Whether you know this distinctive style of chair as an Adirondack, cottage, or Muskoka, the comfort and popularity is unmistakable. There are many stories about the Adirondack chair came to be and the name has become part of the popular lexicon. Found under a variety of different names, the Adirondack chair is an American classic in outdoor furniture design. Beyond mere chairs, an entire genre of outdoor and patio furniture has sprung up from this single design.
The Adirondack chair is a perfect example of how a simple idea can spawn an entire industry centered around outdoor living. The casual and outdoor furniture industry has exploded over the past two decades in to a five billion dollar industry. Outdoor decks, patios, and sunrooms have become standard amenities in many American homes. Americans have embraced the notion that one should be as comfortable outside the house as inside.
The consensus among most folks is that the original Adirondack design was developed during the early nineteen hundreds. The legend around the invention of the plank chair is said to begin in Westport, New York. Thomas Lee is said to have designed the chair from a single plank of wood. The name plank chair was used to describe the original design. Even today, the basic design of the Adirondack chair has not changed very much. Wood planks are arranged to form a chair back, seat, and the wide arms that are characteristic of this unique and timeless style.
Taking his chair to a local carpenter, Lee commissioned more chairs for his summer home. The carpenter, one Harry Bunnell, reportedly took the design as his own and patented the design himself. This was unfortunate for Lee, since Brunnell did not bother to include Lee in his newfound success. Brunnell marketed the design as the Westport chair and, as the patent application stated, the object of this invention is a chair of the bungalow type adapted for use on porches, lawns and at camps and also adapted to be converted into an invalid's chair.
Using hemlock as a signature material, Brunnell sold his Westport chairs for twenty years or so. The original, patented design called for using eleven pieces of wood. The depth of the seating surface and extra wide arms have remained standard features of most cottage chairs built since the original chair became available. Since then, the Adirondack chair has become reflective of seating comfort and outdoor relaxation.
The Muskoka chair is thought to be a replication of the original Adirondack chair since no one has come forward to take credit. Muskoka is a region of Ontario, Canada known for its lakes and relaxing environment. Geographically close to upstate New York, it is likely that the design for the Adirondack chair found its way north to Canada.
Since the creation of the original design, the cottage chair has undergone many changes. Woodworkers and carpenters the world over have taken the basic design as their own. The original eleven pieces of wood has grown depending on the complexity of the individual design. The central feature of the cottage chair is the angle at which one sits. The back of the chair is usually high and the seating area is long and deep. The short legs keep one close to the ground.
As with any furniture design, craftspeople have pushed the envelope. From basic pinewood, Adirondack chairs are made from many species of wood. Teak is long lasting hardwood that holds up well under many environmental conditions. Other hardwoods like mahogany and hemlock develop a beautiful patina without the need for stains, paints, and varnishes.
Any design enhancements beyond the basic configuration are up to the maker. A popular accessory to the basic Adirondack chair is a wood ottoman. As a functional extension of the chair, the ottoman allows you to stretch out in a position that is quite comfortable. An interesting design improvement can be seen at the front edge of the seat. Many builders have created a waterfall roll, replacing the sharp edge of many older designs. Some designers have come up with innovations like the folding Adirondack chair that make storing and transporting your Adirondack chairs easier.
Like other popular pieces of wood furniture, the relative simplicity of the Adirondack chair makes it a perfect project for do it yourself woodworker. For those folks who like to work with wood, there are dozens, possibly hundreds of plans that can be purchased. If you are up to the challenge, building your own Adirondack chairs can be rewarding. For the novice woodworker, the chair is easy to build and requires only basic woodworking tools. Since your chairs will spend a great deal of time outdoors, the choice of materials is very important.
From the basic chair, other outdoor furniture pieces have been introduced. Folks can purchase an entire set of chairs and tables that compliment the basic design. Settees or twin seat Adirondack chairs are perfect for spending a cozy afternoon with that special someone. Matching accessories like side tables, ottomans, and chair pads can make spending time outdoors a real pleasure.
When purchasing an Adirondack chair there are some important things to look for beyond just the price. Some manufacturers offer chairs made plastic which is formulated using a great deal of recycled materials. There are less expensive plastic chairs made from virgin materials. Avoid chairs that are made with pressure treated wood as some pressure treated wood still contains potentially hazardous levels of arsenic. The best choices are chairs made from naturally weather resistant woods like redwood, cedar, and teak.