March 30, 2011
Long Live the OLD & Traditional Adirondack Chair
One of my favorite memories (period) is sitting in an Adirondack chair with my grandfather in the Adirondack mountains where I grew up, talking about Indian arrow heads while overlooking a peaceful Caroga Lake at the end of a sunny August day.
The weather was perfect with only a slight breeze and the waterskiiers were coming out for their late afternoon ski when the lake once again turned into a glassy glaze as the wind settled down. I was often one of those afternoon skiiers as a teenager, around the time I had started to ban early mornings. As a kid however, I'd scurry out at dawn ready to take a dozen or so cuts on the not yet touched water we all loved about early mornings on the lake.
We had both just gathered some twigs and dry wood for the fire pit where we'd often cook burgers and kielbasa on an old small grill that my grandad would throw over the pit.
Equally magical to gazing out over the lake in our Adirondack chairs was reading a novel on an Adirondack hammock overlooking the same lake, but that's for another blog post.
Alas, the Adirondack chair. When I was really young, we had about four of 'em, all made of wood, all rustic, some with splinters from wear and tear and years of rain. We painted a couple over the years, always dark green, since that was the traditional Adirondack color (same goes for the hammocks), and as they would fade and the paint would wear away, we often wouldn't touch them up right away since the half painted, half natural wood look and feel of the chairs often told the story of our lives at the camp.
In other words, it was outdoor living: life wasn't perfect, it most certainly wasn't modern, we didn't have central heating, the water tank for the showers was small, the plumbing was outdated, our small TV set rarely got a channel, Internet didn't work and until we sold the place, it had an old fashioned rotary phone. (the one we had since the early 1970s).
The Adirondacks are not modern and to try to throw a modern title, label, or experience on top of "Adirondack" anything feels just plain wrong, at least for someone who grew up there. You can imagine my horror when I received this subject line in my inbox: The Classic Adirondack Lounge goes Eco-Modern. The Eco of course is there to make you feel good about buying it. Take a look at their visual:
All I can say is UUGGLYYY. It feels like Walmart plastered blandness on top of authentic Adirondack wholesomeness. Gotta love the tacky plastic looking orange circular thing with the pretzels next to them to add to all that modernity.
It's not as if I don't love modern things. Sure, my house has more antiques and woods than it does modern pieces, but its a mix. And while I have some classic pieces of art, there are some abstracts (photography and oil paintings), as well as some Salvador Dali-like pottery and toy-ish etchings scattered along my walls.
This felt more like a classic American marketing decision: take something that was and is great and cheapen it, while throwing some fabulous persuasive language (and of course sustainable messaging since "green and eco" are important adds right now) on top of it to make it appear that you're going to purchase something of substance.
The materials may be solid - that's not what I'm arguing here. And, I'm all for environmentally friendly materials. But, let's call a spade a spade and let it have its deserved glory. A little history is in order.
The Adirondack chair (also called the Muskoka chair) is used in rural, outdoor settings. The precursor was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903 when he was on vacation in Westport, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home.
After arriving at a final design for the then called "Westport plank chair," Lee offered it to a Westport-based carpenter Harry Bunnell, who manufactured these chairs for the next twenty years.
The original Adirondack chair was made with eleven pieces of wood, cut from a single board. It had a straight back and seat, which were set at a slant to sit better on the steep mountain inclines of the area. It also featured wide armrests, which became a hallmark of the Adirondack chair. In searching for a chair that was closer to what I grew up with, I came up with the following image on the web although even this one isn't quite right....ours tended to lean back a bit more but those I found with stronger slants, were painted in shiny colors or their original design was altered.
In the yards, patios and on the docks of all the camps we used to hang out at including our own, the chairs were rustic and wooden, often made by locals. Sadly, more of the modern Adirondack chairs are made out of plastic lumber or engineered wood instead of wood.
There have been so many replicas and variations of Adirondack chairs, that its original design is getting muddled, I guess you could call it a furniture mashup. Take a look at the variations from a Google image search:
Remember that I live my life in the modern technology world where mashups happen in my circles every day. In fact, I may be at an event where a mashup of an old technology and the creation of a new one may occur within the hour and a new way of creating, curating or organizing the web is born before my very eyes. I think mashups are great as long as the original "piece" whatever that is, is honored in some way for what it stood for.
In the case of Adirondack chairs, they are all about life in rustic rural environments and frankly, experiencing the Adirondacks on any lake in a modern home with tons of bells and whistles isn't the same, including the furniture. Of course, the designer of this new modern eco chair Mark Daniel will likely not be impressed by my opinion.
While the sustainable, FSC-certified solid eucalyptus wood with a grey stain which is made in China btw (how ironic for an all American piece of design), may be a fit for some, it doesn't preserve what the Adirondacks is all about.....in my humble local opinion that is.
Long live the old and traditional Adirondack chair for sitting in anything other than an original is like experiencing China in Orlando's Disneyland instead of China itself.
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