Complete Adirondack Chair History: From Origins to Icon
Although not everyone knows Adirondack Chairs by name, most people can recognize their signature design. These comfortable chairs have been filling backyards and covering beaches for over a hundred years, and they are just as popular today as ever before.
In this post, let's find out what is an Adirondack chair, and explore the complete history of Adirondack chair, from its origin to an symbol of comfort and relaxtion as an iconic outdoor seat.
Table of Contents
- What Is An Adirondack Chair?
- Adirondack Chairs By Other Names
- Westport Chair vs Adirondack Chair vs Muskoka Chair
- The Complete Adirondack Chair History
- Why Was The Adirondack Chair So Successful?
- Fun Facts of Adirondack Chairs
- Adirondack Chairs FAQs
- All About Adirondacks
What Is An Adirondack Chair?
The Adirondack chair is a reclined outdoor lounge chair with wide armrests, a tall slatted back, and a seat that is higher in the front than the back. Its name references the Adirondack Mountains.
- The backrest is typically made of five to seven vertical wooden boards in a range of heights, with the tallest board in the middle. Many Adirondack seats curve into waterfall fronts, providing extra support for the backs of knees.
- The true characteristic that started it all is the sloped seat that holds the sitter slightly reclined, perfect for an afternoon on the patio or watching the sunset on a hill in the Northeast (or your preferred region). The “seat” is also the back leg support – it begins on the floor to form the legs and rises up at a slant to form the seat.
- The armrests are usually flat, wide boards, perpendicular to the front legs. The wide armrests are perfect for holding drinks or small bites.
- A complementing ottoman can be paired with this type of chair to offer comfort for your lower legs and feet. You can outfit these seats with cushions or headrests.
There are glider Adirondack chairs, rocking Adirondack chairs, swivel Adirondack chairs and more, allowing you to enjoy this seat in all your outdoor areas and to suit any garden aesthetic.
Across the world, the Adirondack Chair is associated with vacations, getaways, rejuvenation, nature, and relaxation. The beautiful design, and the supreme comfort of an Adirondack chair makes the perfect spot for spending a delightfully lazy day on a beach, in the mountains, or in your own private getaway. Likely spotted in back yards, on patios, balconies, or porches throughout North America, Adirondack chairs are a sturdy outdoor furnishing staple.
One of the standards of Adirondacks through the ages, though, is their sturdy construction. A well-built Adirondack is an heirloom that can last generations.
Even if you don’t know it by name, you’d probably recognize an Adirondack chair if you came across one. Its beauty is in its simplicity: slats of wood form both the back rest and slanted seat portions of a chair, with equally basic wooden planks serving as wide, unpretentious arm rests. Its short legs rest just a few inches off the ground.
A typical modern-day Adirondack chair. (Image: Greg Hume, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Adirondack Chairs By Other Names
What are the other names of Adirondack chair?
The Adirondack Chair actually has a few other names throughout the world.
- The design that we know today was named after the Adirondack mountain range in New York, possibly because this style of chair was prevalent in the health spas created for tuberculosis patients who came to the mountains for fresh air.
- The original design was the Westport plank chair or Westport chair, named after the city in New York where the design was created and patented.
- An Adirondack chair is also called the Lee-Bunnell chair, becasue Thomas Lee invented it and Harry Bunnell patented it.
- This chair is even simply called outdoor lounge chairs, becasue it is generally used in outdoor space for relaxing.
- Canadians might know the chair as the Muskoka chair, named after the beloved Muskoka cottage country that many Ontarians flock to every summer.
- In France, French-Canadians have another name for it still: Laurentian chair (chaise des Laurentides), named after a popular getaway region in Quebec.
Do you find the truth? Across the world, the Best Adirondack Chair is associated with vacations, getaways, rejuvenation, nature, and relaxation. The beautiful design, and the supreme comfort of an Adirondack chair makes the perfect spot for spending a delightfully lazy day on a beach, in the mountains, or in your own private getaway.
Westport Chair vs Adirondack Chair vs Muskoka Chair
Westport chairs, Muskoka chair and Adirondack chairs share similarities in their design, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. But there are some differences between them.
