Labor Day seems a fitting day to pay tribute to America’s talented woodworkers. We asked the manufacturer of L.L.Bean’s Classic Wooden Adirondack Chair, to tell us about the history and inspiration for this chair – a perennial customer favorite.
Guest blog by Luke Eriksen and Nathaniel Gibson:
Over the past century, the Adirondack chair has become a classic piece of American outdoor furniture. Originally conceived as a fairly basic design in the early 1900s in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, it has been redesigned in numerous styles with various features. The Adirondack chairs that L.L.Bean offers today incorporate the best of these refinements to make it convenient and comfortable, while still holding true to its distinct American heritage.
The design for L.L.Bean’s Classic Wooden Adirondack Chair originated with Clifford Pierce and his Vermont furniture company during the early 1980s. A decorated veteran as well as an entrepreneur – he had already founded a successful steel-crafting business prior to founding his woodworking company – Cliff became interested in Adirondack chairs during summers spent with his family at their lakefront camp on Lake George in New York.
While taking boat rides on the lake, “the boys” and Cliff would pass by various old family estates that had Adirondack chairs on their property, set by campfire pits or on sprawling front yards and, most iconically, on docks. There were many styles and most appeared aged and worn, falling apart over just a couple seasons. Cliff reckoned it was because they were made out of pine and scrap crates, which were the common materials used for Adirondack chairs at the time.
After learning of Cliff’s interest in the chairs, a friend and neighbor at the lake happily gave Cliff one of his Adirondack chairs to study and reference dimensions. Thus began his company’s development of the Adirondack chair.
The timing was excellent. Previously, Cliff’s company had focused on making smaller wood products, such as towel holders and spice racks, but during the early 1980s the company transitioned to producing larger furniture pieces. The Adirondack chair fit in perfectly with this transition.
The chair given to Cliff was extra large and made out of softwood. The design had a lot of support pieces and very wide arms. The back of the chair was comprised of many narrow slats. It was also very low, so when you slid down into the seat, it was comfortable, but hard to get out of!
So Cliff and the company woodworkers set about improving on the design. Early on it was decided that the chairs should be foldable. Easy storage was a key feature in Cliff’s mind as he had seen too many prematurely weathered and dilapidated chairs on the docks and shores of Lake George. Unlike bulkier designs that were a hassle to move and took up too much space to store inside easily, the folding design did not take up as much space and encouraged customers to keep the chairs inside over the winter.
The initial design developed by Cliff had slats that were all the same width, including the seat legs. The chair featured narrower arms in an effort to keep the price competitive with similar wood furniture pieces imported by foreign manufacturers. When all was said and done, Cliff had reviewed over 10 different styles of Adirondack Chairs from the Lake George area.
The Adirondack Chair designed by Cliff was introduced at the Chicago Housewares Trade Show in 1984. L.L.Bean and Cliff had met at the previous year’s show and L.L.Bean was already selling a folding camp table that Cliff’s company had designed. When the folks from L.L.Bean saw the Adirondack Chair, they knew that it was going to be a hit, although with a few changes. They asked for the design to be made a bit more traditional, with wider arms and seat legs, and a tapered back. “But,” they told us, “keep that folding idea!”
From this collaboration, L.L.Bean’s Adirondack Chair was born, debuting in their catalog during the spring of 1985. Over the years it has become famous for its quality solid wood construction, durability and ease of storage, and remains the perfect finishing touch for beach and lake houses, porches, decks, patios and many other outdoor spaces. Cliff’s company has continued to design and manufacture the chairs in the USA exclusively for L.L.Bean to this day. We think that if Cliff were out on a lake today, he would be pleased to see that in the place of many of the weathered hulks that initially inspired him are the Adirondack chairs that he helped create, still in good condition thanks to their durable, folding design.
Our Adirondack chairs vendor designs and manufactures quality, affordable, ecofriendly solid wood American furniture in the Green Mountains of Vermont and Adirondack foothills of New York.
Luke Eriksen is grandson of Clifford Pierce. Nathaniel Gibson is a freelance writer based in Southern Vermont.
Do you love Adirondack chairs? If so, what’s your favorite color?