ISSUE 26  |  Block Party

Object Lessons: The Adirondack Chair

July 01, 2014 1:00 PM

BY Megan Wilson

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A mountainous region in northern New York State, the Adirondacks were the final frontier for American explorers and vacationers. It wasn’t until a popular guidebook called Adventures in the Wilderness; or, Camp-Life in the Adirondacks was published in 1869 that people decided to go and have a look en masse. And though the book was intended for fishermen and deer hunters (who were advised to bring “stout pantaloons, vest, and coat”), the area soon became popular with the extremely wealthy. Their rustic Great Camps, with bowling alleys and cable lines to the New York Stock Exchange, made fanciful use of the local spruce, stone, and birch–and created an architectural style that was the unlikely offspring of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris, and the Swiss chalet.

The Adirondack chair came next, and went on to have surprising staying power. In 1903, Thomas Lee, who had a summer house in Westport, New York, in the Lake Champlain area of the Adirondacks, was in want of a comfortable perch that, when positioned on the side of a mountain, would keep the body somewhat upright. He fancied a chair that would allow him to enjoy the view while balancing a drink or a book on the armrest. After some trial and error, he came up with a design made from 11 planks of hemlock and detailed with a sloping back, an upward tilting seat, and enormously wide armrests. Anticipating Bauhaus in its simplicity, the Adirondack chair went on to be modified over the years, including by Lee’s ersatz friend Harry Bunnell, who borrowed the original, added his own touch, and obtained a patent on the sly, calling the design the Westport Plank Chair. The chairs now come in a multitude of styles, all recognized as Adirondack. Here are some examples:

Above: Various styles of Adirondack chairs on Cream Hill Lake in Connecticut. Photo by Megan Wilson for Remodelista.

Above: When Middlebury College was looking for sturdy, accommodating perches for readers, artists, and writers attending their summer Bread Loaf program, they commissioned a special edition Westport Adirondack Chair from Jardinique.

Above: Mill Valley-based Guideboat Co. owner Stephen Williamson (the founder of Restoration Hardware) is a fan of the Westport Adirondack chair; see more at Shopper’s Diary: Merchant Marine (he tells us he is going to offer the chairs in the near future; fingers crossed).

Five to Buy

Above: The Spruce Point Inn in Maine offers the hotel’s cypress Westport Adirondack Chairs in a ready-to-assemble kit for $495. A child-sized version is available for $349.

Above: Loll Design’s modification of the original Adirondack Chair is made of 100 percent recycled plastic. The two-slat Emmet Lounge Chair was designed for Room and Board and is available for $399. A three-slat version is available in a variety of colors for $550 at Design Within Reach.

Above: We like the streamlined look of the gray wood Adirondack Chair; $129.99 at World Market.

Above: What we now consider the classic Adirondack Chair is constructed with many slats and a rounded top. This version, $199 at L.L. Bean, is foldable for off-season storage.

Above: Adirondack Chairs cope admirably on sloping land at the Driftwood Hotel in Cornwall, England; £285 at Adirondack Outdoors. Photograph by Crick & Co.

For more options, browse our Outdoor Furniture gallery, and see Gardenista’s roundup of Modern Adirondack Chairs.

Object Lessons columnist Megan Wilson is the owner of Ancient Industries and curator of the Remodelista 100 presented in the Remodelista book. Watch for her column every Tuesday, and have a look at her past lessons on the Butterfly Chair,  Eames Lounge, and Nautical Hammock.