What is an Adirondack chair and why is it so popular?
The first one was created in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York in the early 1900s by someone who required:
The new seating forms had to be rugged and weather-ready to survive the harsh, cold, and snowy winters.
A new, unusual shape that did not wobble on the uneven and steep outdoor slopes.
They had to look like they belonged in the rustic, rural environment.
An All-American creation
You are reclining in your Adirondack chair, in Anywhere, USA. It’s a beautiful summer eve on the weekend. You are resting after a long, harried work week.
Several of your friends are comfortably seated similarly. All is well in your back yard, as you watch your kids playing with the black lab, all so happy let out after school and chores. Barbecue awaits!
As your hands rest on the firm, broad wooden armrests, holding a lovely thirst-quenching lemonade, you hardly consider what you are sitting on, how it is always there for you: sturdy, well-built, and good-looking. Just the best summer chair.
Okay, think back for a minute about it, because it has always served you well. Where did that helpful piece of furniture come from? Who had the good idea to design it?
The story of the Adirondack lounge chair
Well, it is as American as apple pie, or almost. It does come from the Adirondacks, of course. But if you are not from upstate New York, or visited there, it may take you a second to place the area.
Think of green and brown tall pine trees, on a ring of even taller mountain ranges not that far south of the Canadian border. And almost within hailing distance of Vermont to the east.
If you get there in the fall you will be blown away by nature’s stunning multicolor display: red, orange, gold of falling leaves.
This is lake country. Several lakes, But it was near Westport, in the country by Lake Champlain that the construction was done just after the turn of the twentieth century.
So the tale goes, Thomas Lee, a summer local who hailed from Massachusetts, was in need of a comfortable place to sit outside his little rural summer home.
He wanted something that was characteristic and appropriate for the region and made a bunch of different prototypes out of the same tree. His relatives gave the vote to the one that became his favorite.
This was very different compared with what was typically available at the time: stuffed fabric seats out of the Victorian age.
Thomas gave the first creation to a friend carpenter, Harry Bunnell, who developed the design, adding a footrest, under a patent as Westport Chairs. However, in the century since then, so many variants on the original were created by others that today there is quite a panorama of differences in materials and construction.
This led to the sorts that we sit in and write about today, almost ubiquitous in suburban and rural yards in the U.S.A. Not just in the mountains or lakesides, but in cities, gardens, and out to the beaches of the ocean coasts.
Why we love and buy this outdoor furniture
Folks, it is comfortable. It is sturdy: it won’t move on you and you won’t fall out of it. Also durable, it lasts.
- well made
It is nice looking and fits into many outdoor decor ideas for yards, from modern to urban to country.
Even though it is quite rustic in origin and basic shape, its frequent reincarnations over the years mean you can purchase it in fine woods, less expensive manmade simulations, as well as aluminum or plastic.
You name it, it will fit in with what you already have and plan to get for your personal scenery.
The inspiration of the mountains
The basic construction of these rustic country lounging pieces
We were surprised to realize that the original construction of the back piece was of a single solid wooden item. Since the longstanding image we have is of wide vertical slats comprising the tall rake back.
The seat is low, deep and slanted back leaving your knees higher. Assuming you are on flat land, that is.
There are essentially no separate back legs.
Apparently some of the reasoning behind the slant was positioning on the hillside! Also always a part of the show: those prominent comfy rests for your upper limbs.
Variations on the theme
Over the years, various makers have designed differently, although the basic idea of the Adirondack remains.
The center peak in the back is pretty uniform. But, then again, some are mildly curved rather than peaked.
Sometimes, though not frequently, you will note a back that is straight across along the top edge.
Look at how unusual: You can see unique variations. This one (pictured to the right) lacks the slotted back and has futuristic rounded wide arms. It does look nicely made.
We really adore when we see a rolled front seat, but that is not essential to the basic plan.
Some varieties we especially like. The several images in this post do show some of the wide spectra of what is available.
A grand variety of materials can be employed to make these. What you find or choose makes a difference in the looks and durability.
We must confess our eyes are always caught by beautiful workmanship.
Luxury hardwood creates elegant looking for a classical example.
Teak is one of your best choices. This wonderful wood is naturally weather-resistant so you can leave it outside. It does need maintenance.
But other hardwoods produce equally nice appearances as well.
Despite its endurance in inclement winters, we encourage placing it under a protective overhang. Or purchase a nice outdoor cover for your patio furniture.
This makes care easier and you can whip off the cover right away anytime you want to use it.
Quality faux wood
Frankly, we applaud the high-grade faux wood options. Doing so reduces your financial outlay somewhat and while still resulting in a handsome find on the veranda or in the garden.
