Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It’s an Adirondack Chair…even on Gibson Island

“….An Adirondack chair is a type of chair favored in rural, outdoor settings. The precursor to today's Adirondack chair was designed by Thomas Lee in 1903. He was on vacation in Westport, New York, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, and needed outdoor chairs for his summer home. He tested the first designs on his family.
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….”
What if this chair could talk? I can’t be the only one who ponders such things.  What would it tell us about its witness? What has it seen and heard? In how many places has it lived? What about its fun index? In other words, what percentage of its employ has been amidst happy circumstances versus bad?

The fun index of my Adirondack chair is heavily weighted towards the positive. I figure most of these chairs are; actually. The Adirondack chair is built for relaxation—nothing slick or fancy here. If anything was ever devoid of dice fuzzy, it’s this baby. Wide arm rests designed to accommodate a cocktail and a couple of books. Maybe a small tray of Wheat Thins and Vienna Sausages. Shut up. Add a little sunshine and a light breeze and napping is inevitable.
I first spent significant time riding an Adirondack chair when I lived in Montclair New Jersey. The Southern expat mafia of which I was a charter member, used to hang out over at JBA’s and ACA’s…drinking, scheming and lamenting our indentured servitude—and if the weather was decent, we’d be doing so outside, in Adirondack chairs.

There was an old guy back then—this was in the late 1980’s—who made Adirondacks to order. They weren’t real expensive and they weren’t fancy. True for the most part to the original utilitarian design of the original Adirondack chair. JBA and ACA had the old guy make one for me and I’ve been parking my carcass in it ever since.
A maiden coat or two of hunter green deck paint begins the patinated journey. Annual repainting perpetuates the character shaping patination as well as promises that you’ll never get any of the screws or bolts loosened. It’s all good.

So where do you get a good, sturdy Adirondack chair these days? I can tell you unequivocally that if you want an attenuated, overpriced ersatz version, just go to…Target, Crate and Barrel or any of the fancy little joints purveying such goods and you can score one. Their versions are too slick, too flimsy and will never manifest the patina of a well built Adirondack—true to the original. They look to me, kinda like a blue collar worker with a buff and a clear coat of nail polish. Just wrong. I suppose that you could beat one of those slick versions with a bicycle chain...you know...to "weather it". My thinking is that you'd end up breaking the chair before you rendered it "weathered". That’s a long-winded “I don’t know”…unless you live near me. There are a couple of options on route 50, just before you get to Middleburg Virginia. They offer sturdy Adirondack chairs made by Amish makers and they are rock solid.
So the first destination for my Adirondack was the front lawn of my N.J. hovel where if you craned your neck from said chair, you could see the Gotham skyline. Next stop would be Old Town Alexandria…the hamlet that won my residence by virtue of a coin toss. Had it been heads, I would have landed in Baltimore. Had this been the outcome, I’m certain that this Gibson Island versus Adirondack moniker issue would have manifested sooner.

The Big Easy…more specifically, Old Metairie would become the next host for my Adirondack. I think the “sitting out season” was shorter in New Orleans than New Jersey because of the damned humidity. I can say that my chair faced tougher environmental challenges in the front yard of my Metairie shotgun house. It rained two feet one night. Back to Old Town Alexandria, then to my marital home just a couple of miles south of Old Town and then, alas, back to Old Town again. Hell I’m tired just recounting the journey.
I remember spending a weekend in Newport Rhode Island with LFG's mom. We rented bikes and ended up at the Castle Hill Inn. Stunning vistas, Adirondack chairs and a waitress out on the lawn who we nicknamed Mulva. Half dozen Bloody Marys each and the Castle Hill Folks called a cab for us and our two bikes.
So is it an Adirondack or Gibson Island Chair? I’ve googled both and the evidence out there seems to be overwhelmingly in favor of an Adirondack antecedent—not a Gibson Island one. I found the above photo online with an accompanying designation of "Gibson Island Chair". Might the single plank back rest identify it as such? Search me...and Google.

Here's what Google images gives up for Gibson Island Chairs.....
Hardly overwhelming evidence of provenance. Had it not been for some ersatz assignation between some bloggers text and his accompanying pictures...I'm thinking the images search would have come up...zip.
But then I hit the jackpot with a Google general search. Not.
And then for some reason, Google turned up a few more results for the correct moniker. Fancy that.
Just under fifty thousand images. Oh, and before you comment with the "re-do your search sans parentheses and/or try searching chairs as opposed to chair"...been there done that.

Y’all know that I make the rules around here. I decide what you can wear and when you can wear it. To that end, I’ll decide what this damned chair is and what you’ll call it. Lime Green Gal admonished me to call it a Gibson Island chair since I’m south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Sorry, I ain’t buyin’ it. 
So show me something more convincing than… “people call them Adirondack chairs when south of the Mason-Dixon”. Better yet, come on over and we’ll sit out with a cocktail and argue about it—between bites of Vienna Sausages and Wheat Thins…parked on and in…Adirondack chairs.

Onward—Adirondackally…shut up.


