Designed in Upstate New York, the chair is quintessential Adirondack because of its origins. Thomas Lee was visiting his vacation home on Lake Champlain in Westport New York and needed some outdoor furniture for relaxation and entertainment so he designed a plank chair. Like so many American innovations, necessity ruled the day. That plank chair was a hit, a patent was sought and granted, and sitting history was made!
Harry Bunnell, a carpenter and shop owner, is the person with the patent but not the inventor. According to a New York Times article in 2011, in an effort to aid Bunnell’s carpentry shop during the winter months, Lee offered him the chair design so that Bunnell could manufacture and sell them at his store. Bunnell accepted Lee’s offer but also went ahead and applied for a patent in his own name for Lee’s design. The article in its entirety can be read at www.6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/who-made-that-adirondack-chair.
Apparently, Lee was not informed of this until after the patent had already been granted. As Bunnell continued to produce the “Westport Chairs” (with the patent number stamped on the back) for the next 25 years, by all accounts it seems Lee did not take any official steps to reclaim the rights of the design or prevent his friend from profiting from it.
The present, polywood
Today, Adirondack chairs come in all shapes and sizes and are much more durable. One trip to The Wood Carte in Queensbury illustrates a dazzling display. The colors are polychromatic and the trendy, yet nearly indestructible material is now polywood. Like many of the more rustic wood varieties, today much of the polywood furniture is Amish-made.
Amish-made outdoor polywood furniture is constructed from recycled plastic milk jugs. It is a bit easier than the older and handmade wood chairs. Still made in the home workshops throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York, the Amish craftsmen are now allowed to have air-powered tools in the furniture making. They are even making in polywood the well-known and beloved bent rocker design that is so admired in the traditional Amish rockers.
The furniture is very easy to clean, nearly maintenence free and can weather our harsh Northeast winters.
There are Snuggleback Height options, garden chairs, rockers, double rockers, dining sets, ottomans, chat tables, swivel chairs, end tables and even folding Adirondack chairs available in polywood. Chris Carte, owner of The Wood Carte, explained that these designs are both intelligent and practical for outdoors. “The price point on the wooden variety is much less than polywood but the maintence free polywood is well worth the price” and the choices now in colors and styles are endless, he commented.
As a lover of the Adirondack style of furniture, including those made of wood and polywood, I find the decorating options endless. I doubt that a yard or lake view could ever be enjoyed fully without sitting in an Adirondack chair, with a book and perhaps a throw for a chilly summer evening.