Westport Chair vs Adirondack Chair
Original Westport Chair:
- Origin: Westport chairs are often considered a variation or a regional style of Adirondack chairs. They are associated with Westport, a town in New York.
- Design: The Westport chair had a solid wood back. Thomas Lee’s original design employed a panel of solid wood to make up the backrest.
- Size: The Westport was larger. The Westport version was larger in size than what we now know as the Adirondack chair; Bunnell (the carpenter) is credited with trimming down its size.
- Material: Westport chairs are typically made from wood, aligning with the traditional craftsmanship associated with this style.
- Color: The Westport was an all-natural color. Although it may not have been the designer’s intention, the natural brown wood used for the original blended in beautifully with the scenery of the Adirondack Mountains. And even wore well through time. While natural wood variations can still be found today.
- Add-ons: There are no add-ons in Westport chair.
- Regional Variation: Westport chairs may exhibit regional design preferences, reflecting the local crafting traditions.
Today's Adirondack Chair:
- Origin: Adirondack chairs have a longer history and are named after the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York.
- Design: Today’s Adirondack uses several pieces of thinner wood to serve as the back of the chair, making it a bit more comfortable. The backrest slat count can range anywhere between five and ten.
- Size: Adirondack chairs are designed with varying sizes to accommodate different preferences. While the classic Adirondack chair remains popular, there are also options for more petite or larger frames. Some models even feature adjustable reclining positions for personalized comfort.
- Material: Adirondack chairs are made from various materials, including wood, plastic, metal, resin, composite and other weather-resistant materials.
- Color: Adirondack chairs are available in a spectrum of colors, offering a wide range of choices to suit various preferences and outdoor settings. From classic earthy tones like natural wood finishes, browns, and greens to vibrant hues such as blues, reds, and yellows, the color options are diverse. Some chairs even feature two-tone designs or patterns, allowing individuals to express their style and coordinate with their outdoor decor
- Add-ons: Cup holders, sophisticated headrests, foot extensions—the add-ons that you’ll come across in today’s Adirondack chair are endless.
- Popularity: Adirondack chairs have become an iconic symbol of outdoor leisure and are widely popular.
Adirondack Chair vs Muskoka Chair
What is the difference between a Muskoka chair and an Adirondack chair?
Many people wonder difference between Muskoka chair and Adirondack chair. The Muskoka chair and the Adirondack chair are very similar in design, and the terms are often used interchangeably. However, there are some regional and historical distinctions:
The Adirondack chair is named after the Adirondack Mountains in the state of New York, where it is believed to have originated. The Muskoka chair is named after the Muskoka region in Ontario, Canada.
Design Details: Adirondack chairs typically have a flatter back with a slightly more reclined angle, while Muskoka chairs often have a more curved back. Some argue that Muskoka chairs have a wider and more square-shaped seat compared to Adirondack chairs.
Regional Usage: Adirondack chairs are commonly associated with the northeastern United States. Muskoka chairs are popular in Canada, especially in cottage country and regions like Muskoka.
Cultural Perception: While the design differences are subtle, some people strongly associate one style with a certain region or cultural context.
The Adirondack chair originated in the early 1900s in Westport, New York, created by Thomas Lee.
The Muskoka chair, also known as the "Canadian Adirondack chair," shares its roots with the Adirondack chair but has a distinct regional association with Muskoka, a region in Ontario, Canada.
The classic Adirondack chair is known for its low-slung seat, high back, slanted position, and wide armrests. Adirondack chairs may have a more reclined backrest.
Muskoka chairs typically have a similar design to Adirondack chairs, featuring a slanted seat, high back, and wide armrests. While Muskoka chairs often feature a more upright position.
Adirondack chairs are commonly associated with the northeastern United States.
The Muskoka chair is closely associated with cottage country in Canada, particularly the Muskoka region, and is popular for lakeside relaxation.
The Adirondack chair is widely recognized and has become an iconic symbol of outdoor leisure and relaxation.
While less internationally recognized than the Adirondack chair, the Muskoka chair is a beloved symbol of Canadian outdoor living.
