An Old Product Taking a New Seat on College Campuses: Adirondack Chairs

How colleges and universities have turned to Adirondack Chairs in order to get their students outside and back to in-person interaction.


Greg Hume / Wikimedia Commons

Adirondack Chairs are making a new appearance on college and university campuses across America.

There’s a new trend taking the college world by storm, and it might surprise you. It is not a TikTok dance, nor a new type of class; rather it is the resurgence in use of the Adirondack Chair. Colleges and universities across the country have set up these chairs on greens and quads, in an effort to give students more use of outside space, which has become a necessity as we adapt to life under the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. 

For students across America, college during the academic year 2020-2021 was abnormal, to say the least.  Most college and university classes were virtual on Zoom, and some students were forced to stay at home or quarantined in their dorm rooms, due to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

Reactions to this year of remote learning were mixed; while some college students had more open schedules, others felt more restricted and lonely. “Doing the same repetitive tasks every day with little variation can be so boring,” one frustrated college student told USA Today. Learners across the country, regardless of grade level, can sympathize with this statement. Opinions such as this one reflect the findings from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, which showed significant increases in anxiety and depression amongst college students during the mostly remote 2020-2021 academic year.  

Two Adirondack Chairs are set up on a campus green. (Jean Gagnon /Wikimedia Commons)

As colleges began bringing students back for this current 2021-2022 academic year (many with requirements that students attending in-person classes be fully vaccinated against COVID-19), the goal of fostering a more accommodating learning environment was the first thing on the agenda. One of the most proven ways to improve mental health is by spending time outside. The American Psychological Association notes that “spending time in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional well-being.”

While schools had ample green space, many students did not have a great way to make use of it. What is the solution? Adirondack Chairs. 

Adirondack Chairs have been a staple of the outdoor seating world since the turn of the twentieth Century. The Adirondack Chairs’ history begins with their original inventor, Thomas Lee. A native of Massachusetts and later the Adirondack region, Lee had a desire to make a chair that could withstand the tough conditions of his environment. He spent countless attempts from 1900 to 1903 crafting his version of “the perfect chair.” The eventual product came with wide armrests, a high back, and a slanted seat.

Here’s the patent from the original Adirondack Chair (HC Bunnell)

But Lee came from significant wealth and had no interest in running a chair-making company himself. So once he had the design, Lee went to his friend Harry Bunnell, a carpenter, to file the patent and to produce the chairs. The design changed slightly, as Bunnell developed the Westport chair-making business. Most significantly, Bunnell switched to multiple planks of wood in order to make up the back, a change from Lee’s original design, which had only one piece of wood supporting those seated. 

It wasn’t long before other companies had their interest piqued by the business, and soon enough, the production of the Westport Chair design, later named the Adirondack Chair, was thriving. After a few decades, the modern Adirondack Chair was established, and production was expanding across the United States. And as business was growing, the meaning behind the Adirondack Chair had also taken form. 

College students enjoy the relaxation of Adirondack Chairs on a campus green. (Wikimedia Commons)

These chairs were meant for leisure and to be comfortably enjoyed in the great outdoors. As Jay Hawes, owner of Dartbrook Rustic Goods, a furniture manufacturer and home store, told the Times Union, “If you’re sitting in any version of an Adirondack Chair, there’s an exceptionally good chance that you’re in a beautiful place, possibly surrounded by people you love, and definitely headed toward a deep state of relaxation.” That narrative has been crafted since their invention in 1903, and it’s easy to see why colleges and universities would find the potential use of these chairs to be so intriguing. The Adirondack Chair offers significant versatility, and it can blend into any environment. Yet, it also has a relaxing nature to it. This is perfect for stressed college students.  

So how are colleges and universities using them now?

The majority of campuses consist of green space. Unless a campus is located in the middle of Chicago or New York City, a college or university campus will most likely have quads and fields scattered around the campus. Dotted around those areas are rings of Adirondack chairs, occasionally accompanied by tables. Schools across the country have turned to such models, such as Middlebury, MIT, Alabama, Boston University, and Tufts, among others. Students use them for hanging out with friends, to study, or simply to serve as a place to sit down for a minute.

Reactions to the addition of Adirondack Chairs to campuses across America have largely been positive. In fact purchases of Adirondacks are up in all sectors, according to POLYWOOD CEO, Doug Rassi. An up and comer in the industry, POLYWOOD produces Adirondack Chairs and other lawn chairs using sustainable materials. “Our digital marketing efforts are reaching farther than ever. Our sustainable message, quality products and diversity of style also is being discovered,” said Rassi. It seems that colleges and universities are devoted to providing spaces for their students to engage with one another, while also staying aware of environmental and fiscal costs. 

This trend is here to stay. Just as Adirondack Chairs became a mainstay of modern lawn furniture, they are now on the way to becoming part of the signature college look. As students continue to take some virtual classes and as schools increase creative learning initiatives, the need for versatile, comfortable furniture will only grow. And companies like POLYWOOD will be there to produce them.

Just as Adirondack Chairs became a mainstay of modern lawn furniture, they are now on the way to becoming part of the signature college look.