When you imagine owning a house along a shore, whether it’s in the Hamptons, San Juan Islands, or along the shores of Lake Superior, what do you imagine yourself sitting in? More than likely you imagine sitting in an Adirondack chair. Known for being a simple chair made from wood, Adirondack chairs are the best of the best when it comes to outdoor furniture.
They’re perfectly contoured with their sloped seat and back. Combine that with their wide arm rests, and you could sit in them for hours as you enjoy the sound of crashing waves. Plus, they’re comfortable without worrying about cushions that might blow away with a strong wind.
Where Did Adirondack Chairs Come From?
The first Adirondack chair came out of time when people were looking for plain furniture. It was back in 1903 when the first chair was made, when Craftsman-style furniture was growing in popularity and consumers were looking for simpler furniture that was sturdy and functional — the opposite of the ornate furniture popular during Victorian times.
It was during this period that Thomas Lee was in Westport, New York, at his vacation home on the shores of Lake Champlain near the Adirondack Mountains. He wanted furniture that he could use to enjoy the outdoors. Unfortunately, there’s no official version of the story to go on, so the details have to be conjectured from the many versions.
But the basics are that he made several different chairs and had his family try them out and tell him what they liked best. The end result was a chair with one piece of wood for the back, a sloped seat, and overall was very comfortable — a precursor that directly led to what is now dubbed the Adirondack chair. This style of chair was chosen by his family because of its comfort and wide arm rests that were wide enough to hold a drink. It also had to be sturdy enough to be placed on sloping terrain, which was common for that area.
How Did the Adirondack Chair Grow in Popularity?
While out hunting one day with his friend, Harry Bunnell, Bunnell told Lee about needing work. Bunnell was a carpenter who was down on his luck and needed something to get him through the winter off-season. Lee told Bunnell about his chair and how so many seemed to like it. He offered to lend one of them to Bunnell, so he could make some copies of it to sell. After adjusting the design slightly, which included a foot rest and storage area, Bunnell decided to register a patent for the chair (No. 794,777) in 1904 claiming in the patent that the design was his own.
It’s unclear what Lee thought about this. All that is known is there’s no evidence that Lee tried to repute this claim or contest the authenticity of the patent. Bunnell continued to produce and sell the chair, calling it a “Westport Chair,” for the next 25 years.
Adirondack Chairs Today
In the last century, the popularity of Adirondack chairs has not faded. If anything, they’re more popular today than they’ve ever been, and there are many variations of the style. Though the original Westport Chair used a single plank of hemlock for the back of the chair, nowadays it’s much more common to see three to seven slats. This makes it more economical to produce while still providing comfort.
This style also comes in many types of material. Today, Adirondack chairs are made from the traditional hemlock, pine, and Polywood. Polywood is an all-weather material made of recycled plastic milk jugs.
There are many other styles of chairs that are similar to Adirondack chairs, that have just slightly altered designs. One of these is the Adirondack rocking chair, which still has the sloping seat and wide arm rests, but has rockers on the bottom, so you can rock while you relax. There are even Adirondack gliders if you prefer gliding to rocking.
Other Adirondack Furniture
Though Adirondack is not a full design movement, there are definitely other furniture pieces that are made to fit well with an Adirondack chair. If you are interested in sometimes putting your feet up, but not always, there are chairs that come with a footstool that is separate from the chair. Pull it up when you want to relax your feet or push it aside when you want to sit up to chat with friends.
Matching tables are also commonly produced that are of a similar style and color. Though the chairs have a wider arm rest made for drinks, sometimes it’s nice to have a small table nearby to rest food or lay down a book. If you don’t want to worry about knocking over a drink, some Adirondack chairs have built-in cup holders.
If you want to have chairs that fit in with your other patio furniture, but they need to be higher, you’ll find Adirondack bar stools that fit right in. There are even outdoor dining chairs made to match this style. Or choose an Adirondack chair made for two if you want something for couples to cuddle on outdoors.
For a little extra luxury removeable seat cushions can also be added to an Adirondack chair.
What to Buy
When you’re looking for what Adirondack chairs you should buy, there are many materials you can choose from. Since the chairs will live outdoors — at least in the summer — look for chairs made of durable materials. If you choose a chair made of wood, teak is a great option because it’s durable and weather resistant. Cedar is another great option, which is why so many decks are made of cedar. In addition to enduring rain and other weather, cedar is a natural insect repellent. Other good wood options include cypress, pine, and mahogany.
When it comes to outdoor furniture, there’s nothing more iconic than Adirondack chairs. Just make sure to invest in high quality materials that will look great for years to come.