The phone rings in the Oval office and you want to pick it up.
"Go ahead," John Zweifel tells you, "the White House belongs to the people."
The White House Zweifel is so generous with is his 60-foot-long replica of the historic home now on display at the National Visitors Center from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., until Oct. 26. And to answer the phone you feel as if you'd need a pair of tweezers to reach in and pick up the receiver.
"I began this 22 years ago, a gift to the American people, a living White House," said Zweifel, an artist and designer who has toured around the country with the house he built for the Bicentennial year.
"We have had over 23 million visitors throughout 50 states and I enjoyed saying to most of them, 'Welcome to the White House,' and I'm not doing it for the 'Guinness Book of Records.'"
For history buffs, miniature fans and the curious who want a peek at the upstairs of the White House, Zweifel says he, his wife, Jan, and a team of 25 talented artisans and craftsmen spent more than 200,000 man-hours and more than $400,000 in materials to duplicate the rooms.
"The detail is so authentic," Zweifel said. "The phones ring, the quarterinch television sets work, clocks keep time and hundreds of tiny lights from crystal chandeliers and handblown lamps turn on and off.
"The hand-carved furniture is constructed from the same wood as the originals. Paintings done by my wife have been matched for exact colors and textures, and drapes and bedspreads are duplicated to the exact number of tassels."
A graduate of the Chicago Art Institute, the 43-year-old designer and displayman has created displays for corporations, trade shows and department stores. But his first love is his White House. He wasn't sure how things were working around his own home in Orlando, Fla., but he happily described how things worked with his replica.
"In 1956 I toured the White House and like so many before and after me I began to wonder after seeing only five of the rooms what the rest of the place looked like.
"I saw the White House as a cherished symbol of this country and in 1961 I approached the Kennedy family with my idea." Impressed with his sincerity, the Kennedys allowed him to tour the rooms not usually seen by the public.
With the help of his wife, Zweifel made countless sketches and floor plans, the data filling more than 300 files.
But after JFK was assassinated in 1963, security became very tight and the project looked as if it would flounder. Through the Johnson and Nixon years, the only access to material that he had were released photographs. So Zweifel took White House tours -- so many he can't remember the number.
"I mentally photographed everything I saw, glancing at reflections through mirrors, hurrying back to a hotel to sketch them down," he said.
"The project was underway in Orlando and -- you asked about my own house -- well, we had used up all the garage space, and moved into the house. The living room and dining room became workshops.
"All six children were put to work -- even the 5-year-old was stringing tiny beads. The place was covered with sawdust."
When Ford became president, he opened the house once more to the Zweifels. They took thousands of photographs from every possible angle. A cooperative White House staff found leftover wood from previous furniture and old swatches of cloth and wallpaper. An expert woodcarver from the age of 6, Zweifel would carve 40 chair legs to come up with four perfect models.
Extension cords, ash trays, scratches on the floor, worn spots on the rugs, a small stain on the wall were duplicated.
Near completion in December 1975, the replica was presented to the Fords at a White House tree-lighting ceremony. It then went on display at the Kennedy Center before taking on tour.
"I still have to work eight hours a day at my regular work to have eight more hours to work on the White House," Zweifel said.
But after traveling more than 90,000 miles with a tractor and trailer and camper, Zweifel wants a permanent home for his display.
"I would like to lay it out with changing skys, and a diorama of the Oval room during the different presidents using live actors."
Turning back to his White House, Zweifel regarded the replica with affection, flicking a feather duster over a tiny area. "If only those walls could talk," he said.