kittinger chest

What Happened To Kittinger Furniture Company? (What You Need To Know!)

Kittinger Furniture and Why it is Considered (one of) the BEST

High End Furniture Dealers often consider Kittinger Furniture as one of the best hand crafted vintage furniture brands!

Although not widely heard of, Kittinger has gained a reputation from their exclusivity.

Unlike Ethan Allen, which has positioned itself as an every-man’s furniture brand, Kittinger remains like a secret club to those with enough taste (and means) to afford it.

Kittinger Furniture Value

In many ways, vintage Kittinger Furniture gains value from its scarcity. Thus, on the auction block or in resale situations, vintage Kittinger Furniture often reaches very high prices.

Kittinger Furniture Even old vintage Kittinger catalogs can cause sticker shock. A Colonial style dining table and chairs in the 1960’s for instance, had a retail price tag of over $1,000. And no, that number has not been adjusted for inflation!

One has to remember that in the 1960’s, a person could purchase a modest home for roughly ten thousand dollars. (Take a look at this fun and shocking site about the 1960’s prices to learn more!) Indeed, Vintage Kittinger Furniture aligns with the Rolls Royce of Furniture.

Of course, Kittinger Furniture value, while fluctuating like any other market, seems to hold steady as a top tier furniture brand. Like many luxury brands, vintage Kittinger Furniture continues to have a host of devoted followers.

If you are lucky enough to own a piece of vintage Kittinger Furniture, consider it a true gem to cherish!kittinger tag

Kittinger Reputation

antique kittinger desk The high reputation of Kittinger Furniture stems from several key facts.

Most notably, Kittinger Furniture has had great associations with prominent places. First and foremost is a special place on Pennsylvania Avenue: the White House! (See a virtual tour of White House.)

In the 1960s, president Nixon started a long tradition of commissioning Kittinger Furniture to furnish key rooms in the White House.

Of course, this included a twenty-two and a half foot banded mahogany table and twenty four Chippendale style chairs. (The President’s chair sits a bit higher than the others- nice touch!) Kittinger also did several other reproduction pieces, including the President’s tea tables, and armchairs in various rooms of the West Wing.

Kittinger Furniture Factory

Obviously, Kittinger stood out among furniture companies! Kittinger Furniture produced vintage furniture in a way that made them stand out and above their competitors.

They had incredible attention to detail, meticulous handwork and a combination of mass scale and small scale finishing techniques. kittinger

Indeed, many of their pieces required delicate and difficult techniques.

Within their Buffalo, New York factories, hundreds of people specialized in each step of the process. In fact, employees had to go through long apprenticeships within the company in order to be trusted with certain jobs.

Levels of skill were rewarded with titles like “Master Craftsman.” Often, these craftspeople handled the same piece of furniture for days or even weeks at a time! Every stage of production within the Kittinger Furniture line required intense hours and high scrutiny. (You can read more about these manufacturing processes on the Kittinger website.)

Vintage Kittinger Furniture

The result of these time commitments and quality checks can be seen and felt in vintage Kittinger furniture.

kittinger for sale Vintage Kittinger dressers sit perfectly within their cases. Drawers do not sag, bow or stick within the frame. Likewise, vintage Kittinger cabinet doors on vintage buffets align perfectly and do not bow. Vintage Kittinger tables tend not to warp or split. Vintage Kittinger chairs have hand tied springs and perfectly spaced upholstery tacks. All of these methods point to phenomenal craftsmanship.

All functional features aside, Kittinger furniture can not be discussed without discussing their aesthetics. Simply put, the grain of the exquisite mahogany veneers, and complementary woods, just glows!

A vintage Kittinger table often has the most impeccable shine. Kittinger offered both open-pore and closed pore finishing techniques. (Thus, they could achieve very deep hand rubbed looks or spectacular sheens!) kittinger furniture

While some Kittinger Vintage furniture designs did see some updates in the 1960’s (particularly on Kittinger Office furniture), most of Kittinger designs are very traditional. This of course adds to their lasting appeal. We will discuss Kittinger’s Colonial Williamsburg association below.

