little something to add to this wonderful post. I am a White and my father was the last White president of the factory before it was sold. I grew up with a house full of White furniture and I took it for granted as children do. I was recently telling a friend that I honestly didn’t know until I was an adult that furniture could break! For 46 years I have been used to drawers that always perfectly, smoothly open and solid pieces that never have any problems. I am very thankful to be a part of this legacy. Thank you, Ann Marie, for this wonderful tribute to my family’s heritage.     — Becca

My White Fine Furniture Posts

If you are interested in reading my Number 1 post of all time, head over to White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC – Part 1

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Andrew inspecting bedpost, photo by Bill Bamberger

Continue on to White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 2,
How Much is my White Fine Furniture Worth?

check out Clothes Press by White Furniture Company, Mebane, NC,How Much is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

and finish up with Can You Name My White Fine Furniture Collection?

Our Newest White Fine Funiture Acquisition

I began writing this post yesterday and — BOOM — this morning we purchased dining table, 6 chairs, and 2 leaves manufactured by White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC. It needs work, and that’s David’s kingdom — but I love the Mid-Century Modern look of the chairs.
White Fine Furniture
White Fine Furniture logo

Good luck on your next negotiation.

Ann Marie and David

White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 2

White Furniture will never be dead so long as we have children who have children. You take my son. A lot of things I do at home when I’m working around my little shop, I do as he’s around. I’ll show him whether it’s a different kind of wood or whether it’s maybe boring a hole in cherry that’s very brittle and will break unless you bore a hole before you put a screw in it. That my son learns. He knows how to sand with the grain of the wood, and so long as he’s alive he can pass that on to his children. White’s will always be alive so long as there are people around in this area. Wherever we go, whatever we do, White’s will never be dead.

— Ronnie  Sykes, 27-year employee at White Furniture Company

Here is White Furniture, Part 1.

The 1980s gave us terms like hostile takeover, conglomerates, outsourcing, leveraged buyouts and downsizing. The U.S. furniture market, once dominant and respected, found itself struggling to survive. White Furniture Company, family owned and operated since 1881, was sold to Hickory Furniture in 1985. The newly formed Hickory-White Corporation closed the Mebane factory in 1993.

In its few years as owner of the White factory, Hickory-White pushed for increased productivity and speed at the expense of craftsmanship. Short cuts became the norm.

 When Hickory took over, if it was off an eighth of an inch, why, that didn’t make any difference, we’d just cut the drawer a little bit and make it fit. The hole, if it were an eighth of an inch too big, we’d drive a thumbtack under each side of it.

— James Gilland, 41-year employee at White Furniture Company

Bill Bamberger and Cathy N. Davidson’s book Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory presents White Furniture Company as a microcosm of events occurring across the country. American manufacturing — furniture making and a multitude of other industries — died in the 1980s and 1990s. We found ourselves living in a postindustrial country — and then the Great Recession hit. By experience or extension, we all understand the pain caused by losing jobs, craftsmanship, and community.

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Layoff meeting, cabinet room. Photograph by Bill Bamberger

At its heart, then, the White Furniture story is not just about economics. It is about personal loss and family tensions. It is about the job of work and the tragedy of being deprived of work. It is about the sense of self that comes from taking  pride in one’s craft. And it is about the sense of community that develops when people who might otherwise have little in common–men and women, blacks, Hispanics, and whites–work side by side, depending on one another to get a job done right. (Davidson, 19-20)

In late 1992, when Bill Bamberger learned that the White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, would close, he sought permission to document the factory and workers’ final months. The operation was neither quick nor painless. White Furniture didn’t close all at once. Its end was gradual, an excruciating, clinical procedure that came like dying gasps. As the final pieces of furniture wended their way through the construction process, clusters of despondent workers received word to leave their line and head for the personnel department.

The kiln area was first to go. Then the rough mill, when its noisy saws fell silent. Then the glue machine workers. The machine room. The sanding room. Assembling. Finishing. Lastly, with  the factory quiet for the first time in over a century, the men and women of the rub and pack station were called to the personnel office. They waited for the inevitable, a few meaningless words, a handful of papers, a handshake, and an end to their way of life. The White Furniture factory, the beating heart of Mebane, would never reopen.

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Workers with their pension papers. Photograph by Bill Bamberger

I learned of White Furniture Company after David and I bought several pieces of their furniture at an estate sale. The more I read on the subject, the more interested I became. Their story was equal parts sad and uplifting, displaying the very best and very worst of the American Dream. Our pieces are more meaningful now, with a poignant story to go with their beautifully crafted lines.

Our magnificent dining room set appeared in my White, Part 1 post, but we have more White Furniture to share. Three bedroom pieces: a vanity seat (a young couple beat us to the vanity, yet inexplicably left the seat behind) and two French Provincial twin bed frames with softly sloping cane headboards. They take my breath away.

White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: Vanity Stool
White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: French Provincial Twin Bed Frames

I am incredibly grateful to Bill Bamberger for allowing me to use a few of his powerful photographs. His unflinching lens captured the end of an era in this country, his snapshots a somber vignette of what so many Americans have come to face. The stunned looks on the weary faces of White’s craftsmen as their livelihood disappears is heartbreaking. I can’t help but wonder which of these workers helped craft my pieces of furniture.

