Slide Show

Adirondack Days

The classic American chair lets us lean back into a comfortable summer.

By Kristin Belz July 28, 2012 Published in the July 2012 issue of Portland Monthly

Summer outdoor chairs are made for lounging, for lazing, and for making memories in. One that probably lives somewhere in the memory of most of us is the Adirondack chair. It’s the iconic, modest, wood-planked, steeply-angled chair that was first built more than 100 years ago in the small town of Westport, New York, along the banks of Lake Champlain.

That chair was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903; he wanted some porch furniture, and tested out prototypes on his large family at their summer cottage. His simple wooden chair has gone on to inspire countless variations, imitations and offspring. It’s also had a name change. Originally known as the Westport Plank chair, by now it’s long been called the Adirondack chair, named after the East Coast mountain range a few miles from Westport.

The essential characteristics of the Adirondack chair, however, are the same now as they were in 1903: steeply-angled back and seat (the better to sit, stable and even, on a sloping site) and broad, ample armrests (excellent for setting a drink or plate on, or resting arms on, or even sitting on). Even the modern, inexpensive plastic versions (available for barely more than $20) retain those qualities.

Otherwise, today’s Adirondack chairs sport a number of changes and sometimes fussy additions to the classic, simple original. But those variations probably say something about the resilience and versatility of the design. Even in its early incarnations, the chair morphed. Lee designed and constructed the first models, but passed the drawings on to a carpenter friend of his, Harry Bunnell. From that point on, the chair has survived and thrived.

Check out the slide show to see the origin and evolution of the Adirondack chair and read more about its history.

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