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Adirondack Chairs

The Adirondack chair’s ability to carve out a personal space amid a public one brings me to another minor point: I’ve lately seen an epidemic of child-sized chairs. This may make me sound like a crank, but I’m wholly opposed to them.

Full-sized chairs are perfect not just for adults, but also for kids. Watch a 5-year-old climb up and into a full-scale chair, and that little one quickly gets lost in his or her imagination. The chair becomes a castle, a fort, a villa on a lake. The miniature versions make adults happy when they can gaze adoringly at kids sitting in them–so cute!–but notice that the kids invariably look pained, as if wearing shoes too small.

The Goldilocks Project had its most significant breakthrough in Nova Scotia a few years ago. I was driving west from Lunenburg, and what should I see but a grand arc of colorful Adirondack chairs arrayed on a lawn next to a house in the village of Upper LaHave.

A sign indicated that this was Zwicker Woodworking, a moderately large backyard operation. The chairs were painted in what Frank Lloyd Wright used to dismissively call the “colors of the ribbon counter.” They were solid, with fan backs, very broad arms, and nicely cambered seats.

Of course, I stopped and sat. The Adirondack chair, like wine, has an entry, body, and finish. The Zwicker chairs’ entry was excellent; I stopped leaning back at precisely the point I should. My knees came up to exactly the right height. I didn’t require an assist from a passing person to stand up. The chairs didn’t feel too rigid–not too oaky, in other words. They were very reasonably priced.

I immediately bought one, which I secured upright to the top of my Volkswagen van for the drive home. Like local druggists’ delivery vehicles, which once had a mortar and pestle on their roofs, my van with its iconic chair made me look like a vendor of summer leisure as I drove home. The honks and thumbs-up from passing cars never ceased. Two years later I went back and bought three more.

That was about eight years ago. The chairs now spend the summers at a lake in eastern Maine, which, not coincidentally, is where I also spend my summers. I put two in a clearing just below the house, and two down a path near the water.

An Adirondack chair deteriorates slowly but steadily. I believe an Adirondack chair year is equal to about seven human years–that is, if one lasts a decade outside, it’s doing pretty well. The feet go first, and start to get punky where they sit on the damp lawn all summer. You can trim and repaint them to slow the process; they get shorter, lower to the ground, harder to get out of.

Then the joints start to go: Where the slats are screwed in, a bit of rot forms. The paint comes off, sometimes revealing unfortunate fashions of the past–like the time you decided to paint them lime green during that one really long, hot summer.

And finally–usually when somebody you don’t know very well is visiting–he sits down heavily and the chair starts to drift sideways and your guest says, “Uh-oh!”

And then the whole chair deconstructs and becomes a pile of boards. Then you cart it off to the dump or burn it in the next bonfire.

And that’s okay. Because here’s the thing about the Goldilocks Project: There’s never an end to it. Looking for “just right” becomes a calling. When the last chair goes, there’s always a new one waiting to be discovered. And that keeps me going.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Monday, June 22nd, 2009

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2 Responses to Adirondack Chairs

  1. Don Gamache July 28, 2009 at 4:19 pm #

    I love the article. I live away from New England now but an Adirondac chair always makes me feel at home. My first major woodworking project (I was 12, a long time ago) was making one for my Mom. She had it for years. Good memories are made in these chairs.

  2. Carol Podgorski July 29, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    I really have enjoyed reading this article and have printed it as well . My experience with the Adirondack chair began in Bar Harbor , Maine where my husband and I have been vacationing in either July or August for over ten years . We have also enjoyed ” relaxing ” in them in the White Mountains .
    Our backyard has two Adirondack chairs set under the trees and one that has never been used ; we like to have one ready for an ” Endless Summer ” .

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