Which came first, the Adirondack chair, or the Westport chair?
It is a story of two friends. The first, a man named Thomas Lee, an owner of a summer cottage in Westport, NY in the Adirondacks, on Lake Champlain. The second, a hunting buddy, Harry Bunnell, the owner of a local carpentry shop.
One summer while hosting a group of friends and family, Lee built several chairs of a new design from rough pallet wood. His friends and family voted it the best chair for the Adirondack woods.
Lee named the chair after the town where it originated, Westport. The design for the first Westport chair that Lee built had a slanted seat and back with two wide, broad armrests, perfect for resting a drink while leaning back and enjoying the lake view.
Bunnell, who was broke and looking for ways to make money over the winter, asked his friend Lee for advice. Trying to be helpful, Lee asked Bunnell to make some more Westport chairs for him, using Lee’s design, and suggested Bunnell sell extras to the locals.
Bunnell knew a good thing when he saw it, and went on to build a business around the Westport chair, even going so far as to patent the design in 1905. Bunnell never told his helpful friend Lee about the patent, nor did Lee pursue the matter after he learned that Bunnell had patented the chair. Bunnell went on to become a successful businessman, manufacturing and selling the chair for the next twenty-five years.
Furniture collectors highly prize original Westport chairs, which were built with hemlock, not a hardy wood for standing up to outdoor weather conditions. Those built by Bunnell are stamped on the backrest with his U.S. patent number and fetch a high price.
Over the years the Westport chair evolved into the more well known, and popular, Adirondack chair, with thin slats on the bottom and back, but the Westport chair continues to be used, especially in the Adirondacks.