In summary, both the Adirondack chair and Muskoka chair share a common design heritage, but the Muskoka chair has regional roots in Canada, particularly in the Muskoka region. The differences are more in terms of regional association and recognition rather than substantial design distinctions.
The Complete Adirondack Chair History
The history of Adirondack chairs dates back to the early 20th century. Here is a timeline of the complete Adirondack chair history. Let’s dive in.
1903: Thomas Lee Designs the Westport Chair
It all started with Thomas Lee, a Massachusetts native whose family owned a vacation home in Westport, New York. This charming town is nestled along the shores of Lake Champlain and the surrounding Adirondack Mountains.
During one summer vacation in Westport, Lee wanted more comfort and durability than what was offered by their current Victorian furniture. He was on a mission to construct the perfect outdoor chair that will allow him to take in the sights of Lake Champlain, in all her glory. Regular chairs just weren’t cutting it on the frequent and steep slopes that gave the region its breathtaking views. Chairs with a “level” bottom left those who sat down pitching forward at an alarming angle and would make tipping over forward quite easy.
Lee starts creating prototypes of what will later be known as the Adirondack chair, using knot-free slabs of eastern hemlock - a type of pine tree abundant in that area. To perfect the design, Family members rigorously test each prototype, providing valuable feedback for improvements.
Finally, Lee’s creation came to life. Lee presents the final design featuring a low seat, high back, slanted position, and wide armrests.
Initially named the "Westport chair," it mirrored the natural contours of the Westport terrain. Notably, the design is distinguished by a seat and back made from single pieces of wood, a departure from the slatted versions we recognize today.
Photo Credit: Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Coyle, LL.B. 1943, Fund.Yale University Art Gallery
1905: Harry Bunnell Patents the Westport Chair
Harry Bunnell, a friend of Lee’s who owned a struggling carpentry business. Lee came from a wealthy family, so he had no desire to start a furniture-making company. After finalizing his design, he generously gifted it to Bunnell to build and sell.
Bunnell began making replicas and posting them for sale throughout the community. The chairs quickly became a hit, and Bunnell saw an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The Westport chair gains popularity locally and starts to become associated with leisure and outdoor comfort.
After refining the design to narrow it slightly, Bunnel patented the Westport chair in April 1905. Bunnell did add a footrest to the design from Lee’s prototype, but besides that, not much changed. Bunnell sold Westport chairs for the next 25 years, even stamping his patent number on the back.
A segment of the patent reads, “The object of this invention is a chair of the bungalow type adapted for use on porches, lawns, at camps, and also adapted to be converted into an invalids chair. A further object of the invention is to produce a strong durable chair adapted to withstand rough usage and exposure to the weather.” (Google Patents, US794777A – chair.).
1910s: Westport Chairs Double as “Cure Chairs” During Tuberculosis Epidemic
The tuberculosis epidemic was at its peak in the late 1890s, causing one in seven deaths globally (History of World TB Day, 2023). People fled overpopulated urban areas and took to the mountains in the hopes of recuperating in the fresh air. This notion stemmed from The Wilderness Cure written by Marc Cook, a New York office worker stricken with tuberculosis who recovered after a sojourn to the Adirondack Mountains (Judge Silber, 2021).
Patients taking part in the restorative mountain experience would bundle up in their furs and blankets and spend hours lounging in “cure chairs” outside their rented “cure cottages” or on “cure porches” attached to boarding houses. Cure chairs were first used by Dr. Peter Dettweiler at his sanatorium near Frankfurt, Germany. Dr. Lawson Brown, who brought the design to America, described the chair in his book Rules for Recovery from Pulmonary Tuberculosis: A Layman’s Handbook of Treatment as, “… a combination of a bed and chair, which makes sitting out for patients without much strength a pleasure.” (Brown, 1934).
Many capitalized on the opportunity and patented multiple convalescence chair designs, but the Adirondack chair—though created for comfort and not a cure—became a popular lounging spot for tuberculosis patients due to its shape. The wide armrests and slanted backs positioned patients in a way that allowed them to breathe easier. It was marketed as a seat fit for the sick and healthy, which was the main reason the design endured (Judge Silber, 2021).