Suburban Princess said...

Or is it really a Muskoka chair?

Kathie Truitt said...

I'm with you on this one - I've always heard them called 'Adirondack' - and it wasn't til I moved to Mississippi that I even knew what they were. Us 'po white trash' in the Ozarks didn't have anything like 'em.

By the way - please mark July 28th on your calendar. That's my launch party in DC and I want you there!

Patsy said...

Ah, I mis-spent a youthful Sunday afternoon or two at Castle Hill..........

Our trusty Adirondacks are getting their annual coat of white paint this weekend. I got them as a birthday present from my husband long ago and part of the gift was that he paint them until either they or he fell apart.

Pigtown-Design said...

I am in the Gibson Island camp... or cottage. We spent time on Gibson Island as children, and used these chairs. I'd never heard of an Adirondack chair until I was much older. I think that it does have to do with the back planks. The kids here at Woodbourne make Adirondack chairs, but some of us call'em Gibson Island chairs.

My best memory of GI chairs is spending a summer house-sitting at a property on the Chesapeake that included a nice promentory overlooking the bridge. There were two GI chairs and a flagpole. We'd sit there on Friday afternoons watching the cars cross the Bay Bridge, and drink G&Ts with our wheat thins and brie.

Thornproof said...

Aren't the differences in language the best! Having moved between the USA and the UK now, both me and my wife have maintained various linguistic quirks from our time over the pond ... aubergine v. eggplant ... waistcoat v. vest ... using "proper" as in "proper job" ... but we do maintain our Southern roots with ain't and ya'll.

ADG said...

SuburbanPrincess...I vote for Muskoka!

Patsy...Castle Hill is great. Can your husband swing by and paint mine after he's finished?

KathyTruitttttttt...I've been holding off on touting your book 'till you got a little closer to having it available via Amazon etc. And yes, if I'm in town, I'll be at the book launch. Speaking of redneck country a_s lawn furniture...all we had were those nylon web and aluminum thangs.

MegTown...I really don't care too much what we call these chairs. The memories that they evoke are usually good-regardless of what we call the chairs. I just wanted to stir some stuff up.

Thornproof...As Oscar Wilde said, we are two countries separated by a common language...y'all.

James said...

My chairs were custom made by a local man. As I am larger than your average Joe they are pretty hefty. Which is great until you have to move them. I'm like you call them what you will. I can not imagine a summer's eve without them.

JMW said...

I would love to have a pair of Adirondack chairs for our back yard. We did the Target thing years ago when we were young and strapped for cash. Now, I want the real, hand-crafted chair. What paint color, though? Red? Dark green?

Anonymous English Female said...

ADG - You could always sit in your Adirondack chair and drink a Gibson... Or maybe someone could tell us what goes in a Muskoka?

In The Littoral said...

Sorry Meg, I'm with ADG on this too. Having spent nearly all of my life within 50 miles or less (currently much, much less) of the Bay I had never heard that term before.

Like you I spent some time on Gibson Island in my youth and a bit of time in Adirondack chairs overlooking the Bay and the Baltimore Light. As a matter of fact, until I saw the comment here regarding the Gibson Island Chairs I had never heard that term before. The owners of the Gibson Island property where I spent time always referred to them as Adirondack chairs. (In the interest of full disclosure, they also summered in Southwest Harbor and that may have tainted their vocabulary.)

Anonymous said...

JMW--I would only have dark green paint for my chairs. I do not have Adirondack chairs, I have a porch (not screened, on the front of the house) full of white wicker furniture. The bottom rung of one still has the knots of wood. This spring, I indulged in one of those butane heaters to keep us cozy on chilly evenings and mornings. Keep writing, ADG!


Main Line Sportsman said...

I have "Summered" in the Adirondacks for years...
The chairs are indigineous to the region but have migrated due to their exemplary form and funtion....there simply is NO other name for them....where the heck is Gibson Island anyway...this Yankee has never heard of it.

Anonymous said...

High end:


Not-so-low end:


In the Adirondacks, one still sees a few of these, but there are many more like yours, which are easier to find and usually less expensive.

We have Field Farm Westport chairs at our farm in Virginia. Up in the Adirondacks, we have a variation of what you have, and also those ridiculous chairs made to resemble snowshoes. (I think someone bought them from LL Bean in the Thirties.)

Main Line Sportsman said...

There is also a variation of the Adirondack chair made with old skis as the back slats...they are kinda cool...one sees them around Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid...and also in Vermont ski destinations...

heavy tweed jacket said...

Adirondack, is what I've always known them as. Yours has an excellent bit of weathering and some very desirable cracking. Perfect for a late afternoon glass of wine, book and a nap.

ilovelimegreen said...

OK ADG, I am pulling all Crabtown connections/resources in the research department... Enoch Pratt, Maryland Historical Society, the archives of Baltimore magazine...I may even consult an expert (or two) on Maryland furniture. So what if there's no info on Wikipedia, hon.

And you call me a "silly girl"!

scaleworm said...

