The Westport Plank Chair

I was out on a bike ride this morning and I was thinking about the red Muskoka Chair. It’s an iconic piece of Canadian (?) furniture that has done an incredible job at branding itself as such.

But where did it come from, what’s it’s story? I needed to find out.

AKA The Westport Plank Chair

Upon a quick google search, I learned that the Muskoka chair (aka the Adirondack chair, aka The Westpost Plank Chair) was first designed by Thomas Lee in 1903. He was vacationing in Westport in the Adirondack mountains at the time. There are a many of accounts of what happens next, but long story short, Thomas’ carpenter friend Harry Bunnell, quietly filed a patent in 1905 and proceeded to sell them for over 20 years.

US Patent 794777A
Westport is located on Lake Champlain, about 120km south of Montreal, in New York state. From there if you look to the west you will be able to see the Adirondack Mountains. In those mountains was a convalescent home for tuberculosis patients. Here caregivers thought the chair would be perfect for guests to sit in and enjoy the recuperative powers of fresh mountain air.
Thus the term “Adirondack Chair” was born. (source)

Well, this got interesting. But what about the red Muskoka chair? Any more of a story there? I kept Googling.

I found another, more thorough exploration of its history, by an author who had a number of the same questions I did. The question being: was this chair originally Canadian or had they adopted it from American neighbours?

Unlike the Bunnell patent, it doesn’t seem like there was a Canadian equivalent chair documented. Bunnell actually had filed a Canadian version of his US patent in 1907.

Instructions for The Bear Chair

How did the chair arrive on Canadian porches? Probably by way of Americans spending time at cottages in Canada. In the 1930’s, the modern version of the chair (sold for $0.88!!!) had hit the mass market, and was being sold as common lawn furniture by companies like the Adirondack Chair Company.

In the 1940’s the first mail-order kits appeared and the chair’s popularity took off.
No one knows who brought the first one to Canada but it was probably someone from New York with a cottage in the Muskoka. Soon the term “Muskoka Chair” became part of our lexicon.

Fast forward to the 1980’s and The Bear Chair (Canadian equivalent of the Adirondack) was born. I couldn’t find anything that explained why the chairs became red, but likely because the chairs were easy to paint and red pops in nature.