This iconic outdoor furniture design was a summertime staple in the 1950s. Here’s why we still love the iconic furniture design decades after it first debuted.

By Jessica Bennett
July 29, 2020
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The metal lawn chair is one of those furniture pieces that can take you back to a specific moment in time. Perhaps the curved, Art Deco-inspired seat reminds you of afternoons spent in your grandmother's backyard or an overnight stop on a family road trip. A common fixture in both homes and hotels throughout the mid-20th century, this familiar chair, with its comforting sense of nostalgia, is once again a popular choice for outdoor furniture.

Kimberly Gavin

The classic design is known by a variety of names, including shellback, clamshell, and tulip chair for its shape. It's also sometimes called a motel chair because it was commonly seen around resort pools and in front of roadside motels, especially those along Route 66. The chair traditionally features a stamped seat and tubular, cantilevered frame, both made from colorful powder-coated steel.

Metal lawn chairs initially became popular in the 1950s as middle-class families flocked to the suburbs and larger backyards increased the demand for outdoor furniture. During this postwar period, manufacturers such as the Warmack Company began making steel lawn furniture, including chairs, gliders, rockers, and matching tables. The company became the largest metal outdoor furniture producer in the U.S. before it was purchased in 1954 by Flanders Industries. The company continued making the classic steel chairs until 1996, when their popularity began to give way to upholstered wicker seats and stackable plastic versions.

Courtesy of Wayfair

Buy It: Karim Patio Dining Chair, ($137 for set of two, Wayfair)

Authentic retro metal chairs, often with chipped paint and corroding edges, can now be found at many flea markets and vintage shops, especially those specializing in midcentury designs. Reproductions also abound, including ones made in the original style with high-quality materials, like those from Torrans Manufacturing Co. You can also shop a variety of affordable contemporary options in splashy colors at retailers like Target and Wayfair.

Courtesy of Target

Buy It: Metal Patio Arm Chair, ($59, Target)

It's unclear why exactly this iconic piece of Americana is once again showing up in backyards and front porches, but the appeal is likely rooted in nostalgia. This midcentury lawn chair often brings back cherished family memories or evokes that care-free summertime feeling from simpler times. Plus, the powder-coated finish is resistant to rust, corrosion, and fading, making it a durable choice for all-weather use. So whether you prefer an antique original or a shiny new reproduction, these retro lawn chairs offer both old-school comfort and design that's meant to last.

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