I have one left (of a set of two) made years ago, from scraps of pine (a MISTAKE in the Puget Sound region, even with Hunter green paint)... That were custom designed and made by Moi, and aptly named "The Lust Adirondack". These were built to hold two, with potential summer evening aerobic activities in mind... The arms are extra wide for Bottles, plates, AND glasses of indulgence.

Alas, one succumbed to rain (rain rain rain), and the sad solo mate remains alone now, under my tall Western Hemlock. Me thinks it needs a major fluff and buff rebuild this summer, and maybe, a new mate as well while the tools are out... This time though, in Cedar! Thanks for the post!

oldominion said...

My great uncle was a deaf woodworker in Hampton VA back in the day and made these chairs all day long. The ones he made in the mid 70s just pooped out finally a couple years ago having spent much of their lives being battered by Tidewater storms. Design elements vary a bit regionally; he made the type with rounded edges (armrests, seat front, even the back-slats rested in a crescent of wood). Comfy.

Called em Adirondack chairs.

Drive around Middlesex, Mathews and Gloucester Cos in VA and you can still find people selling good ones on the side of the road.

ADG said...

James…thanks…I’d make ‘em myself if I had the space for a shop.

JMW...I like dark green myself. I’ve seen them in red and white as well and they looked really nice. Your call!

Anonymous English Female...A Muskoka is similar to a Negroni but only slightly different from a Flanktini.


Anonymous...Thanks. I will write…probably less frequently as I’m about to travel again.

Main Line Sportsman...Gibson Island has become a very affluent little enclave and rightly so. Still, the idea that these chairs carry their name is ….whatever.

Anonymous...Thanks. I like the FieldFarm ones.
heavy tweed jacket...Indeed.

ilovelimegreenwoman…you can pull out all that stuff baby. The best that it will manifest is a reference here and there of a chair being misnamed. There will be no unequivocal evidence that said chairs were spawned from the Isle of Gibson. Let’s just face the fact that Gibsonites co-opted the Adirondack as their original. Also, I can pull out some stuff too.

oldominion ...How cool. Might be worth the trip down to check ‘em out.

Anonymous said...

Vy-een-ur, as in Wolfie from



Scott said...

We've never heard of Gibson Island down here. I do know some Gibsons that ought to be taken to an island and left, though. Whatever they're called, if I wanted a chair like that, I'd just build it. But I'm Amish, you know. Shut up.

Personally, for lawn furniture I like those stamped metal redneck chairs. They're easier for Mama to move around when she mows the yard.


ADG said...

Scott...that's all we had when I was growing up...the aluminium ones but we just mowed around them.

Taytaytayter...I tried to write it phonetically but I couldn't make it go. We pronounced it more like vie-eee-knee as opposed to -ur. The Flanagan link is dead btw.

Laguna Beach Trad said...

Adirondack Chairs! As a child I spent summer holidays in the Adirondacks, 1000 Islands, and Finger Lakes regions, and every country villa there had its quota of these chairs. Classic.

Pigtown-Design said...

FYI... Gibson Island is a small private island in the Chesapeake Bay and the Magothy River, between Baltimore and Annapolis. To get onto the island, you must be on someone's guest list. You cross a small causeway and enter the island. There's a golf course, a school, a club. It was originally a summer community, but is now year 'round. Most of the money there is very old money, names most people wouldn't know.

oldominion said...

Speaking of the viennas, I recall ma and pa having a cocktail party back in the day and sissy and I in the kitchen opening a few cans of said "sausages", mixing up our own special sauce and putting it into a bowl and parading through the party with our hoors doovers. The sauce was Duke's mayo and French's yaller mustard. Being that this was RIchmond we had a lot of takers. BTW if you're a mayo person--and what good Southerner isn't?--get on the Duke's. ADG, I will await now your mayo post...with relish.

Main Line Sportsman said...

OK Pigtown...I am coaching my kids Lacrosse team in the father's day Weekend tournament in Annapolis...so I will investigate and educate myself...thanks.

ADG said...

LagunaTradmon...it's lovely up there...for about a week of summer!

MegTown....zackly why I don't know anyone there.

olddominion...I used to love to say "Hellmans" when I was a little kid...I thought I was getting away with something...and in my house...I was.

MainLine...have fun.

CQ said...


Part of an age-old argument, I guess. "Gibson Island Chair" is a new name to me.

Ross said...

The Gibson Island chair moniker comes from the single wood board backing like your white chair suggests - although I've only seen them in the traditional green color (color scheme of the island).

I'd say it's most likely considered a version of the adirondak chair, since I've never heard the name applied to the multiple pieces of wood - backed chairs.

Vester Slawson said...

My husband builds a VERY comfortable Adirondack chair. You can take a look at it at http://www.myadirondakchair.com.

Ellie Shorb said...

Gibson Island is a 1000 acre island on the Chesapeake Bay between Annapolis and Baltimore. Indeed there are chairs on the club lawn that have more of a rounded back board like the last photo in your series. For more on Gibson Island "like" Gibson Island Estates on facebook. Cheers!