While modern technologies were eventually integrated into Kittinger factories, two hands and ten fingers could not be mechanically duplicated when it came to the art of furniture-making.

At least, not in the Kittinger Furniture Factories.

Kittinger Furniture and Colonial Williamsburg

colonial williamsburg kittinger Kittinger has strong ties with Colonial Williamsburg.

Colonial Williamsburg served as the capital of one of the original thirteen colonies for 80 years. The city, of course, was a seat of power. Patrick Henry, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson all made frequent visits to Williamsburg, Virginia.

Thus, Colonial Williamsburg sat as a cultural and political center until 1780. It was a planned city, and a stylish one. In style, the city fashioned itself like tasteful London. Orderly gardens and Georgian style buildings demonstrate this British influence.

Once the tobacco, lumber, wheat and corn industries took hold in Virginia, wealth and commerce developed. Indeed, industries like silver making, dressmaking and furniture production flourished in the colony. Wealthy inhabitants of the city sought elegant furnishings and stylish furniture to decorate their homes.

Rockefeller and Colonial Williamsburg

Yet, when the capital of Virginia moved to Richmond in 1780, Williamsburg fell into a long period of neglect. 150 years of neglect, in fact! It was not until 1926 that John Rockefeller Jr. set up a non-profit foundation to restore and reconstruct Williamsburg’s city and open it to the public. Rockefeller aimed to ensure our nation’s early Colonial roots were not forgotten.

Indeed, Rockefeller’s hoped, “that the future may learn from the past” and that “the patriotism, high purpose and unselfish devotion of our forefathers to the uncommon good” be remembered.

But one must keep in mind, Rockefeller cared deeply about the project. He wanted to ensure Williamsburg continued and had funding. Ten years after the start of his Williamsburg project, he introduced the Craft House.

The Craft House at Colonial Williamsburg introduced exact handcrafted replicas of furniture, glass, ceramics, prints, crystal, silver, pewter and glass. These creations were exact reproductions of period pieces. In fact, artisans wore period clothing and created their wares right on site! This allowed Colonial Williamsburg to sell merchandise all across the country.

Kittinger CW Furniture (Colonial Williamsburg Furniture)

The committee at Williamsburg chose Kittinger Furniture Company to work with them in the furniture reproduction program. Indeed, Kittinger’s attention to quality and precision made them an obvious choice to recreate these historic pieces. Of course, these replicas of 18th century designs required incredible devotion to the craft of furniture making. As you can imagine, the collaboration was a huge hit! kittinger

The collaboration between Kittinger and Colonial Williamsburg lasted for fifty years. During that time, three hundred different antique models were reproduced.

williamsburg restoration Each piece of furniture included with their sale a stamp and Williamsburg insignia. The insignia kind of has an Illuminati-style secret look to it. They also included information regarding the original piece of antique furniture that the fine reproduction was modeled after.

Thus, Kittinger CW furniture pieces (as they are often called) have a high demand. These very special pieces of vintage furniture further elevate the value of Kittinger Furniture.

Kittinger CW furniture gives twentieth century people a connection to the past. It commemorates an important time in American history and early American furniture. It celebrates our rich history.

And the beauty of these simple yet elegant furniture styles simply cannot be denied!

Colonial style furniture, although obviously influenced by British cabinetmakers, has elegance and patriotism. CW Kittinger furniture Vintage pieces remain collectible and stylish today.

Kittinger Furniture and Historic Newport Furniture

Kittinger’s prestige grew throughout the 20th century and this opened up new avenues and opportunities for the company.

Like their collaboration with Colonial Williamsburg, the Preservation Society of Newport County sought out Kittinger to help them with reproducing their valuable antiques. Newport, Rhode Island was also an important city center in Colonial times.

kittinger chairs However, Newport, Rhode Island developed as a Quaker colony. Two important Quaker families, the Goddard and Townsend families, migrated to Newport and started important furniture cabinet maker shops during the Colonial Period. For 120 years, both family names produced extraordinary furniture. Notably, early Goddard and Townsend names are associated with shell carved chests and ball and claw feet.

Original furniture by these makers have brought huge auction records. For instance, a Goddard and Townsend six shell bookcase desk reached a soaring 12.1 million at auction in 1989. Thus, the reproduction pieces by Kittinger Historic Newport gained popularity and prestige!

