Butler County Times Gazette
  • Through the Front Door: The classic All-American chair - the Adirondack

  • What a delightful chair to spend some lazy moments
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  • While visiting a neighbor down the street, a real show-stopper caught my attention: a pair of perfectly placed and scaled gleaming white Adirondack chairs in the front yard. The tidy and lovely home already features superior street appeal, and the yard makes it worth a second or a third glance. You can achieve this look, too.
    Origins of a classic
    You know I like to share the history of the items I talk about. In the last few years, these marvelous Adirondack chairs have surged in popularity. A staple in the upper East Coast in the early 1900s, these beauties managed to migrate into our part of the country.
    During my years as a designer, I have heard many stories of the origins of these comfortable, sturdy chairs. Unfortunately, this is a case where the actual creator did not get the proper credit for the original design.
    A man by the name of Thomas Lee spent glorious summers in Westport, N.Y., on Lake Champlain. While there, he played around with several designs for a chair until he produced the perfect combination of pitched back, wide planked arms and roomy seat. The final design was crafted from 11 pieces of wood cut from a single plank.
    Lee turned his design over to a friend and hunting buddy, Harry Bunnell, who was a carpenter. Bunnell thought the chairs were a perfect winter job, allowing him to stay indoors and stay busy. With a handshake the two agreed that Bunnell would craft the chairs from Lee’s design for the Lee family. Bunnell quickly realized the chairs featured a terrific design for summer property owners in New York’s Adirondack forest. Without including—or even consulting—Lee, Bunnell filed for and received a patent on July 18, 1905, under the patent name of “Westport plank chair” (No. 794,777).
    Bunnell crafted each chair from hemlock, in either green or medium brown, and signed his work. The original signed Bunnell chairs are extremely sought after, and can bring thousands at auction. I found a set of three chairs produced and signed by Bunnell that recently sold on www.icollector.com for $5,500! Sadly, this type of deception still goes on in the business world, even here in the Midwest. Theft is theft regardless of how you phrase the dishonesty.
    Variations on a theme
    Years ago, one of my Adirondack vendors explained that, as this sturdy chair became the accepted exterior furniture in the East, residents crafted their own versions. It became apparent which chairs belonged to which families by the slight difference in the pitch of the back, seating depth, color and or even the width of the arms—an important aspect for holding a beverage. The chairs were crafted to fit a particular family, and the differences between an “Anderson” family chair and a “Beauchaine” family chair became obvious.
    Page 2 of 3 - Indoor and outdoor use
    These dreamy bottom-friendly chairs have made their way from mountains to beaches and everywhere in between. As the perfect beachside chair in coastal colors of turquoise, flamingo, sunset orange and ocean blue, they literally become a work of art when lined up in their happy hues.
    I have often wondered why these charmers have not made their way into our homes. I can envision a handsome pair of ebony one's in front of a fireplace in a hearth room with charming country check cushions, a needlepoint kidney pillow in the back and a footrest—what a delightful place to spend some lazy moments. Can’t you just imagine cushions out of a wonderful red ticking fabric for summer with a needlepoint pillow of a bass (the one that did not get away!).
    For fall and winter, do cushions from a soft flannel Stewart plaid plus a pillow featuring a fine-looking black Lab to cozy up to. When you consider the amount of square footage these wonderful historical chairs take up—and the level of comfort they give at such a pleasing price point—they are an ideal family room addition. With the exception of a very contemporary room, they will blend with just about any style. (Although I do believe that the plastic ones available from stores such as Lowes, Target and Sears should remain outside, they are just not house worthy.)
    Today’s ticking
    You likely know the fabric, but maybe not the actual term “ticking.” The fabric is usually cotton or sometimes linen, durable and very tightly woven. In recent years, it has become quite a lovely addition to less sophisticated and friendlier interior spaces.
    You are familiar with ticking from the classic blue and cream that used to cover our mattresses and pillows. Other than that, ticking was primarily available in dull colors such as brown, grey, blue and red on a cream background. Today’s ticking fabrics, however, range in all colors and have become a great choice for upholstery, decorative pillows and window treatments.
    Where to buy this classic chair
    Purchasing classic Adirondack chairs is easy peasy!
    • L.L.Bean (www.llbean.com) offers some wonderful chairs in a whole host of colors. Made in New York from sustainable wood, they sell for around $120–$300 estimated shipping is around $15.00 each, in the USA and Canada. They also have cushions for seats and backs from $36.00 to $89.00. L.L.Bean also does a terrific Adirondack tray table in six great finishes for $179! The tables work perfectly between the chairs for stacking catalogs.
    • Orvis (www.orvis.com), another classic American company, has delightful folding Adirondack chairs in four finishes. They, too, are crafted in the United States, and they sell for $295 (please inquire about shipping charges during ordering process). Orvis also offers cushions in 10 or so fabrics for $119. (While you’re visiting the website, check out the delightful napkin rings for a fun and casual summer supper. Choose from boat paddles, canoes or a charming miniature Adirondack chair; a set of 4 for $35.)
    Page 3 of 3 - • For needlepoint pillows, such as the friendly Lab pillow, try www.cafepress.com or www.amazon.com.
    As summer speeds by, consider investing in a pair of these classic beauties to relax and enjoy the slower moments. May I suggest you take a lovely evening ride and see if you can find the house that was the catalyst for this column?
    I will be here next week to visit about another hot design topic. Have a wonderful week!

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