My wife probably looks at me funny, but when the latest furniture collection catalogs come in the mail, I don’t just read them; I study them. It’s not that I don’t have plenty of furniture designs wafting around in my head, but inspiration does not happen in a vacuum. I look at everything from Ethan Allen, Ashley, Restoration Hardware, even IKEA (especially IKEA.) There are, and have always been iconic furniture designs; the Maloof rocker, the Eames chair, the Morris chair, and the like, but there’s also the ever-shifting sands of annual and seasonal fashion. I’ve found that these catalogs, which companies spend tens of thousands of dollars printing and promoting, are a great way to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s popular and what might become popular.
After scouring the upcoming outdoor furniture seasonal catalogs from all of the big names, it is clear that minimalist modern furniture is not just for the inside of your all glass penthouse suite anymore. If you check the price tags on some of these you’ll see lots of zeros, and often rightfully so with exotic materials and fine joinery. I wanted to take a swing at making one of these chairs using:
- Easily obtainable materials, stuff you can get from just about any home center.
- Easy and accessible techniques, such as pocket holes and dowels, so this project could be finished in a weekend.
- Maintaining as much style as possible while still making a sturdy piece of furniture that doesn’t ruin the proportions.
Let’s start with material selection. Outdoor furniture has a tough life – water and the elements will always win…eventually. But, there are a few ways to combat the inevitable.
- Top coat your project with glossy, thick, marine-grade finish.
- Pick a wood species that is inherently rot-resistant. (A few tips can be found in this)
- Use pressure treated lumber.
- Take advantage of composite building materials.
- The least expensive option, and honestly, the most bulletproof method – paint it.
For my build, I decided to paint my modern adirondack chair. To make things easier, I am going to be using the Wagner FLEXiO 3000. This nifty, self-contained HVLP sprayer has two interchangeable spray heads. One can make a wide coarse spray pattern for large projects. The second head is for finer finishes like polyurethane, stain, or smaller projects. For this project, I used the large project head since the project was going to be outdoors, and I didn’t need that fine furniture mirror finish.
After assembling the pieces of my chair, I prepared for the finish by plugging all of the pocket holes with ⅜” dowel, filling any of the larger gaps with fast drying paintable silicone caulk (a finish carpenter’s best friend) and sanding to 150 grit.
I was impressed by how well the Wagner sprayer handled a full, uncut Porter Paints paint plus primer. This stuff is like syrup, yet the Wagner was able to get good atomization of the paint and deliver a smooth finish. Atomization of any finish is key to not wasting a bunch of product and causing runs and drips. I was really amazed at how well the Wagner did even comparing it to the old HVLP system I had been using. I was also super happy with the consistent spray pattern and lack of overspray – I managed to spray the whole project without my typical top layer and didn’t have a single drop or paint on me, even on a breezy day.
Painting my chair allowed me to minimize the cost of materials because I can use pine lumber, rather than white oak, teak, or ipe. You could build this project with dimensional construction lumber, but to save myself some time, I went with the “s4s” pine lumber at the home center. This means my lumber has been surfaced on four sides.
Next, I chose to use pocket hole joinery that would cut my build time by eliminating the need for clamping every joint and waiting for glue to dry. If I were to build these again, I would have probably used through dowels because the additional step of plugging the pocket holes quickly ate up most of the time savings I gained by eliminating glue dry and clamp time. Either way, this project makes for a long Saturday, or maybe a full weekend build.
Finally, I wanted to maintain as much style as possible, and this is a lot more difficult than it seems. The chairs in the catalogs use teak, white oak and other water resistant materials that are very strong. Also, they use floating tenon joinery, which is very strong and versatile. Finally, I don’t have the resources of a whole company to source custom cushions to match the exact aesthetic I’m going for.
So, I tried to maintain as much sleek and modern style as possible with this project, by first sourcing the cushions in whatever size and color I wanted. Then, I mocked up the design with the cushions I could get (in my case from Target) accommodating the design for the aesthetic I was shooting for.
I also had to ensure the chair was as strong as possible with logical joinery, but not over engineered to the point where there were superfluous glue blocks and reinforcing strips to break up the clean minimalist lines. I accomplished this by making sure that as many joints as possible were reinforced with mechanical strengths to bear the weight rather simply relying on fasteners and glue. By cutting the front and back support rails for the seat at the same angle as the chair lay back I was able to ensure the frame acted as a cradle for the plywood seat, and that the plywood seat reinforced the frame as well.
Lastly, but probably most importantly with any chair design, I wanted to make sure the chair was comfortable, like REALLY comfortable. This was going to be my napping spot for the spring and summer, so I wanted it to suck me in. I drew inspiration from the layback of the traditional Adirondack chair but I also took advantage of the characteristics of the wood and the design that allow the floating seat to behave almost as a spring to maximize comfort.
The project came together super smoothly and this chair is so comfortable, like instantly tempt you into a catnap kind of comfortable. The Wagner FLEXiO 3000 sprayer really made the finish a breeze, I was super impressed by the lack of overspray when building this project. I didn’t wear my usual top layers and even on a windy spring day I didn’t get a single drop of paint on my clothes or my camera. The coverage was very consistent once I got the hang of it, it also sprayed on the thick paint+primer top coat and really only needed a couple coats for a good smooth finish. I sprayed the whole chair in maybe 15 minutes, and that was including moving the camera around for some good shots. I finished the bottom of the chair without moving the camera around in 5 minutes, tops.
If I were to build this again I would have changed a couple of things. I would have probably gone for a little bit better lumber, but that is always in the back of my head, don’t get me wrong the chair is strong, but I have a feeling it will last maybe 5-7 years. I like to build stuff that lasts a lifetime. I would have also used dowels instead of pocket holes. This would save the time of filling the pocket holes before the paint job and also given you the option to finish the project with a clear coat instead of paint if you so desired.
– Rick LaFaver
This is a sponsored blog post, but all opinions are my own.