Indeed, Kittinger Historic Newport Furniture has lots of appeal as fine heirloom furniture. Of course, reproduction furniture of this caliber continues to have high price tags. One could expect to pay quite a few thousand dollars for Historic Newport Vintage chairs, for instance.

Kittinger reproduced these early pieces with grace and style. Historic Newport furniture by Kittinger includes a paper tag. Although not as common, Historic Newport furniture remains an excellent choice when decorating a fine or historic home.

Kittinger Furniture (A Brief History)

Despite its glorious reputation, Kittinger Furniture history has not been without its ups and downs as a company! Kittinger has had a long history since their inception in 1866. kittinger furniture

In that year, the company was known as Thompson, Colie and Co and actually started as a paper company in Buffalo, New York. The paper company switched to upholstered furniture in 1870. With that as their main focus, the company produced Colonial style upholstery.

kittinger antique
In 1913, Ralph and Irvine Kittinger purchased the company and renamed in “Kittinger” that year. Their goals were simple. They wanted to produce the best furniture possible.

Irving wrote of his aim in this way: “Our business is not primarily to turn furniture into money, but to produce something really worthwhile.” he wrote.

This drive for quality and high style helped Kittinger reach great heights. In 1929, the company grossed 1 million in sales, an incredible sum for a company during this period! The company maintained this level of success and it passed down through several generations within the Kittinger family.

However, by 1966, roughly 100 years since their start, the family sold Kittinger to General Interiors Corporation. The next twenty five years, Kittinger Company changed hands five more times.

It came under the ownership of the following companies:

  • General Mills Corporation
  • Chicago-Pacific Corporation
  • Maytag Corporation
  • Ladd Furniture Corporation
  • Michael Carlow (private investor)

Like many domestic furniture companies in the US, new labor markets squeezed Kittinger’s profits. By the time Michael Carlow, a serial investor, came around in 1990, Kittinger profits suffered badly and the company was sold for an undisclosed amount.

Kittinger Drama!

Michael Carlow’s tenure as head of Kittinger has been wrought with drama and illicit activity! By the time he came around in 1990, Kittinger had lost their license with Colonial Williamsburg. The CW trademark was passed on to Baker Furniture.

kittinger for sale However, the Buffalo factories of Kittinger apparently still had in stock approximately 9 million dollars worth of chair legs, backs and furniture parts made for the Colonial Williamsburg line. According to Fortune Magazine, Carlow insisted that they sell the parts anyways, modifying the designs a bit in an effort to avoid a lawsuit. However, Colonial Williamsburg went forward with a lawsuit of over $500,000 against the company.

Michael Carlow also allegedly cheated Kittinger Furniture Employees out of certain benefits. Union officials claimed he didn’t send in Worker’s Compensation to the State or FICA taxes to the feds.

Additionally, Carlow also allegedly used Kittinger and dozens of other companies he invested in to enact check kiting scams. Kiting refers to taking advantage of the float time in the banking system. Con artists write bad checks before a bank can notice the scam. Many banks do not report this behavior, because it could cause chaos and expose the bank as insecure. Michael Carlow later served time for this fraudulent behavior. kittinger table

This immoral behavior and multiple lawsuits forced Kittinger to meet a chaotic end in 1995. The fine furniture company closed their doors. Many felt the company would fade into obscurity. Kittinger’s last remnants headed to the auction block…

Kittinger Company Remains Open

However, the company did not close forever or fade into obscurity!

kittinger hutch Fortunately, a devoted employee who had spent nearly twenty years at the company stepped in. Ray Bialkowski started working at Kittinger in 1979 in the sanding department. He worked up the ranks and eventually received a promotion as a master cabinetmaker. He then became a leader in the Cabinet Department.

In 1996, he and his wife Karen decided to purchase the Kittinger Company. Ray’s and Karen’s love of the company has salvaged the brand, and pushed it in new directions. Currently, Kittinger continues in the production of fine furniture. It is one of the few remaining domestic furniture companies of such clout and with such a long history. Of course, it remains internationally known and recognized.

