History of the Adirondack Reclining Chair

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  • Author Tonya Kirneva
  • Published July 19, 2009
  • Word count 507

You love your Adirondack rocker almost as much as you love your La-Z-Boy. So why should you have to choose between them? You don’t. Combine your two favorite things in the form of an Adirondack reclining chair. But before you get too comfortable, pay attention to how such a relaxing piece of furniture came to be.

The Reclining Chair

Although they seem like thoroughly modern contraptions, the idea of a reclining chair actually dates back some 200 years, back to the late 18th century in the Napoleonic era. Back then, the basic design was surprisingly similar to a modern Adirondack reclining chair, i.e., allowing the user to sit straight up or back at an angle, with one’s feet suspended above the ground. The first prototypes looked to the design of the popular chaise lounge, a bench-like seat with armrest on one side upon which one could fully stretch out one’s legs.

Around 1850, French engineers invented a reclining camp bed assumed to once belong to Napoleon III. This seat was similar in form to a daybed and could act as a chair, a bed or a chaise, as desired. Like many a chaise lounge, the camp bed was upholstered with padding attached to a steel frame. Unlike many chaises, it was also meant to be portable and folded out into a bed.

Later that century, more moveable chair designs emerged. These were usually made from wood and covered in padding. Ironically they were kept in homes more as conversation pieces than actual functioning pieces of furniture.

The recognizable recliner can be attributed to American ingenuity. Two cousins, Knabush and Shoemaker, are credited with patenting the very first wooden recliner in 1928. This in itself was nothing extraordinary, as it resembled little more than a reclining beach chair. However, this patent led to the beginnings of the iconic La-Z-Boy, and in 1930, the cousins went on to patent an upholstered chair with a mechanical movement device. In 1947 a competing furniture company would add on the complementary foot rest.

Many of today’s chairs (not including the Adirondack reclining chair, in this case) are fully motorized. Some of the power lift chairs are specifically designed to aid individuals with mobility problems while the bells and whistles of other models simply serve to make life that much easier for the everyman.

The Adirondack Chair

The Adirondack reclining chair in particular took a slightly different route. The Adirondack design is just over a century old, and was created by a creative man by the name of Thomas Lee, who had been vacationing in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York with his family and needed some extra seating room. Originally intended for private use, one of Lee’s acquaintances, another carpenter named Harry Bunnell patented Lee’s idea and sold it successfully under his brand for the next few decades. As Bunnell began experimenting with the classic form of the wide armrests and long, sloping back, it was only a matter of time before the Adirondack reclining chair came into being.

Tonya Kerniva is an experienced research and free lance writing professional. She writes actively about Adirondack Chairs and Adirondack Recliners.

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