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How the Adirondack Chair Became the Comfiest One You Can Own

Adirondack chair
The Adirondack chair symbolizes comfort and relaxation and comes in all kinds of materials and colors to fit any lifestyle. Tim Graham/Tim Graham

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Explicitly designed for hours of lounging, the legendary Adirondack chair makes it almost impossible not to relax or even doze off completely once you've settled into its high back and reclining, backward sloping seat resting close to the ground. An added bonus: Extra-wide armrests are ideal for balancing drinks and small plates, while also having the added benefit of offering support for your back and bottom. So, where did this chair come from and why has it become so popular?

The Origins of the Adirondack

An outdoor staple today, these popular perches were originally invented by Massachusetts designer Thomas Lee in the early 1900s in the small Adirondack town of Westport, New York, on the shores of Lake Champlain. Lee, who had a summer home in Westport, wanted to come up with a chair that could handle the rugged terrain of the Adirondacks. The requirements: It had to be sturdy, balanced and comfortable on everything from sandy ground to a steep hill.

Lee eventually came up with what he considered the perfect chair — with wide armrests, a high back, and a slanted seat and back made from single pieces of wood — and then brought the design to his friend, Harry Bunnell, to craft in his local carpentry shop. Bunnell began building and selling the chairs to the surrounding community, and he soon noticed how popular they were. After modifying the design to make the chair a little narrower, Bunnell patented his Westport chair design in April 1904.

During the next 20 years or so, Bunnell went on to develop a successful Westport chair-making business, leaving his signature on each chair he made. The Westport chair began growing in popularity because of its durability and high comfort level, but as the years passed, the design began to change into the modern Adirondack chair we know today.

Both the Westport chair and the newer Adirondack chair feature extra-wide armrests, high back and slanted seats. The seat and back of the Adirondack chair, however, are made using multiple slats of lined-up wood, while the Westport chair was built from entire pieces of wood cut from a single, knot-free plank (which made the design more difficult to construct). Due to the popularity of the updated design and because the chair originated in the Adirondacks, it was widely known as the Adirondack chair.

In 1938, Irving Wolpin of New Jersey acquired a patent for another design change. Described as a "lawn chair," Wolpin's chair had the slanted seat and wide armrests of the Westport chair, was constructed out of smaller slats, but also featured a rounded back and contoured seat. Today, Wolpin's design is the most commonly replicated Adirondack chair.

Now one of the most popular and iconic lawn and beach chairs, the Adirondack chair exists in many forms, but each one is still inspired by the original Westport chair.

What's So Special About the Adirondack Chair?

"Adirondack chairs are a unique blend of art and function," says Brady Maller, executive vice president of strategy and sales for POLYWOOD Furniture, by email. An Indiana company that was the first to create outdoor furniture from recycled plastic materials back in 1990, the company now processes more than 400,000 milk jugs each day into their product, including their Adirondack chairs.

"Aesthetically, they are used as decor in many outdoor spaces, whether under an oak tree, on the front porch or facing the water at a vacation home," he says. "Functionally, they are a comfortable leisure chair that embodies peace and tranquility. Everyone wants to claim a little bit of rest and relaxation, and the Adirondack chair represents that, even if it's just in your backyard."

Los Angeles interior designer John Linden adds that Adirondack chairs are often more comfortable than other types of lawn chairs because of their contoured design, making them easier to recline in, as well as allowing for the use of extra cushions and pillows.

What is the Best Material for Adirondack Chairs?

When it comes to choosing the perfect Adirondack chair, there's plenty to consider. First and foremost is the type of material, which can be teak, aluminum, HDPE lumber or injection molded plastic. POLYWOOD breaks down the pros and cons of each material:

  • Teak: This one of the best woods for outdoor furniture because it weathers better than pine, oak, bamboo and wicker. It's completely resistant to wind, water and rust, and can stay outside all year-round. It's only available in one color, though, which is teak, and it can be difficult to maintain because it needs to be regularly rubbed down and treated to avoid silver patina.
  • Aluminum: While this lightweight, durable metal may not have the comfort and appearance you need, it's tough, resilient and easy to maintain. It can be left outside year-round because it's highly durable and completely resistant to water and rust; its lightweight construction, however, means it can be vulnerable to wind gusts. Like teak, aluminum only comes in one color, and may not look as good as some other materials, but it is also inexpensive.
  • High-density polyethylene (HDPE) lumber: This is a synthetic resin used to build solid, high-quality, durable outdoor furniture. Its cost is offset by the luxury, comfort and resilience it provides. Manufactured to last a lifetime, it stays looking great, is completely weather-resistant and durable, takes just minutes to maintain with a damp cloth and dish soap, and comes in a wide variety of colors. Medium weight, HDPE also is sturdy and wind resistant. HDPE is infinitely recyclable and is often made from recycled milk jugs.
  • Injection Molded Plastic: This is an inexpensive option for outdoor furniture, but it's not very comfortable or luxurious. It can, however, be a good option for temporary outdoor furniture or for use as spare chairs for when guests visit. Easy to maintain, needing just a damp cloth and dish soap, it can stay outside all year round because it's resistant to water and rust. It is very lightweight, though, so it's vulnerable to wind gusts. While available in a wide variety of colors, it can lose its appearance quickly, and will fade and take on stains and weathering quite easily.

The two most common materials for Adirondack chairs, depending on personal design preference and maintenance expectations? Wood and plastic lumber, according to Maller. "While the original Adirondack chair was a cedar wood plank design, the 1980s recycling movement and the birth of recycled plastic lumber has given consumers a wood alternative material for both long-term durability, and an array of low-maintenance colors," he says. "For the sustainable, eco-minded consumer, recycled plastic lumber provides a great choice."

What is The Most Comfortable Material for an Adirondack Chair?

Linden prefers teak wood because its comfort tends to make up for some of the restrictions of the material, while Maller believes that recycled plastic lumber offers the best comfort, complete with the strength and robustness of wood, but softer with built-in flex characteristics.

"Accessorizing goes a long way to making your Adirondack chair the most comfortable it can be," Maller adds. "We recommend an ottoman or footstool for your legs, so you can sink back and rest. Cushions and headrest pillows also are a great option, adding some padding to an already comfortable piece of furniture. You can even add side tables and other pieces to create a complete set of beautiful furniture."

Adirondack chair
A row of Adirondack chairs awaits visitors outside the Los Olivos General Store in Los Olivos, California.
George Rose/Getty Images

What about the colors? As stated previously, you'll be limited in your choice of colors and finishes if you opt for a teak or aluminum Adirondack chair. If you're going for injection molded plastic or HDPE lumber, however, you'll have plenty of choices. These materials are available in a wide variety of tones, from beautiful grays, browns, greens and other earthy colors, to vibrant hues of red, yellow, blue and more.

A modern look can be achieved by selecting black or white, while a sense of the natural can be brought in with brown or green.

How Much do Adirondack Chairs Cost?

"Adirondack chairs vary greatly in price, anywhere from $20 to $200," says Linden. "This is usually directly tied to the material you choose; the better the material, the longer the chair will last and the more comfortable it will be."

Why are they so expensive? Because not all Adirondack chairs are made equal, explains Maller. "Often, what looks like a more expensive option comes with generational no-hassle warranties, low maintenance and all-weather performance," he says. "These benefits, stretched over a lifetime, quickly become the best option as maintenance and replacement costs add up quickly on less expensive chairs."

How Long Do They Typically Last?

This depends on a variety of factors, including the type of material the chair is made of, how it is cared for and the environment in which it is placed. "In less-demanding outdoor environments, most materials can last, but require routine maintenance," says Maller. "Recycled plastic lumber is a low-maintenance option that will last for generations, even in the harshest environments, such as coastal living, which is notorious for corrosive salt air, or sunny climates where heat can be intense.

"Both the quality and type of material used are major factors in the care and maintenance necessary," he adds. "Wood often requires time-consuming annual refinishing to be maintained properly, while plastic lumber needs a nice spring soap and water bath, but otherwise is a maintenance-free generational product."

Adds Linden: "Adirondack chairs, especially teak or aluminum, can last a lifetime after purchase with proper care. Aluminum is relatively easy to care for, as it is water- and rust-resistant, while teak furniture requires occasional treatment to prevent wear and color loss."

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