Karen’s background focused in interior design. She proposed to open The Kittinger Gallery in Buffalo. Since this proposal, the retail and design center has been instrumental for the company. It continues to attract partnerships with other retailers and custom work for Kittinger.

Vintage Furniture by Kittinger and What to look for

With all of the interesting stories behind the Kittinger brand, there exists a mystique behind vintage Kittinger furniture.

However, although vintage Kittinger furniture and antique Kittinger furniture remains popular, some tips come to mind… kittinger desk

Firstly, even though the brand has utmost importance, one should still choose vintage furniture because it speaks to you. Furniture requires an investment. Why not choose something that makes you happy everyday, instead of settling for something that just “works”? As corny as it sounds, we always feel the right piece will find you. Decorating your home is a long distance race, not a sprint.

Secondly, take note of the condition of vintage furniture. Kittinger, as a luxury brand, typically comes from a home where furniture is well cared for. Although not always true, when someone goes to incredible expense to purchase a piece of furniture, they generally polish it regularly. They take care not to place glasses or vases directly on top. Indeed, they care for it like a member of the family!

vintage buffet However, there are times when this logic doesn’t hold true. So check the drawers, cabinet doors and feet. Often vintage furniture left in storage can suffer from flooding, water damage or splitting due to temperature changes.

When purchasing vintage furniture online, check the measurements! Photos can deceive! Also, take a few minutes to really inspect each photo. Pictures tell a thousand words, like they say!

Finally, we always recommend to check the listings we have prepared for you. You never know what special Kittinger treasure might be waiting for you here!

Of course, if you are trying to sell Kittinger pieces, check out our Guide for Selling Furniture.

Comment Below!

Do you own any Kittinger pieces? Comment below! We’d love to hear what special treasures you have found!

Thank you for delving into the fascinating world of vintage furniture with us!
Written by Rachel LaBoheme

Related Posts

76 thoughts on “What Happened To Kittinger Furniture Company? (What You Need To Know!)

  1. i have a triangle shaped side table. Not ornate but beautiful. How do I find out if it is valuable?

  2. Hi – I have a Kittinger butler tray coffee table, model # T363. I see a broad swath of prices online for this item. Mine in very nice condition, so I believe that an interested party would like it. I would appreciate any recommendations you can share to assist me to move it along to a new owner. Thank you!

  3. We own a 4 piece Kittinger desk set including a 36 X 66 desk that weighs a ton, a 2 drawer filing cabinet with metal interior, telephone Stan and waste basket. All the pieces are very ornate in design and in excellent condition. For insurance purposes our insurance company would like to know of its value. We cannot find any information or photos of similar items. It belonged to my wife’s grandfather in his medical office. We think it is from the 30’s or 40’s. Can you provide us any information? Thanks

    1. Hi Jon. Sure. As mentioned in the article, the most desirable and expensive line of Kittinger are the Colonial Williamsburg lines and Historic Newport lines. The more ornate Jacobean style furniture from the 1930s tends to command a bit less on the market today. I would say, a highly carved desk by Kittinger from that period (in excellent condition, devoid of finish issues, scratches or mars) could go for around $1200-$2500. The filing cabinet could sell for around $500 and the telephone and waste basket could bring a couple hundred dollars. I hope that helps to give you an idea of the approximate value of Kittinger furniture from this period. Of course, insurance values could be quite a bit higher, because companies often factor in costs to find, and deliver replacements. You could insure the pieces for double the values quoted here. Thanks for writing!

  4. I Have an Eight sided rotating table ( Jefferson Library ) woth 8 drawers;
    4 rectangular; 4 triangular and front labeled (?) with gold letters of the alphabet . Missing “J : and “V”.
    One rectangular drawer has a Kittinger plate maked with : Kittinger Old Dominion 2126 FH
    Could you provide some background information.

    1. Hi Harry! Nice speaking with you today! I think I have found your table online. It is called a “Jefferson Mahogany Rent Table.” This table is part of the Jefferson collection that was authorized by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation for Kittinger. It is a reproduction of the original table which was used by Thomas Jefferson and is located in the Monticello Library today. I saw the table which sold on 1st dibs (a high end ebay type site) for an offer under $1800. Here is the link to the table:
      I hope that helps! Thanks so much.

