The Ubiquitous Adirondack

Average Adirondack chairs on an urban patio.
Average Adirondack chairs on an urban patio.

For those of you expecting a gushing love affair with the Adirondack chair, this is a rant about the excessively-used and overly-beloved garden seat.

People use Adirondack chairs in nearly every style of garden imaginable. While a few locations are well-suited to this chair, many are not. Thomas Lee designed this chair in 1903 when he needed some chairs outdoors at his summer home in the Adirondack Mountains. I’m not saying that the only place that this chair should be used is in the mountains, but frankly that’s where it is best suited. Woodsy settings by a lake next to a rustic cabin are most appropriate where you can lay back a bit and daydream.

 This brings me to the ergonomic application of the Adirondack chair. Too often people use multiple Adirondack chairs around a campfire or an area clearly intended for conversation. Have you ever sat in this chair? If you haven’t, give it a try and just try looking at the person across from you who will (also) be straining their eyes to look back at you. The angle of this seat and back isn’t suited for conversation, reading, or much else except for staring out across a view. While its arms are handy for setting a drink, heaven help you if you actually try drinking, because you’ll end up wearing a glassful with your head leaning against the back of the chair.

There are more knockoffs of this chair than anyone could count, with square backed versions for modern gardens, heart cut-outs for cottage gardens, plastic versions for the budget-squeezed garden, ad infinitum. Many children have made one at school for unsuspecting parents because they are relatively simple to cut out and assemble. They are available in a rainbow of colors, too, but that doesn’t mean they are the best design for most gardens.

There is a very well-known garden in the USA with a large French mansion on the grounds where Adirondack chairs seem to multiply like rabbits out away from the house. The chair and the French house are about as disparate as you could imagine. Think Victorian chair with Japanese garden incongruence. The primary rub here is that gardeners, horticulturists, and many designers too, ignore the architectural detailing of the house and pretend as though it doesn’t matter. In fact it does, and substantially.

French chateau and Adirondack chair are a stylistic disconnect.
French chateau and Adirondack chair are a stylistic disconnect.

If I’ve sent you into a dither over outdoor seating styles or you are furious about the attack on your favorite chair, you are in luck. My newest book can help you remedy your garden furnishing dilemmas and mistakes. The Professional Designer’s Guide to Garden Furnishings serves up a history of furniture as seen through the evolution of a chair, a vast array of alternative seating styles, and a resource index at the back to contact vendors. Even though the title has the word ‘professional’ in it, the book will help any garden owner select appropriate furnishings for their own garden, too.


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