Local Style and Manly Hands at Home: The Adirondack Chair

IMG_1870Talk about your manly hands at home! A regular guy was looking for a way to provide vacation relaxation for his family and he created a chair that has become a style icon!

The story goes that, in 1903, Thomas Lee was vacationing with his family in Westport, NY, a small town on Lake Champlain and in the Adirondack Mountains. His family needed outdoor chairs, in order to better enjoy the scenery, so Lee built them some. He experimented with designs, enlisting his family as testers, until he arrived at this:

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That chair, made of wide planks of wood, became known as the Westport chair, which is generally believed to be the precursor of locally-ubiquitous Adirondack chair.

photo by Michael Pekovich

photo by Michael Pekovich

The Adirondack chair is an icon of a place, as associated with my home region as wrought iron is associated with New Orleans or the saltbox house is with New England.

The elements that define the chair are a sharply-raked seat, a high back, and wide and flat arms. While the Westport chair was made of wide planks of wood, often hemlock, the Adirondack chair is made of slats, perhaps because those wide planks were harder to come by.

The slatted Adirondack-style has been around at least since the 1930s, when some of the style variations were patented.

The unusual raked seat of the chairs is said to be specifically designed for use on steep hills, so the chair would be stable and sitter would be comfortable looking down the mountain or hill toward the view.

The wide arms were perfect for those vacation necessities–a cold drink and a book.

The traditional colors were the hues of the outdoorsy setting—medium reddish-brown and dark green, though some chairs were left unpainted to weather attractively to grayish-brown.

In my experience, the chairs are only okay for sitting in—they are kind of hard and those slats are not easy on one’s posterior. The raked seat makes it hard to get out of the chair, especially when it’s set on flat ground.

And, yet, we love them. We all have them, whether in the traditional wood in subdued colors or plastic in colors of the rainbow. You can find the style translated as rocking chairs, love seats, even lifeguard chairs. And, of course, they can still be made by loving hands at home:
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As regular visitors know, I like Adirondack chairs best as photo props, to serve as a focal point and evoke the “summer in the North Country” vibe I hold so dear. In fact, when my sister decided she wanted a photo series of her daughter at “camp,” one photo a year for the first 18 years, an Adirondack chair became the item that always appeared with the child.

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The Adirondack chair has moved beyond the Adirondacks and can be found in summer homes, lodges, and outdoorsy settings all across the United States.

Has this style come to your part of the world?

Now, as we all know, standing up while viewing a summer sunset is nice, but watching that sunset while comfortably seated with a cocktail at hand is always nicer.

Orvis