  5. Picked up a table at an estate sale not knowing it might be valuable. A small piece but would like to have it valued. Where can I send a picture?

    1. Hi Kristy, we generally don’t do appraisals but I could probably give you a rough idea if you email it to me. My email can be found on the contact page of our website. Best, Rachel

  6. Hey, guys – nice article. My grandfather was a master finisher for Kittinger for many years through the 50’s until the 80’s. He went to the White House to do work during the Nixon and Reagan administrations. My family has several Kittinger pieces from that time period and they are gorgeous.

  7. i have a Kittinger vanity with a brass tag on the back.
    It has a split top that opens and becomes two holding trays on each side. The center opens with a mirror and has cubby boxes inside to put jewery, etc in. It’s 21″wide when closed up and 42″ wide with both sides open. ITs’ 31.5″ H and 16.5 deep. Happy to send photo. Don’t see anything like it on line. Wondering what it’s worth – It was given to me 32 years ago.

    1. Hi Adrian, Sounds like a lovely piece, and I have not seen this model before. If you would like to send a photo, my email can be found in the contact page. Thanks for reading! Best, Rachel

  8. I inherited a small table from my grandmother. It has a tag on the bottom Which reads “pattern No. T148 M Serial No.17” and then “Kittinger Buffalo”

    Can you give me an ide of the history or age of this table?

    Thank you,

    Karen Hamill

    1. Hi Karen! Is it a brass tag, paper tag or burned in mark? Sometimes that helps to date the table. Unfortunately, the pattern number and serial numbers aren’t too much help to me, as I do not have access to all of their historic catalogs. If you wish to send me some photos of the table and the tag, please find my email under the contact page. Thanks, Rachel

  9. Ok I just received a Kittinger A665 lowboy. Serial #5 paper tag hand written model and serial number…. any idea? I can’t find anything

    1. Hi Jon, It could be a Colonial Williamsburg Kittinger Model. Or it could be a Historic Newport Lowboy. Both may have used that particular Kittinger serial number. Either way, it is a fine piece of reproduction furniture. You may wish to get a formal appraisal for your find. Thanks for writing! Have a great day!

  10. I am looking on an online auction that says they are selling a “Kittinger Williamsburg Adaptation Handcrafted American Made Secretary Desk”. I am not sure if it’s a real Kittinger Reproduction. In one of the drawers it does have an imprint that says:
    A Williamsburg
    and then a W with an A in the center of the W.
    It also has a blue plaque that says “Kittinger Buffalo then below that it says Fine Furniture Since 1866. Next below that it says,
    Pattern then a space in yellow but no pattern. I am really interested in this piece but need to know what to offer without getting ripped off. The auction is at clearinghouseestatesales….and it is the auction for Larchmont,NY sale ending as I write in 1 Day, 17 hours. Thank you so very much for your help. Also it didn’t have the CW logo as you showed. FYI; I was born and raised in Williamsburg VA. And I am also very familiar with the “Craft House” who sells the some of the best reproductions in the world for CW..
    Thanks again,

    1. Hi Robert!
      Quick clarification: There is a difference between an “adaptation” and a“reproduction. A furniture adaptation means that the company may have been inspired by a historical piece of furniture, but certain things have been adapted and changed. Most of the time, these adaptations are subtle, such as the size of the piece, scale of the drawers, height of the legs, etc… Usually adaptations fit more modern tastes and homes. Furniture adaptations also may be more comfortable for modern users, so in the case of a desk, it may be more comfortable and feel more size appropriate. On the other hand, furniture reproductions, especially by high end makers like Kittinger are Direct and Exact Copies of (usually famous) pieces of historical origin. So, Colonial Williamsburg pieces are made with the original designs of historic pieces, to a tee. CW pieces are generally more valuable and pricier than adaptation lines by Kittinger. Though, as mentioned, Kittinger Adaptations are still usually very nice and excellent quality. They still cost quite a few bucks when new, though, so I cannot give you a price for auction. Hopefully, you get a great deal and are happy with your auction purchase. Best of luck, Rachel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *