From its humble beginnings as a family lawn chair, the Muskoka or Adirondack chair has become a symbol of cottage life and the epitome of summer comfort. Why the fascination? Is it the fact that they’re so comfortable that once you sit down in one there’s no going back, or that they personify a simpler more relaxed way of living?
What came first the Adirondack or the Muskoka Chair?
Although most will say the Adirondack, I guess the safest answer is neither – it was the Westport.
The chair was first designed by Thomas Lee while vacationing in Westport, New York, in the Adirondack Mountains in 1903. By nailing boards together on his front lawn he created a chair that featured wide armrests with a sloping seat and back, so his family could enjoy sitting in a more reclined position. According to a New York Times blog post “Who Made That Adirondack Chair?” Lee offered his friend, Harry C. Bunnell the chair design to make and sell in his store during the slow winter months. Not only did Bunnell accept Lee’s generous offer, but when he realized how popular this chair was, he went ahead and applied for a patent in his own name for Lee’s design, without Lee’s knowledge. “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 them.”
The Westport chair soon became known as the Adirondack through its widespread use in the Adirondack Mountains, largely used by tuberculosis patients that were sent to Upstate New York to relax and take in the fresh air at a convalescent home. The blocky rigid style of the chair remained the same for over 30 years, until Irving Wolpin shaped the back and seat of the chair, giving us the look we recognize today.
Joe Warmington of Toronto Sun begs to differ – according to an interesting article he wrote in June of 2010, (when the chairs were a much talked about piece of Canadiana at the G8 Summit) he wrote, “We need to clarify because in Cameron Taylor’s book, Enchanted Summers: The Grand Hotels of Muskoka, there are plenty of pictures from the turn of the last century with Muskoka-style chairs on their beautiful decks.”
A truly Canadian fixture, this iconic chair has found its way onto many logos, websites and places that make us long to celebrate summer; including the Muskoka Brewery, Cottage Life Magazine, Fielding Estates Winery and, of course, Muskoka Tourism.
A chair by many other names
Most say that there is no difference between the Muskoka Chair and the Adirondack Chair, it’s all about where you’re from and where they are made. Any differences come from individual manufacturers leaving their personal mark. Same came be said about the Laurentian Chair (chaise des Laurentides) named after a region in Quebec and the Cape Cod Chair.
Today these chairs are available in a variety of styles, colours and materials — from cedar to plastic, from bright colours to traditional browns.
The Last Word
Whatever the origin, the Muskoka chairs are truly a beloved part of our Canadian Cottage lifestyle. Whether it’s to watch the sunset, read a book, or do some fishing, these iconic chairs have a special place in our hearts and at the end of almost every cottagers dock.