HDPE (high-density polyethylene) such as the popular Polywood makes for a very good look. It is recognized for durability and lasts a long time. It is extremely easy to take care of. Ah, you can leave the furnishings outdoors as much as you want.
An additional attractive feature is a wide range of available colors, from natural to subtle and sophisticated to bright.
Economy outdoor materials
We may want to, but we can’t always go financially for the higher-end options. Luckily there are less expensive possibilities.
Pine or other softwood has been used for many years to construct seating arrangements. What you don’t want to do is to leave it unfinished. Be sure it is well-primed and painted.
And it is best to protect it from chronic weather damage by covering or storing it well protected.
Softwood does not wear as well in the long run but can have a nice appearance and be sturdy enough for average utility.
This can be a good option for your starter home or when renting your living space. You are watching the pennies or not sure how long you will be there. Unless you adore it, most people don’t want to move outdoor furniture. So chances are that you will leave it in place when you move on. Then you will be glad you did not outlay a lot of money on it.
You can also find one at a garage sale, and in that case, it’s a good find for your rustic home decor.
One advantage of this kind is having some fun in your painting effort with vibrant colors or loud designs. Get the kids involved to decorate on an early summer day or embellishing for the Fourth of July.
Inexpensive plastic for out on the patio
These are so welcome if you are on a budget because maybe you can’t afford several for your patio seating for friends. Even if affordability is not your issue, you may not want to put out the funds to purchase large numbers of the seats when you only now and then have a large bunch of guests over for an especially big party.
These (pictured below) show what fun a colorful array of chairs all lined up can look. But the mass-market ones often lack some of the unique expressions that make the piece so Adirondack: the seats are not so deep and there are distinct back legs like common chairs.
Don’t count on the comfort level or sturdiness of real or faux lumber.
But they can be really cute when you arrange a colorful lineup and are ok when a crowd is about to occupy the lawn.
They are lightweight, made for the mass market, and often manufactured out of a single plastic mold.
However, we do love this classical “rolled” front look to the seat in the picture sampled (above). To us, that is special and characteristic of the genre. However, you may or may not find this style done so well by all manufacturers.
The drawback mainly is durability; they start looking old after a couple of years or so. Also, unexpectedly, those bright fun colors can fade over time in constant sunlight and hot climates.
Fairly frequently you will encounter slight differences in the details. So look carefully at all aspects to determine which ones catch your eye.
A rolled front seat edge
One common thing to look for is the curved or rolled front seat edge (that we described earlier). If you like that it is very nice for your legs and back of your knees. For some folks, however, that is too exaggerated.
The back “legs”
The look of the “back legs”. Because of that interesting, unusual deep back slant of the seat, the seat board becomes or goes right into the back leg board in your basic Adirondack arrangement. (See image above.)
Sometimes there are decorative or functional variations on this look or feature that may attract your interest, or not.
Beginning with the original specifications, lots of changes have been made over the years to devise assorted related seating varieties: from lounges to rockers to twin seats.
We think none compare to the long-standing original chair itself. At any rate, they are enjoyable to look at and try out. One kind or another may meet your practical needs to outside home or deck living, too.
- built-in footrests
- loungers (for legs)
- large or king size
- kids sizes
Be sure to get a good look at what you are purchasing, and not buy just because the word “Adirondack” is on the product. We are seeing many seating arrangements that are labeled as such but are not even much of an approximation. Such as straight-backs, not slanted, not a deep seat, straight legs … well, they are some kind of chairs.
Make your own
Frankly, we are not up to this ourselves, having a couple of purple thumbs. But we do sincerely admire crafty types who go all the way with do-it-yourself (DIY) projects.
Even we untalented could enjoy this somewhat humorous, but realistic, video tutorial. He includes what he feels is a simplified version of a maker project with much fewer than the usual vast number of supplies, pieces of equipment, and instructions that make so many DIY endeavors really too difficult. It is engaging to watch even if you don’t actually get around to doing your own.
Adirondack furniture groups
These chairs work just fine by themselves, as well as in groups or lines of similar seating. They mix well with non-matching pieces of outdoor furniture.
However, you can also make up sets and arrangements with other matching findings. There are all sorts possible.
Most frequently made to match are ottomans or footstools. Of course, you need side tables. They will have slated tops and contoured legs that are similar to the seating.
There are even head and neck pillows and supports, back and seat cushions available! Hey, we think this may not be in the original rustic country spirit, but we love being comfortable too.
Before you go
We hope you’ve enjoyed our account of the history of the Adirondack chair, how it came into being, and the kinds you can actually get for yourself and your family. You’ll appreciate it when you get to sit in one at the beach or park or friend’s house.
Did you relate to the historical bits in this article? If so you may want to go to a post we have about the turn of the twentieth century for some general points about the era.