AS AN UNSELF-CONSCIOUS,"low-art" design icon, the Adirondack lawn chair has no peer. It dates from the turn of the century when, in summer, the moneyed classes of the Northeast would flee for the breezes of mountain resorts in the Adirondacks. The Adirondack interior design tradition boasted delicate masterpieces blurring the line between furniture and nature, such as the Kamp Kill Kare bed (1916), with its two-story-high canopy of branches. But what mostly survives in production today are comfortable, straightforward pieces intended for casual outdoor use, such as the classic lawn chair. Slat construction enabled entrepreneurs to build it easily and cheaply.
While the precise origins of the Adirondack chair remain obscure, a well-documented variant with sawed planks is known as the Westport chair, so-named for its manufacture in the village of Westport, N.Y., on Lake Champlain, by one Tom Lee. A letter by his niece recounts the chair's genesis on a summer's day, circa 1900: thanks to "Uncle Tom's nailing boards together and getting various members of the family to sit in it and tell him when the angles felt exactly comfortable. Then he evolved those great wide flat arms on which you set a cup or glass." Lee's design resembles a broad, klunky Victorian chair starved to the bare, unupholstered bones. Indeed, its simple minimalism seems like a knockoff of that famous early modernist classic, Rietveld's Red-Blue chair--except that the Dutch designer's chair dates from 1917.