Thrones Of Summer
Sit back and relax in a chair suitable for lazy days
By Tom Keyser
It's a chair with slats fanning out, leaning backward. Its seat is close to the ground, slanted lower in the back than in the front. And it's made entirely of hard wood.
How can this be comfortable?
Does it matter?
Adirondack chairs have come to represent leisure, vacation and doing nothing but sitting and enjoying a glorious day. In her book Adirondack Style, Ann O"Leary, owner of Evergreen House Interiors in Lake Placid, NY., calls them the "consummate thrones of summer."
The Adirondack chair has gained a status on par with hot dogs and apple pie, says Craig Gilborn, who served as director of the Adirondack Museum from 1972 to 1992 and wrote Adirondack Furniture and Rustic Tradition.
It's indisputably, unmistakably American," he says. "It's kind of an icon of outdoor suburban and country life that embodies a whole bunch of things: summertime, mowing grass, picnics, sitting and looking at sunsets on the lake."
The image of Adirondack chairs on porches and lakefronts has been seen so often in photographs, paintings and commercials that the term "Adirondack chair" has become a generic name for a particular piece of outdoor furniture, says Steve Maselli, majority owner of Old Adirondack , a furniture company in Willsboro, NY, in the Adirondacks.
It's gone from being a niche specialty in this region to mainstream chair mass-manufactured all over the world," he says. "It's reached the point that a majority of Adirondack chairs you buy in this country aren't manufactured here. Most of them come from Vietnam and China."
You can buy Adirondack chairs at most stores that sell furniture. You can order them at dozens of sites online.
They come as a traditional single chair, rockers, loungers, love seats, two chairs connected by a table, chairs with curved tops with pointed tops and in different colors - unfinished, white, black, dark green, dark red, blue. They're made of cedar, pine, plastic, teak,eucalyptus.
"There's a world of difference among Adirondack chairs in comfort, durability and longevity," says Michael Barber, owner of The Rustic Cottage, an Adirondack furniture store in Jeffersonville, NY.
"You can get an Adirondack chair for about $100, and you'll get a chair that will last one season. Or you can get an Adirondack chair for $200-plus and you'll get a chair that will last 20 to 30 years.
Fortunately, you can still buy Adirondack chairs in the Adirondacks. Maselli says that his Old Adirondack is the largest manufacturer of Adirondack furniture in the park, but craftsmen throughout the region continue making them.
Old Adirondack produced more than 12,500 pieces of furniture last year, and 20 percent to 30 percent were Adirondack chairs, Maselli says. They're made of cedar and priced $119 to $239.
And they come cloaked in mystery. Despite their familiar, angled design and mass popularity, the Adirondack chair has no date or place of birth, says Gilborn, the former museum director.
"The immaculate conception" is how he describes the chair's inception. "it just adds to their allure," he says.
The Adirondack chair may have evolved from the Westport chair, its origin established by patent in 1905. They're the same simple, classic shape, but the Westport featured planks-one piece of wood-for the back and seat, whereas the Adirondack chair featured slats.
A carpenter in Westport, N.Y., a town in the Adirondacks on Lake Champlain, secured the patent for the Westport chair after obtaining the design from a hunting buddy. The buddy, Thomas Lee, built the chair for the comfort of his large family at his Westport summer home.
"Both the Westport and Adirondack chair have raked backs and raked seats with wide arms. "Gilborn says. "The other has the name. It may have an Adirondack connection, but that has yet to be proved."
Next time you nestle your backside into an Adirondack chair, you can contemplate the mystery. You've got those wide arm rests for your wine or lemonade. You've go that distinctive design for level seating on uneven ground.