Do you have a favorite symbol of summer?
For me, the quintessential summer icon is the Adirondack chair. I have vivid memories of rows of white Adirondack chairs lining the white boardwalk of the camp I attended in upstate New York in my childhood. Today, a row of these icons overlooking Long Island Sound at our club is a terrific spot for summer reading. And, of course, these chairs entered into my professional life. One summer for a client, I painted the slats of her chairs alternating colors for a new variation: a striped chair! Those pink and white and green and white chairs are still a favorite of mine! But for me, summer really starts when I head to Newport to see our very good friends and enjoy a cocktail on the lawn at the Inn at Castle Hill. Sitting in an Adirondack chair with its slightly reclined back and wide arms is the perfect perch to take in the beauty of Narragansett Bay.
The Adirondack chair was born 100 years ago in Westport, New York, on the shores of Lake Champlain. According to Daniel Mack, the author of The Adirondack Chair (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 2008), it's unlikely that there would have been an Adirondack chair were it not for the tuberculosis epidemic that killed millions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A cure of fresh mountain air, rest and lots of good food seemed to be able to cure TB. Spas sprang up in many mountainous regions where patients could go for the "rest cure"—usually three months of enforced rest, quarantined from the rest of the world, often sitting for hours wrapped in a blanket on a porch. Special chairs—later known as Adirondack chairs—were developed to make these long hours as comfortable as possible. In fact, the wide arms were developed for books, writing pads and dishes.
Whether you own an original, one you assembled or built yourself or—gasp!—a plastic one, Adirondack chairs beckon us to sit awhile and enjoy life. It is amazing to think that a piece of furniture that started as a remedy for a deadly epidemic has evolved into a part of our leisure lives that we take for granted. (My husband would argue that his favorite summer icon, the gin and tonic, still has medicinal value!) But what separates this chair from others and has made it last is, in fact, its original purpose. It is supposed to make us stop; it is supposed to make us think. While few of us can afford three months for the "rest cure," all of us can afford to take time out of our busy lives to stop and think. And isn't that what summer is all about?
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