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Kittinger meets challenge on Oval Office replicas

Venerable Buffalo furniture maker Kittinger Co. went to great lengths to make sure the furniture it made for the replica of the Oval Office in the George W. Bush Presidential Center was spot-on.

Because most of the 15 pieces of Oval Office furniture that the library asked Kittinger to duplicate are antiques – and gaining access to the real Oval Office wasn’t an option – Kittinger’s craftsmen had to work closely with the White House curator to re-create the precise designs of furniture without the benefit of working off the original design documents.

“It was a pretty challenging process,” said Raymond C. Bialkowski, Kittinger’s president. “The bad news was we didn’t have the drawings.”

Instead, Kittinger’s craftsmen began their work last October, working off photographs of the furniture that they obtained from the White House. With those photographs in hand, Kittinger’s designers used computer design software to produce detailed design documents for each piece, The designers then went back and forth with the curator to fill in further details.

Bialkowski was pleased with the result. “They were very particular about reproducing the antiques,” he said. “We succeeded.”

But it wasn’t easy. The fabric for some of the chairs, for instance, had to be hand woven by an exclusive supplier. And with the library’s opening date drawing closer, Kittinger scrambled to get all of the pieces done in time, sending the furniture to the library in three separate shipments, the last of which left its Buffalo factory at 2495 Main St. just last week, Bialkowski said.

“There was a lot of stress,” he said.

Kittinger, whose hand-crafted furniture is found in the real Oval Office, as well as the White House’s Cabinet Room, was commissioned by the library last fall to make replicas of 15 furniture pieces found in the presidential office.

That request put Kittinger’s craftsmen to work producing replicas of the some of the furniture it made for the real Oval Office, including fireside chairs, a coffee table, a pen book table that Kittinger originally made, a telephone table, a council table and mahogany chairs with cane backs.

Kittinger has a long history of providing furniture for the White House, including a handcrafted conference table and chairs for the Cabinet Room that were personally ordered and paid for by President Richard M. Nixon.

Kittinger even was commissioned last year by the makers of the upcoming movie, “White House Down,” to make several replicas of furniture used in the White House. The movie, set for release in late June, is about a police officer who is touring the White House when a heavily armed paramilitary force invades.

Bialkowski revived Kittinger, a renowned furniture maker with a worldwide reputation for its high-quality craftsmanship, in 1996, a year after the company was shut down following the scandal-plagued ownership of Michael P. Carlow, who bought Kittinger in 1990 and presided over its near-demise within five years as his legal problems mounted.

It employs 25 people at its Buffalo factory and its showroom on Transit Road in Amherst.