American Style: The Adirondacks & Great Camps

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Here at BuildDirect, we’re celebrating the diversity of American architecture and design with a series called American Style.

From the Appalachians to the Hawaiian Islands, the USA encompasses so much that we thought we should explore our architectural roots. In this installment, we’re looking at what is sometimes jokingly called “Parkitecture,” but you know it best as the Adirondack style.


The pioneering origins

The Adirondack Mountains are just north of the Catskills in Upstate New York. “Rugged” is the right word for this part of the world.

All part of the great Appalachian Mountain Range, this was a massive geographical roadblock for early British expansion in America. Imagine the conditions 300 years ago; endless forest, intimidating mountains, crippling undergrowth, not to mention the myriad waterways.

The push west would take more than a century. As Hendricks Architecture explains:

“Until the late 1800’s, most of the Adirondacks were a rugged wilderness that few dared to venture into. As transportation routes slowly became established later in the 19th century, wealthy city dwellers started taking extended vacations there to recreate and escape from unhealthy urban environments. Early Adirondack accommodations were primitive at best, and as the demand increased more civilized shelters started appearing. The remoteness of the Adirondacks necessitated the use of indigenous materials for building, and abundant supplies of timber and stone made them the obvious choice. Sawmills and sophisticated fasteners were rare, so whole or half logs in easy to handle sizes and creative joinery became a part of the building process out of necessity.”

A look is born

Once the Adirondacks grew in popularity with the vacationing city-slickers, all bets were off. Gone were the primitive builds and the lean-to shanties. In came architects and resort-builders. The Great Camps of Upstate New York had arrived. By 1875, some 200 hotels had been built.

A cohesive look soon evolved that was heavily influenced by the British Arts-and-Crafts Movement, the American Craftsman style, and even traditional Swiss Alp Chalet design, with many builds combining the three styles to great effect, resulting in the iconic look we now love.

It was as much a love-letter to the area as a keeping-practical ethos that dictated the using of locally-found building materials, like stone and wood, and keeping it natural in finish and feel.


The “Adirondack Style” included all things rustic: exposed beams, whole logs, stone fireplaces, elaborate use of branches and twigs, big love for antlers and taxidermy, birch bark accents, wood-plank walls, and so much more.

Why we love it

There’s a pioneering feel to the Adirondack style. It’s honest, unpretentious, and creative. Like the Pueblo style of the desert and the mesa, Adirondack is a look that is meant to be of the land it is on.

If you’re trying to get away from the bustle of the city, there’s no better way to celebrate nature and a slower, simpler time. Log cabins have been built in America since 1638, but the form dates back as far as 3500 BC in Scandinavia. Log cabins, then, are as much a part of our collective DNA as age-old activities like cooking over fire and hunting for food.

For some of us, just being surrounded by a natural building, such as those in the Adirondack style, feels a little like coming home.

What makes it special

If you love wood, there’s pretty much no other architectural style that exalts the natural beauty of trees more than an Adirondack build. It’s not uncommon to leave birch logs whole with bark intact and feature them prominently in the design. But even stripped branches, twigs, and logs have a warmth and beauty that processed wood sometimes can’t match.

The knobs and knots, twists and turns found in natural wood is celebrated and highlighted in the Adirondacks, all adding to the rustic, rugged feel.


Color often does enter its palette, but natural tones of creams and whites and earthy shades seem most at home in the Adirondacks. Plaids, though, are big in these woods. Other usual suspects include woolen blankets, rustic curtains, large comfy sofas and chairs, wooden furniture, and natural accents of all kinds work too — from mounted antlers to naturalist artwork of wildlife and insects.

The enduring legacy

The Adirondack style has spread far and wide. You’ll find the famed Adirondack chair around the world now. The Adirondack branch fence or rail is something found in crafty yards all over North America. The rustic feel is found in this “Mountain Architecture” throughout North America today, and with good reason.

The best place to find it, though, remains where it was born. These days, a number of the “Great Camps” that birthed the Adirondack Style can be found on the National Register. These include Camp Topridge, Camp Pine Knot, Camp Eagle Island, Sagamore Lodge, and the sprawling Santonini Preserve.


The Adirondacks’ pioneering roots melded with its imported influences makes this architecture a perfect example of the melting pot of America that we feel is true American Style. It’s hard not to love how the very different styles found in Arts-and-Crafts, Craftsman, and Chalets of the Swiss Alps can collide and create a new look that is wonderfully and quintessentially American.

For all these reasons, we think Adirondack is as “American Style” as it gets.


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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.