Men rest on cure chairs on porch (Historic Saranac Lake Collection)
1938: Irving Wolpin Patents a More Modern Adirondack Chair Design
The rationale behind the Westport chair’s evolution into the current design was the challenge of mass-producing the furniture from a single piece of wood. Carpenters began tweaking the build to streamline manufacturing and make the chair easier to sell.
The next evolution of the chair that we know and love today came in 1938. An ambitious designer by the name of Irving Wolpin submitted a patent in the dark of winter from New Jersey. This chair, although very similar to the Westport chair, was slightly different. The “lawn chair or similar” as the patent named it featured the iconic slatted back made of many smaller packs vs. one large piece of wood.
Thus the modern design for the Adirondack chair was formed. Over the next few decades, many more designers put their own original spins on this new “lawn chair” design, improving the Westport chair. Eventually, this style of chair just began going by the region for which it was created, and the name Adirondack chair stuck.
Wolpin’s design is more or less what the Adirondack chair looks like today: a low chair made of multiple thin slats of wood featuring wide armrests, a contoured seat, and a high backrest (USD109239S – design for a lawn-chair or similar).
1950s: Adirondacks Become More Accessible Post-War
The demand for patio furniture increased after World War II as families grew and moved to the spacious suburbs. In addition to wood, wicker, and wrought iron, designers experimented with other materials, such as steel and plastic, to create affordable furniture that could be mass-produced. Rocking chairs, gliders, tables, and Adirondack chairs became even more accessible to American households (Smithsonian Institution, 2017).
1990: The First Adirondack is Built From Recycled Plastic
In the late 1980s, plastic pollution was on the rise. Two high school friends decided to put their heads together to try and find a way to reuse plastic and keep it out of landfills and waterways. Their solution: transform high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic into outdoor furniture. In 1990, the company Polywood started making Adirondack chairs from recycled plastic materials—which made them highly weather-resistant.
Today: Adirondack Chairs Seamlessly Blend Classic Charm with Modern Aesthetics
In the evolution of outdoor seating, today's Adirondack chairs seamlessly blend classic charm with modern aesthetics. While preserving the iconic slanted back, spacious armrests, and relaxed posture, contemporary versions introduce innovative materials, vibrant colors, and ergonomic enhancements. Whether crafted from traditional wood, durable plastic, or other weather-resistant materials, today's Adirondack chairs invite you to unwind in style. Embracing the spirit of relaxation and versatility, these chairs continue to redefine outdoor comfort, making them a cherished addition to any contemporary outdoor space.
Here is an image of Events of Adirondack Chair History.
Why Was The Adirondack Chair So Successful?
The Adirondack mountain range is located in Northern New York. It sees wet winters and can have dry summers. It’s rocky, windy, swampy, marshy and heavily forested. It has a harsh climate; it’s no place for the city slicker’s plastic backyard folding chair. Instead, it requires something a little more heavy-duty, like solid, weather-resistant wood.
There’s also another consideration to be made. For the most part, it’s safe to say that those who lived in the Adirondacks in the late 19th and early 20th centuries didn’t have day jobs in some shiny high-rise air-conditioned building. Instead, they spent their days working in the rugged terrain – and when they were ready to settle down in the evening, they were ready to settle down in the evening. In contrast to the flat-seated benches and chairs they were used to, the Adirondack chair simply delivered smarter comfort. Its built-in “recliner” (the sloping seat that rose from back to front) was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, and proved so comfortable, it became a roaring success (see The History of the Adirondack section above). It was serious lounging for serious workers – and a match made in heaven.
It was also practical. Wide armrests proved an easy place to set drinks and things. The arch of the backrest makes it comfortable (ergonomic, even!) on its own, no cushions or head support pillows required. Plus, the material it’s made can be left outdoors for years in a harsh climate with little or no upkeep – and all that will happen is that a natural ‘weathered finish’ will start to form. With stone benches and small wood table chairs being the only other alternative for lounge outdoor seating, it’s no wonder the Adirondack saw the success it did.
Fun Facts of Adirondack Chairs
Take in a few more titillating tidbits about the iconic outdoor seat.
