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In Westport New York in 1903, a man named Thomas Lee came up with the idea for the first Adirondack chair.
While searching for outdoor furniture, he felt there wasn’t a design that incorporated all the features he was looking for – a high back, slanted seat, and wide armrests – something that was sturdy, comfortable, and balanced.
He thought these qualities were essential for a chair to be suited for the rugged mountain terrain of the Adirondacks (mountains in upstate New York); the slanted seat of the chair allows people to sit on a steep incline while ensuring the best viewing angle for the landscape.
Spending three years from 1900 to 1903 perfecting his design and getting family and friends to test out his prototypes, Thomas settled on a final model that he felt was perfect. Hoping to bring this chair design to fruition, he contacted a carpenter friend who was looking for extra work for the winter, Harry Bunnell.
Harry began creating these chairs and selling them locally, and after noticing how successful the venture was, he modified the chair to be narrower and subsequently patented the new design in 1905 without telling Thomas. This turned into a successful business venture for Harry for the next 20 years, where he continued to sell these chairs he called “Westport chairs.”
During this time, other carpenters innovatively modified the design of the chair, so several different variations are known. Because the design originated in the Adirondacks, it was called the Adirondack chair, however it is known by different names in different regions.
For example, in Ontario, Canada it is known as the “Muskoka chair” due to its popularity in the Muskoka region.
The Westport chair differed from the Adirondack chair in that it was made from hickory or hemlock, and the back of the chair is made from whole pieces of knot-free wooden planks compared to the Adirondack chair back consisting of several slats of wood lined up. This feature made building the Westport chair design more difficult, as a result, today’s Adirondack chairs are made from materials such as cedar or mahogany, ensuring their longevity and durability.
Over time and with contribution from many great craftspeople, the infamous Adirondack chair has undergone many changes in design, features, material type, and even name.
What has not changed include the two most integral and universal features of the chair – wide armrests and a slanted seat – as well as its reliability and durability on steep, rugged terrain (true to its Adirondack roots). The Adirondack chair has become an undeniable outdoor chair staple over the last 100+ years.
In 1955, Gérard Bruneau started a side-business by handcrafting quality garden swings. Having some success with garden swings, Mr. Bruneau began making other wood furniture, slowly amassing hundreds of quality pieces of furniture.
As Gérard worked in his workshop, his young and curious son, François, attentively watched his father and slowly learned the craft of furniture making and in 1982, in association with his son François, the venture changed from a sideline business to a full-time operation, handcrafting the best in Adirondack chairs.
Learn more about their story here.