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Furniture Detective: Table inspired by example in Colonial Williamsburg

In his latest column, Furniture Detective Fred Taylor offers a history lesson related to the inspiration behind a reader's reproduction refectory table.

Q In the mid-1980s, my mother inherited, refinished and gave to me a number of pieces of antique furniture, most of which did not appear to be labeled. If possible, I would like some general advice on how to get more information (books, Internet, etc.) on their history and value and some specific information on some of the items. One table (library?) has the following metallic label underneath: “Kittinger, Distinctive Furniture, Buffalo 1866, Kittinger Authentique Furniture.”

The table top is 26 inches by 58 inches with a height of 30 inches. The bases of the legs are connected to each other by large, straight pieces of wood and each leg base has a small diamond shape protruding from the two outer faces. The table top is 5/8 inch thick. If you follow the table top surface over the edge and down the side, the wood recesses several inches and then there is a

Reproduction refectory table

This is a reproduction refectory table made by Kittinger under license by Colonial Williamsburg. Submitted photo

vertical intricately carved, decorative solid wood panel around the table containing a pattern that I could best describe as a series of small, arched windows, like you might find in an old church The massive leg columns are 3 3/4 inch square at the top and base with curved/carved sections in between. I found some information on Kittinger online, but no specific details on this table. Any suggestions/information would be much appreciated. Thank you.

— J.O., via e-mail.

A Kittinger was formed right after the Civil War under the name Thompson, Colie and Co. It was primarily a small upholstery business until 1885 when it built its first factory. Irvine Kittinger went to work there in 1904. A few years later he and his brother Ralph purchased the company from the Colie family and changed the name to Kittinger Company in 1913.

The restoration of Colonial Williamsburg was begun in 1926, and in 1937 awarded Kittinger the exclusive license to manufacture reproductions of some of their Colonial furniture. The furniture was withdrawn from display so that it could be copied in exact detail by company designers. In the early years of the program, Kittinger craftsmen even demonstrated the process in period costume in Williamsburg. More than 300 American and English pieces were copied during the life of the program from 1937 to 1990. While most of the items reproduced were from the 18th century, yours is based on an older design of the “refectory” table, the progenitor of the modern dining table, first used in English abbeys and monasteries to feed the population of monks in the mid-17th century. That is the tie-in to the church window theme carved in the skirt of the table.

Tables like this were common in the New England Colonies of the late 1600s and sometimes included additional surfaces stored under the top which could be withdrawn to expand the top. This version was called a draw table. Original refectory tables were almost exclusively made of oak. Yours appears to be walnut or mahogany.

Here is the main website for details on Kittinger: For more details on the Colonial Williamsburg reproductions, go to


This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine
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Q I am writing on behalf of my father. One of his hobbies is refinishing furniture, and recently, he read your article on gel stains.

He asked me to write to you to ask you some questions: 1.)The name of the gel stain; 2.) Where he can buy it, or; 3.) Who makes it and could he order it directly from the company.
Thanks for your help.

— P.R., Richmond, Va.

A The term “gel stain” is a generic name for the thick, urethane or varnish based stains that have reached a high level of popularity in amateur woodworking and finishing circles. They are extremely easy to apply and very forgiving. They can be layered to increase the intensity of color and can be mixed to match difficult colors.

The most important thing in buying a gel stain is to find one that you like. Different companies’ stains have different characteristics such as density, drying time, intensity of pigment and variety of colors. Two of the ones I have had good results with are those made by Varathane and Bartley. Varathane is a trade name of the Flecto Company of Oakland, Calif. (ph: 800-635-3286). Their products are

Popular Woodworking sub

For more expert woodworking advice, projects, and inspiration, check out our sister publication, Popular Woodworking. A one-year subscription is less than $20.

generally available at home improvement stores like Home Depot and at paint stores. As an aside, Flecto also makes one of the better water-based clear finishes called “Diamond” – but that’s another story.

Probably the most popular brand of gel stain is Bartley by The Bartley Collection LTD, of Easton, Md. Bartley generally has a wider distribution than most other gels. It can be found in many home stores but it also can be ordered directly from supply catalogs like Van Dyke’s Restorers (ph: 800-558-1234, Bartley also makes a line of clear paste varnishes to accompany the stains.

I have not used the paste varnish product so I can’t speak to it, but the line of stains is excellent. The most important thing is to try different brands until you meet your match.

Editor’s Note: We teamed up with our sister publication, Popular Woodworking, to bring you a special offer. Visit and enter Discount Code WOOD20 during checkout to save 20% on your total purchase and receive free shipping within the continental U.S. Discount does not apply to 3rd party products, items that ship directly from manufacturers, value packs, collections, bundles, kits, magazine subscriptions, or toward tax. Offer expires Dec. 31, 2015. at 11:59 p.m.

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