- The Adirondack chair gets its name from the Adirondack Mountain range in upstate New York. One legend speculates that the name was chosen for the chair because guests of a convalescent home for tuberculosis patients in the Adirondack Mountains enjoyed sitting in the chair to take in the therapeutic fresh mountain air.
- In Canada, the Adirondack chair is called the “Muskoka chair,” named after the Muskoka region many Ontarians visit during summer vacations.
- The original Adirondack chair was made from wood, but modern-day styles are built from various materials, such as teak, aluminum, injection-molded plastic, and HDPE lumber.
- Many believed Bunnell stole the design from Lee, but there’s no evidence that Lee sought credit or profit after the patent was filed.
- The Adirondack chair is not just for lakeside cabins. Guess what? Even the big shots President Franklin D. Roosevelt found solace in this outdoor classic Adirondack chair, further elevating its status as a symbol of relaxation.
- Adirondack chairs are not ideal for conversation. It’s tough to lean forward with intensity as you engage in an intense discussion about. Maybe that’s the point. You’re not meant to engage in an intense discussion when you’re sitting in an Adirondack chair. You’re meant to relax.
- You've probably spotted Adirondack chairs stealing the scene in movies. They're like the A-listers of outdoor furniture, bringing those vibes of pure relaxation to the big screen.
Diane Lane and Viola Davis Seating on Adirondack Chairs in Nights in Rodanthe (2008)
Adirondack Rocking Chairs in the Film The Bridges of Madison County (1995)
These anecdotes not only add charm to the history of Adirondack chairs but also highlight their cultural significance and enduring appeal.
Adirondack Chairs FAQs
Here are several FAQs about Adirondack Chairs, including Adirondack Chair Basics, Historical and Naming Context, Design and Features and Popularity and Symbolism.
What is an Adirondack chair?
An Adirondack chair is an outdoor chair designed with a reclined seat, high back, slanted position, and wide armrests. It is known for its comfort and rustic aesthetic. They are often made of materials like wood, plastic, or metal. Originating in the early 1900s, Adirondack chairs are associated with relaxation, leisure, and outdoor comfort.
What makes a chair an Adirondack chair?
An Adirondack chair is a classic outdoor chair featuring a slanted backrest, wide armrests, and a low, comfortable seat. Its distinctive design and often wooden construction make it a favorite for outdoor relaxation, providing both style and comfort for lounging on patios, porches, or in garden settings.
What does Adirondack mean?
The meaning of “Adirondack” refers to a region in the north-eastern part of the United States. It is known for its vast wilderness, numerous lakes, and mountains, including the Adirondack Mountains. The term is often associated with the Adirondack Park, which is a large protected area encompassing forests, lakes, and outdoor recreational opportunities. Additionally, “Adirondack” is commonly used to describe Adirondack chairs, designed for relaxation in an outdoor setting.
What does Adirondack chair mean?
The term "Adirondack chair" refers to a style of outdoor chair characterized by a low-slung seat, high back, slanted position, and wide armrests. The name is derived from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.
What is Adirondack style?
Adirondack style generally refers to a rustic and outdoorsy design aesthetic inspired by the Adirondack Mountains. It often incorporates natural materials, earthy tones, and a connection to nature, influencing various aspects of design, including furniture, architecture, and decor.
How did the Adirondack chair get its name?
The chair’s name morphed because of its proximity to the Adirondack mountain range, which is more widely known than the small vacation town of Westport. People began referring to it as the “Adirondack chair,” and the name stuck.
Adirondack chairs where does the name derive?
What is the Adirondack chair name origin?
What is the origin of the Adirondack chair?
The name "Adirondack chair" is derived from the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, USA. The chair was originally designed in the early 1900s by Thomas Lee, who created the first prototype while on vacation in Westport, near the Adirondacks, around 1903. Initially, the design was referred to as the "Westport chair" due to its association with the town. However, as the chair gained popularity and became more widely recognized, the name transitioned to "Adirondack chair" to honor the mountainous region where it was first created.
Why are they called Adirondack chairs?Why are Adirondack chairs named that?
