The Big Chair

The chair at SD Botanic Gardens that served as my inspiration.

On a trip to California this February, my wife, son, and I visited the San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas. She was immediately taken with one of the installations there — an oversized adirondack chair.

I filed this attraction of hers away in my head, and like Roy in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it started to eat away at me.  I collected plans for dozens of different styles of adirondack chairs (all normal scale), I drew my own plans both on paper and on the computer, and I stood staring at the hardware store’s lumber aisle envisioning how the different sizes of boards would work together.  No chairs were built from mashed potatoes, but only for a lack of that dish being on the menu.

I would have to build this chair, and Mother’s Day gave me a perfect excuse.

Not surprisingly, there is a distinct lack of plans online for giant adirondack chairs. I’d have to figure it out on my own.  The pictures I’d taken in California that had Sara in them were most helpful, since I could use her as a scale reference.  Being the most patient and trusting wife ever, she never really questioned me when I asked her to stretch her arms out and measure from wrist to wrist, or from her hip to mid-calf (see the picture above for relevance).  With these measurements in hand, it was a relatively simple matter to determine what size everything was, and the good news was that everything could be built using standard-dimension lumber with very little waste.

Like the adage about the best way to eat an elephant, giant chairs are planned and built one piece at a time. First would be the seat.  With that put together, I could sit on it and figure out exactly how far back the backrest should be.  Once that was done I could build the backrest.  Once that was done I could tilt the whole thing and try it out to figure out the best angle so that the front supports could be attached.  With front supports and a backrest, I could figure out how the armrests fit. One piece at a time, each contributing to the next piece of the puzzle.

I worked at night, telling Sara I was heading out to the garage to work on my secret project.  Yes, those were my exact words. When you have a long enough history of crazy secret projects going on, an understanding partner doesn’t get too alarmed or unduly curious when another one comes along.

A late night peek into the workshop.

After a couple weeks of work — an hour or so a night — I had an enormous chair filling most of my garage/workshop.  So enormous, in fact, that there was no getting around the chair, there was only going under the chair.  I covered the windows so nobody would accidentally see in and have a surprise spoiled.

With everything cut and fit, it now had to come apart for painting.  It’s all held together with bolts and deck screws, so disassembly was relatively painless. If I thought the chair took up room before, that was nothing compared to what the pieces took up when laid out for painting — there was one fewer dimension in which to keep them!

The night before Mother’s Day, a friend of my wife who was in on the plot took her out for drinks.  Friends and neighbors rushed over as soon as they left and the chair was installed in a corner of the back yard, ready to be revealed the next day.  Needless to say, she loved it.

I’m trying to write up some plans so you can build your own, but that’s almost proving more difficult than making the chair  in the first place.

UPDATE: Here are my plans for building your own giant adirondack chair.

4 Comments on "The Big Chair"

  1. Gene Brewer says:

    What a great idea…and secret. Have you created the plans and are they available. My wife and I saw one at a restaurant in Florida and she too would be surprised if, one day, it appeared in our yard. I am not a great woodworker but would love the challenge to create this piece of art.

  2. Scott Runkel says:

    Nathan, I am totally mind-boggled!

  3. Brenda Jones says:

    Nathan? BEAUTIFUL AND FUN. Would you mind sharing your plans?

    • Nathan says:

      I’ll see what I can put together, but it’s so hard to go back and document a previous project when there are exciting new projects to be done! :)
      If you find a set of plans for a regular-sized chair it follows those pretty closely, but just double everything. A 4-foot-long 1×4 becomes an 8-foot-long 2×8, and so on.

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