Imagine yourself on vacation, in a picturesque setting. What do you see: a drink in your hand, a friend by your side? Where are you guys sitting, though? A big part of a good getaway is being able to relax. So, we’re guessing you don’t envision yourselves spending much time upright in a stuffy sitting room while you’re treating yourself to a break. Comfort is one good reason why lots of people associate Adirondack chairs with vacations, summers, get-togethers, you know, basically all the good times in life.
This deep seating option is characterized by both a flat seat and flat back, as well as wide armrests that are parallel to the ground, and is traditionally made out of wooden slats. It comes as no surprise to us that this chair is now associated with relaxing in the great outdoors, considering it was designed by a man who was on a mission to create comfortable seating for his family’s vacation house in Westport, New York. Most historians agree that Thomas Lee, a Massachusetts man, is the originator of this chair style.
We can’t say that we blame Lee for making his own furniture, considering that he began experimenting with his design at the turn of the 20th century. During this time, many homes and lawns were still filled with Victorian era pieces, which were typically crafted with a focus on ornamentation, rather than comfort (hence our earlier reference to stuffy sitting rooms). After all, Lee’s vacation home was situated in the Adirondack Park near Lake Champlain, and he truly valued the natural beauty that surrounded him there. Plus, he found the local lifestyle to be refreshing and laidback, so he figured his home’s furniture ought to reflect that.
Lee’s original Adirondack chair more or less falls under the Craftsman style of furniture that was reaching its peak of popularity at the same time that the Victorian style was fading away. Some even claim that Lee took a little too much inspiration from the William Morris chair, a Craftsman classic, when designing his own. Shockingly, the controversy around this piece of furniture doesn’t end there. Whoever would have thought that chairs could be so scandalous?
The story goes that Lee was actually not the one who patented the chair. Once he had made a few different versions of the product, made his family try them all out, and settled on the features they all deemed to be best, Lee gave the final design to his friend, Harry Bunnell. You see, Lee was a Harvard man from a wealthy family who had accomplished his simple mission of making the perfect outdoor chair for his vacation spot. Bunnell, however, was a struggling carpenter who was in need of a winter income.
The juicy bit is that Bunnell was the one to get a U.S. patent on the design in 1905, not Lee. He then cranked out replicas for decades out of hemlock plant. He called them Westport chairs and carved the patent number onto the back of each one. This definitely solved his winter income problem!
Some people retell this with the implication that Bunnell essentially stole the design from Lee, but in reality, the situation was probably not that dramatic. There is no record of Lee ever trying to patent a design himself, or of him trying to reprimand his friend in an official manner. Really, Lee didn’t need the money, but he knew his friend did and was probably happy to help.
Fast forward to 1938, when another man, named Irving Wolpin, patented a chair quite similar to the Westport. This newer version featured more contours on the seat and back, much like the modern version we see a lot of to this day. Wolpin is also credited for officially naming them Adirondack chairs. Fun fact: in Canada, their called Muskoka chairs, because they are most popular in the Muskoka region of that country.
Out of all the different leading men in this story, probably none of them had any idea that their designs would still be so popular over a hundred years from when Lee first started his experiment. It’s true that the Adirondack chair has evolved, but it honestly might be more prevalent now than ever before. The modern versions are not only made from wood; some are even made from hard impact polymers.
Although, many people still consider wood to be the best option, specifically teak, which will last a long time because it weathers well. Plywood and pine are also commonly used but are not the best choices for outdoor furniture. There is even something to be said for the plastic versions that can easily be carried around a lawn and quickly wiped dry after a rainstorm. Plus, Adirondack chairs come in a wide variety of fun colors now! Some even have built-in cup holders!
Here at Open Air Furnishings, we’re well aware of the enduring love of Adirondack chairs. That’s why we provide the options of both the Kingsley Bate version (which are made from solid teak and have brass hardware) and the Berlin Garden version (which are made from recycled high-grade poly lumber) to our clients. Whether you’re taking a ski break back at the resort, catching up on your reading while on a tropical vacation, or hanging out in your own backyard, Adirondack chairs are amazing! If you think they might be the right fit for your space, please do not hesitate to contact us about contracting some.