Adirondack chairs are named after the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. The origin of the name is attributed to Thomas Lee, the man credited with creating the prototype for this distinctive outdoor chair.
Why are Adirondack chairs named after the Adirondack Mountains?
Adirondack chairs are named after the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York, where they were originally designed. The connection to the region is attributed to Thomas Lee, who created the first prototype in Westport, near the Adirondacks, around 1903.
What mountain range shares a name with a well-known type of chair?
The Adirondack Mountains share their name with the well-known type of chair, the Adirondack chair. The Adirondack chair is named after the Adirondack Mountains in the northeastern part of the United States, particularly in the state of New York.
Why are Adirondack chairs shaped the way they are?
Adirondack chairs are shaped with a low-slung seat, high back, slanted position, and wide armrests for ergonomic comfort. The design is intended to provide a relaxing and supportive seating experience, allowing individuals to recline comfortably outdoors.
What came first Adirondack vs Muskoka Chair?
The Adirondack chair came first. It was created around 1903 by Thomas Lee in Westport, New York. The Muskoka chair, also known as the Canadian Adirondack chair, emerged later as a variation of the original design. Both share similar characteristics but have regional and stylistic distinctions.
What is the deal with Adirondack chairs?
The Adirondack chair was designed for comfort, featuring a high, wide, reclining back you can lean back in and rest against to read, nap, chat, toast marshmallows, listen to music, etc. The seat sits low to the ground and slopes backward, practically pulling you into a reclined position with a supportive back.
What makes the design of an Adirondack chair unique?
The Adirondack chair’s timeless and adaptable design distinguishes it from other patio furniture. Creative minds have harnessed its versatility over the years, creating styles and uses that fit varying needs and niches. The constant flow of ideas allows the chair to maintain its popularity.
What is so special about Adirondack chairs?
Adirondack chairs are special due to their simple yet beautiful design, featuring slats of wood for the backrest and seat, along with unpretentious armrests. Key features include ergonomic comfort, inspiration from the Adirondack Mountains, versatility in materials and styles, iconic aesthetics, symbolizing relaxation and leisure, rich heritage dating back to the early 1900s, adaptability with various styles, and timeless appeal that has made them a sought-after outdoor seating choice for over a century.
Why do people like Adirondack chairs so much?
People like Adirondack chairs because they’re comfortable, remind them of relaxation, and fit a variety of outdoor scenarios. Kicking back with a cold drink on the porch, lounging by the pool to watch your kids swim, or getting cozy around the fire with family—all these things can be done from the comfort of an Adirondack chair.
Why are Adirondack chairs so popular?
Adirondack chairs are so popular because they're just super comfy to kick back in. That deep seat and slanted back totally cradle and support you. Also the signature style stands out - love the wide arms and funky wood slats.
They're built to last outside too since they make 'em with weatherproof wood or plastic. You can get creative with fun colors but they always got that classic, rustic vibe going on.
They work anywhere - on your deck, patio, porch, by the fire pit. So versatile! And affordable compared to other outdoor chairs. Not to mention they've been around FOREVER. Over 100 years old! Started in the Adirondacks. Such an iconic American chair. Basically if you wanna relax outside in timeless comfort and style, Adirondacks are the way to go. No wonder they're so popular!
Adirondack chairs have gained enduring popularity due to their winning combination of comfort, aesthetics, and durability. Their ergonomic design offers a relaxed seating experience that appeals to those seeking outdoor leisure.
The classic and rustic look of Adirondack chairs seamlessly fits into various outdoor settings. Whether crafted from wood or plastic, these chairs are designed to withstand the elements. Their association with carefree outdoor moments further contribute to their status as an iconic symbol of relaxation and a sought-after outdoor seating choice.
What does an Adirondack chair symbolize?
An Adirondack chair symbolizes relaxation, leisure, and a connection to nature. It is often associated with scenic landscapes and outdoor enjoyment. With their sloped seats, tall fan-shaped backs, and wide armrests, these chairs seem specially designed for lounging lakeside or on a patio.
All About Adirondacks
Browse more resources dedicated to this outdoor icon.