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Ode to the Adirondack Chair

Summer's favorite recliner has a great past and bright future.

There are certain experiences that vividly evoke a time, a place, a smell, a state of mind. Sitting in an Adirondack chair is like that.

Ease your body into the chair and you immediately relax. Is that the faint scent of pine you detect? The swish of a canoe as it glides through the water? The sun beats on your head but it's not too warm; mosquitoes buzz nearby but not too near. The word nap springs to mind. Time slows down. You slow down.

This is good because, unless you're very young or very agile, there's no way to exit the Adirondack chair quickly. Its deep seat requires too many muscles for speedy departures. But who wants to leave when your back is rested and there's a handy spot to prop a good book or a cool drink?

Folks in the Northeast have been enjoying the Adirondack chair experience since 1904, when a patent was taken out on a convalescent chair with raked back and seat, and wide arms. The so-called Westport chair took its name from the town on Lake Champlain, N.Y., where it was invented. Far more familiar is the Adirondack chair with slats substituting for planks. It appeared after World War I at elaborate lakefront lodges, among them the "great camp" retreats of the rich — the Morgans, Fricks, Vanderbilts and Rockefellers — who spent the summer months escaping the big city's suffocating heat. Another group of campers was there too — tuberculosis patients — ordered to the Adirondack Mountains by their doctors to try out the newest treatment fad: fresh air and sunshine. That prescription was best enjoyed not in the formal Victorian furniture of the times, but in rustic chairs created by local craftsmen.

Since the, the popularity of the Adirondack chair has never waned, says Craig Gilborn, author of Adirondack Furniture and the Rustic Tradition and Adirondack Camps: Homes Away From Home. "The chair is sharply articulated and looks pretty on lawns and decks," he says. "Seeing through the slats is like seeing through a fence. Then there's its close association with our favorite season — summer."

Today Adirondack chairs are available in a variety of styles, colors and materials — from aluminum to plastic, from bright colors to earthtones, from lumber scraps to teak. And yes, for those who feel the need to earn their nap, you can even make your own Adirondack chair.

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