The Adirondack chair was invented between 1900 and 1903, and was first used as a ‘cure chair’ for TB patients in Upstate New York. Today, it’s a popular outdoor reclining chair known for its slanted back and seat and wide armrests.
In this chair guide, we explain what an Adirondack chair is, its century-long history, and what makes it unique.
Why Is It Called The Adirondack Chair?
The Adirondack chair is named after the Adirondack Mountains located in Upstate New York.
The chair was first made in Westport, New York. This is a small town close to the Adirondack mountains.
As the chair became popular beyond Westport, some retailers called it the Adirondack chair, referencing the chair’s birthplace.
Other common names that also refer to the Adirondack chair or a close variation include the Westport chair and the Muskoka chair (popular in Canada).
Who Invented The Adirondack Chair?
Believe it or not, the Adirondack chair owes its popularity to tuberculosis, a once deadly disease without cure. Here’s a quick historical rundown.
Thomas Lee was the first person to craft an Adirondack chair.
Between the years of 1900 and 1903 he set about making an outdoor chair that was simple yet comfortable for his family to lounge on in their Westport summer home.
You can see this simple yet functional design even in modern Adirondack chairs.
Lee’s eventual design featured a single wide plank at the back, a sloping seat and extra-wide armrests placed at chest level.
He made a few chairs for family and friends, but it was his hunting buddy, Harry C. Bunnell, who got a patent for the Adirondack chair.
Harry borrowed the chair’s design from Lee, made a few tweaks, and applied for a patent.
The Adirondack chair quickly became popular among people coming to seek relief from TB in the fresh air of the Adirondack mountains.
The Westport chair, as it was first called, was a common sight in Sanitariums, healing cottages found in the mountains where TB patients came to recuperate.
The chair’s high armrests were especially ideal for TB patients as it forced the chest to open wider and made it easier to breathe.
The Westport chair soon became popular even among the healthy and it spread wide beyond Westport and New York.
The common modern design with fan-shaped slats (rather than a single plank) on the backrest came about in 1938. It was patented by Irving Wolpin.
Why Are Adirondack Chairs So Comfortable?
Regardless of the type of Adirondack chair you come across, they all share the same classic design with wide armrests, a pitched bottom and a canted back.
That’s because this contoured design is the secret to the Adirondack chair’s comfort. It allows you to sit in a relaxed reclining position.
The wide armrests provide generous space to rest your arms, and even place a drink while you enjoy the outdoors.
Adirondack chairs are also easy to use with cushions, making them even more comfortable.
That said, the design of Adirondack chairs has a few drawbacks. The most notable one is that many seniors find it difficult to get up from the chair.
The low profile of the Adirondack chair and the slanted bottom and back make it harder to get up from the chair.
Another drawback is that Adirondack chairs offer just one sitting position. You can only recline in the chair.
That may feel relaxing for a while, but you may want to sit up straight after some time. An Adirondack chair doesn’t have that option.
That’s why these chairs are mostly used for reclining outdoors in the garden, pool deck and patio. Using it indoors would be uncomfortable.
What Are Adirondack Chairs Made Of?
The first Adirondack chairs were made from wood like teak, redwood or cedar.
Even today, there are still plenty of wood Adirondack chairs, usually made from teak because it offers the best weather resistance.
But wood Adirondack chairs require regular maintenance when left outdoors all year round. This created a need for alternative materials.
A large number of Adirondack chairs today are plastic. Not only is plastic low maintenance and impervious to weather, plastic Adirondack chairs are also cheap to mass produce.
Plastic Adirondack chairs are made either through injection molding or with plastic lumber (what’s also called poly or HDPE lumber).
Poly lumber Adirondack chairs are pricier but they look better, they are stronger and they are more durable.
Here’s a video explaining the process of making plastic Adirondack chairs using poly lumber.
In addition to wood and plastic, Adirondack chairs can also be made from aluminum.
Aluminum Adirondack chairs are durable, lightweight and resistant to rust and corrosion.
What Are The Different Types Of Adirondack Chairs?
As Adirondack chairs became ubiquitous in backyards and patios, furniture manufacturers and craftspeople created a wide range of variations from the original design.
All Adirondack chairs still retain the signature reclining design, but you can find them in all sorts of styles and with different features.
Here are some of the different types of Adirondack chairs we’ve come across.
- Folding Adirondack chairs – almost all of the Adirondack chairs sold today can fold and unfold. This makes it easy to move and store the chairs.
- Adirondack chair with footrest/ottoman – this is our most favorite variation. It makes the Adirondack even more relaxing by adding an ottoman that you can rest your feet on. If you spend a lot of time lounging outdoors, this is the most comfortable Adirondack chair.
- Adirondack rocking chair – if you want to combine the lulling movement of a rocking chair with the comfort of an Adirondack chair, get a rocking Adirondack chair. It’s also perfect when you are relaxing outdoors with a baby.
- Wicker Adirondack chair – if you love the look of wicker furniture, you can get an Adirondack made with Rattan wicker. Wicker Adirondack chairs typically feature a steel frame for strength and durability.
- Cushioned Adirondack chair – You can add cushions to any Adirondack chair. You can also get it complete with cushions designed specifically for that chair. A good example is this set of Nalone Folding Adirondack Chairs.
- Kids Adirondack chairs – Adirondack chairs are not just for adults; there are smaller designs made for kids. They can be wood or plastic and usually come in bright colors.
- Adirondack loveseat/bench seat – An Adirondack loveseat or bench seats two people, making it perfect for lounging with your partner.
- Portable Adirondack camping chair – There are also portable Adirondack chairs for camping, beach, picnics and other outdoor activities. They are made with fabric and have a metal or plastic frame.
- Adjustable Adirondack chair – Though not common, there are some Adirondack chairs that have an adjustable backrest. You can recline in different positions.
What’s The Difference Between An Adirondack and A Muskoka Chair?
The Adirondack chair and the Muskoka chair generally refer to the same type of chair. The main difference is that the term Muskoka chair is used mostly in Canada, while Adirondack is common in the US.
That said, some Muskoka feature a seat that is curved at the front, which feels more comfortable against the back of your knees.
Others also feature a curved back that cradles your back and head for added comfort.
Adirondack vs. Westport Chair: What’s The Difference?
The Westport chair was the predecessor to the Adirondack chair.
When the Adirondack chair was first sold, it was called the Westport chair, referring to where it was invented.
It was years later when the Adirondack name became more popular.
The modern Adirondack chair retains the same general design as the Westport chair of the early 1900s, with one big difference.
Instead of the many slats that make up the backrest of a modern Adirondack chair, Westport chairs featured a single wide plank on the bankrest.