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KITTINGER IS keeping company with a lot of bleached blonds.

The 122-year-old furniture company, long recognized for fine craftsmanship, is forging a name as a fashion leader. No longer is this Buffalo manufacturer of some of the country's best furniture content to hold onto a dark and moody image. Kittinger is coming into the light with four new finishes called cream, flax, parchment and chantrelle.

Kittinger and several other Western New York companies were showing off their new wares at the International Home Furnishings Center at High Point, N.C., this fall, along with hundreds of other manufacturers.

Kittinger didn't take a back seat to anyone with its showy showroom and attention-getting furniture. Who could ignore a leopard skin design on an oversize ottoman and the dramatic new light finishes. Other firsts included an upholstered sectional (the company has never made one before) and painted finishes on tables, chests and chairs.

"We thought the light finishes would appeal to California, Florida, the Southwest, but we're finding that everyone else likes them, too," said Craig Shoemaker, company president. To produce the look, the wood is bleached once or twice to remove the color, then it is stained, sealed, lacquered and lightly distressed. The treatments bring the open pore mahogany to a satin finish.

Besides the light finishes, there are 24 painted crackle finishes, including antique ebony, crackle moss and ancient bisque, all intended to give a centuries-old look. "The crackle finish is a tribute to English design," said Shoemaker. The lacquer is applied hot and crackles as it dries, he said. "It's supposed to look like it's been sitting there a long time." He's right; it does.

Dinaire, a Buffalo company that specializes in kitchen and dinette furniture, is also responding to the demand for more color, said Rob Halsten, vice president of marketing.

A laminated table top has delicate blue, mauve and peach pinstriping to coordinate with most decors, and the company offers upholstered seating in matching colors. Another introduction is a solid maple table with a white painted base that is part of the Country Farm Collection.

Halsten said frosted finishes and tile-topped tables are popular because they provide a color splash. "People want to get out of the blandness of dark or medium brown," he said.

The firm's "square round" table with a pedestal base offers 20 to 25 percent more seating than a conventional round table. Another useful piece is a 36-inch-high tile-topped counter/bar table that measures 20 by 44 inches. It can be used as an eating area or a work island.

Jamestown Sterling introduced an oak dining room set with a clipped corner table that seats eight easily and 10 comfortably. Pieces in the line include a "looking glass" china cabinet that has a mirrored back, lighted interior and three glass shelves; a wash stand; a corner cabinet, and a buffet. All pieces are accented with doweling. A four-poster bed was cleverly designed with the top 18 inches of the post easily detachable for ease in moving and shipping.

The company attracted international attention in its showroom as a team from the Brazilian counterpart of Better Homes & Gardens magazine photographed new pieces, according to Pete Gagliano, director of sales.

Crawford of Jamestown has a new collection called the Governor Fenton collection, in honor of the Jamestown native who was governor of the state when Abraham Lincoln was president.

The cherry bedroom set has a four-poster rice bed. Other introductions include: a queen size cherry sleigh bed with a sculpted pediment and a Jenny Lind bed in an oak finish.

The Fancher Furniture Co. of Salamanca introduced a four-drawer walnut bedside chest in its Windsor Court collection. Asked why it didn't have a larger introduction, Bruce Erickson replied: "I can answer that in two words: Fisher-Price."

Fancher is producing cribs and changing dressers for the toy company. "Their demand has exceeded what we anticipated," Erickson said. "They are selling at a far greater pace than they forecast. The demand took us all by surprise."

To keep up with production schedules, Fancher has purchased another building, added new equipment, and hired 120 people since the first of the year to keep up with the demand, he said.

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