A Symbol of Summer: The Muskoka Chair

As summer comes to a close, we reflect on those special moments that made the hot sultry summer months truly great. Memories like enjoying a beer on a deck with pals, or reading a book dockside, remind us of relaxing days of fun and frivolity that we can treasure all year round. For me, some of the best times were spent in the arms of our Muskoka Chair.

For Canada, the Muskoka Chair promises slow, lazy days spent sunken in the steep recline of the tilted, unadorned design. But where did this design originate?

The title, “Muskoka” Chair is misleading. It is perhaps true that anywhere outside of South Western Ontario's Muskoka region - “Cottage Country” - refers to the design as the Adirondack Chair. The Adirondack Chair is attributed to Thomas Lee, a man looking to improve his outdoor experience at his summer home in the Adirondack Mountains of Westport, New York. Prizing both function and relaxation, he modeled an angled, broad-armed chair crafted from solid hemlock and cut from a single board. Thus, Lee's Westport Chair was born. In the event of looking to a Westport carpenter to build the design, Harry Bunnel enters the picture. Bunnel patented his version (whether inspired by or appropriated from Lee) of the Wesport Chair in US in around 1903 and Canada in 1907. The US patent was referred to as the Adirondack Bungalow Chair and Bunnel continued into the 1920's building for American cottagers.

Alas, the design did not originate in Canada and was probably introduced to the docks of Canada's waters by Americans with cottages in Canada. With Canada out of the possibility of invention, how about re-invention? After World War II, The Adirondack/Muskoka Chair lost its panache (as more favorable, compact options became available) and remained that way until the 1980's when The New York Times revived the Adirondack Chair as the symbol of the American summer vacation. Meanwhile in Ontario, David Wright was refurbishing American's cottage chairs in his workshop. His restoration projects led him to amalgamate the best of the various chairs' features into a complete design. The Bear Chair was crafted and has remained virtually unchanged since its creation in 1988. It continues to lead in influence and design for the Adirondack Chair in Canada and the United States.

Check out these modern designs that build on the special heritage of the beloved Muskoka Chair.


Photo Courtesy of Jardinique.

Designed by Jardinique, it is most similar to the Bunnel "Adirondack Bungalow Chair" with the narrow back, wide planks, and broad armrests.



Photo Courtesy of Jardinique


Also from Jardinique, the round backs offer a modern variation to the Muskoka Chair. 


Photo Courtesy of Rafters of Muskoka.


Rafters of Muskoka presents their modern version of the classic chair complete with a hideaway footstool. It is available in blue, red, and white and secured by a 20-year warranty. Rest easy.



Photo Courtesy of C.R. Plastic Products.

C.R. Plastic Products confronts splinters, rot, and re-painting with plastic lumber Muskoka/Adirondack chairs. This one is styled in the form of a bar-stool! 


Photo Courtesy of loll Designs.

loll Designs departure from the loll Adirondack Chair is the lollygagger lounge (above). It is modern, sleek, and more compact than its predecessor and offers a more urban-friendly retreat for Canadian city-dwellers.


Photo Courtesy of The Bear Chair Co.


To end with the beginning, the piece that perhaps initiated Canada's infatuation with the Adirondack Chair and re-interpreted its design: The Bear Chair by The Bear Chair Company.

Like much of our Canada identity, The Muskoka Chair is a compilation of many designs and histories that originated outside of Canada's physical borders. The heritage of the Muskoka Chair extends far and wide but still, we have taken the simple, unadorned, laid-back design and made it into our own. And as Canada continues to grow, our symbol of summer does too.

To read more of the Muskoka Chair's heritage and identity, Canadian author Douglas Hunter takes readers on an interesting journey through the cottage chair's past and present in his blog post "Chair Wars". Check it out!

We LOVE the Muskoka Chair!

Written and Researched by Sara Nicole England, undergraduate of OCAD University, Criticism and Curatorial Practice. 

Posted In: Ontario

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