The venerable White Furniture Company lived and died and people should know about it. One final photo demonstrates the dedication of this family of workers. On his final day Avery made sure his section, the now empty cabinet room, looked spick-and-span before he set down his broom, walked out the door one last time, and into the unknown.

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Avery sweeping the cabinet room floor on his final day of work. Photograph by Bill Bamberger
Ann Marie and David

Read about our White Furniture Company Clothes Press.

Wondering about the resale value of White Fine Furniture? Read How Much Is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

Can You Name My White Fine Furniture Collection?

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White Furniture Company of Mebane, NC, Part 1

We believed in building the best furniture humans could build — furniture that you be proud of forever and a day.                                        

— Robert Riley, former shipping superintendent and 31-year employee at White Furniture Company

White Furniture Company of Mebane, North Carolina, made exceptional furniture. The crème de la crème. If you ever see a White piece, study it and appreciate it. If you can buy it, do so. This quality of furniture simply does not exist anymore.

David and I couldn’t believe our good fortune when we discovered a full mid-century modern dining room set and french provincial bed frames at a recent estate sale. High quality mid-century pieces are rare to stumble upon in northeast Florida. It turns out White Furniture is even rarer. We knew White made fine furniture but not much more. The pieces looked incredible. What else could we do but negotiate a good price and load up?

White Furniture Mebane NC
White Furniture Dining Room Set: China Cabinet, Dining Table with Chairs, Sideboard
White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: China Cabinet
White Furniture of Mebane, NC
White Furniture: Sideboard
White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: Dining Room Arm Chairs

I researched the company and discovered this premier furniture manufacturer no longer exists. Clearly I needed to do more digging. I bought the highly informative and heartbreaking book about White Furniture’s final months: Closing: The Life and Death of An American Factory by Bill Bamberger and Cathy N. Davidson (1998). The book shed some light on this American institution, but more on that below.

The White brothers started the company in 1881, the year the town of Mebane incorporated. The company and the town were intrinsically linked. The four White brothers — Will, Dave, J. Sam, and Steve A. — served as successive presidents from 1881 to 1969, a total of 88 years. Early on they elected to produce high-end furniture and appeal to Southern and Northern markets. Imagine how audacious this business decision was because the Civil War ended less than 20 years earlier.

They imbued an appreciation for craftsmanship, loyalty, respect, and dignity among their employees. Job stability remained so high that employees joked about openings becoming available only because of death or retirement.

The company accumulated contracts and awards. In 1906 White’s shipped 58 boxcars by train to the Panama Canal when the U.S. government ordered oak furniture for its officers and enlisted men. Every boxcar featured a 20-foot banner proclaiming “FROM THE WHITE FURNITURE CO., MEBANE, N.C., FOR U.S. GOVERNMENT, PANAMA CANAL.”

White Furniture Co. trainload headed to Panama Canal
White Furniture Co. trainload headed to Panama Canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1912 Arthur White visited the construction site of the new Grove Park Inn in Asheville. He hoped to sell his company’s wares but encountered resistance. Arthur’s nephew, Stephen A. White V recounted the family story:

Arthur did most of the selling, especially the sales of furniture for fine resorts. White Furniture Company shipped a sample dresser to Asheville to be shown as a typical piece of our quality. The gentleman who was in charge of buying furniture ‘pooh-poohed’ the idea of any furniture made in a little country town in North Carolina being even close to the standards, which were wanted for the Grove Park Inn. So, my Uncle Arthur uncrated the dresser and asked the potential buyer to select one of the drawers from the dresser and he would give a demonstration, which would prove that White Furniture Company produced furniture, which would stand the use and abuse to which it would be subjected. A drawer was selected and taken from the dresser and laid down on the floor upside down. Then Uncle Arthur jumped on the drawer and there was no sign of the abuse to which it was subjected. Arthur brought the order home in his pocket.    –Speech given before the North Carolina Historical Society in Chapel Hill in 1982; typed manuscript, private collection.

Grove Park Inn, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, UNC at Asheville
Grove Park Inn, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, UNC at Asheville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve White IV was the last of the original White brothers. After his death in 1969, the second generation provided stewardship for the next 15 years, until the White family shareholders narrowly voted to sell the business to Hickory. The newly formed Hickory-White Company continued to make furniture until the factory closed in 1993. Under Hickory’s leadership, quantity soon superseded quality.

Bamberger and Davidson’s book Closing highlights White Furniture Company, but White   represents the many American companies trying to navigate the economic turmoil of the 1980s. The closing of the renowned White Furniture Company and the impact on Mebane, NC, is the story of small towns and cities all over the country. As the U.S. shifted from a manufacturing nation, we moved into a new post-industrial era.

For myself, I am thrilled that Bill Bamberger gave me permission to feature a few of his dramatic photos of White’s craftsmen in action. Their labors convey beauty and grace. These photos attest to their dedication.

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Andrew inspecting bedpost. Photo by Bill Bamberger

 

Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
James sanding mirror frames. Photo by Bill Bamberger
Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Sanding bed frame, cabinet room. Photo by Bill Bamberger
Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory
Joan in the spray booth, finishing department. Photo by Bill Bamberger

Head over to Part 2 where I’ll share photos of the White bedroom furniture we bought and discuss the closing of the venerable White Furniture Company.

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Ann Marie and David

Read about our White Furniture Company Clothes Press.
Wondering about the resale value of White Fine Furniture? Read How Much Is My White Fine Furniture Worth?

Can You Name My White Fine Furniture Collection?

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