Adirondack Signage, Pt II: A Modern Preservation Aesthetic

Last summer, I wrote a short post on signage in the Adirondack Park, featuring a few images from venues in-or-near Old Forge and Lowville, NY. This year my family and I vacationed in the Adirondacks once again, and I did some new research into sign esthetics in the Keene Valley/Lake Placid region. This time I saw growing evidence of modern design influencing the established wood-substrate stylings prolific throughout the historic preserve.

  Simple, striking graphics at Big Crow

Simple, striking graphics at Big Crow

 Liquids and Solids restaurant goes full-on retro to create a hip feel

Liquids and Solids restaurant goes full-on retro to create a hip feel

 Liquids & Solids exterior mural

Liquids & Solids exterior mural

 "Junk Deco" at Liquids & Solids

"Junk Deco" at Liquids & Solids

Good Rules = Good Looks

Regulations in New York's scenic Adirondack State Park foster an appealing and identifiable regional style.

The prevalence of super cool wooden signs in the region (which tend to be fairly expensive to make) is something I've always noticed but never really thought about until last year. So, I did some checking around to learn more about what's behind this classic staple of Adirondack design.

According to New York State law, commercial signage within the bounds of the Adirondack Park must conform to certain standards meant to protect the appeal of the park's spellbinding natural beauty for the sake of both tourists and residents. Back in 1924, billboards were banned altogether. The rules for all other signs include prohibition of: neon and other glaringly luminous lighting; signs or banners that move or rotate; and, attaching signs to any natural object other than the ground. Certain restrictions also dictate the number, size and location of signs relative to a business location. 

Perhaps most importantly, signs must be made of natural materials such as wood, stone or brick. This has resulted in a robust collection of mostly wooden signage, which are often artistically designed and hand-crafted. Even the sign on the Lake Placid Rite Aid is made of wood that appears to be hand-carved. The likes of such a proliferation are hard to find anywhere else.

For decades, the Adirondack Park has been known for it's familiar utilitarian road signs, with their instantly recognizable brown backgrounds and gold lettering. The park is the largest state park in the US, and unlike most national parks, there are many homes and businesses. The brown and gold signs, along with the more varied and subtle wooden commercial signs, are what let you know you are somewhere special.

  Classic Adirondack Park welcome sign, displayed at a vintage goods shop

Classic Adirondack Park welcome sign, displayed at a vintage goods shop

  Nostaligic, old-style township welcome sign

Nostaligic, old-style township welcome sign

Classic Sign Art in the Park

Wooden signage tends to be crafted with an artistic approach not typically seen with plastic, metal, vinyl, etc. – the types of signs that are far more common in other areas. Below are a few of the older signs I came across, with a more vintage feel to them.

Aging hand-made sign at Lake Placid Airport

  A little art deco revival at the Northway Motel

A little art deco revival at the Northway Motel

  At the Woodlake Inn, Lake Placid

At the Woodlake Inn, Lake Placid

  The Cascade Inn (named for Cascade Mountain, the one-and-only Adirondack High Peak I have climbed).

The Cascade Inn (named for Cascade Mountain, the one-and-only Adirondack High Peak I have climbed).

  Moose-loveing bowling alley in Lake Placid

Moose-loveing bowling alley in Lake Placid

The Middle Earth sign, below, is one of my favorites. It is more classic than modern, but it has elements of both. I just love the colors and the ample exposure of the natural wood substrate, which has grown darker over time and altered the contrast.

  Middle Earth Expeditions by Wayne Failing, Licensed Adirondack Guide

Middle Earth Expeditions by Wayne Failing, Licensed Adirondack Guide

This one is oh so swanky. I bet he's expensive. But I do love his sign. Somehow everything about it has a really newish sort of oldness going on. Hmm …

  John T. Wilkins, attorney. This guy is undoubtedly a snappy dresser.

John T. Wilkins, attorney. This guy is undoubtedly a snappy dresser.

Modern Influences

At several locations, mostly in Keene and Keene Valley, I was impressed and excited to see some excellent examples of more modern, clean design elements mixed with touches of the classic Adirondack vibe. Here are some of my favorites (to go with Big Crow Trading, at the top of this post):

 That's some classy syrup right there.

That's some classy syrup right there.

  Mountain java. (Seriously, though? They had the best mocha I've ever tasted.)

Mountain java. (Seriously, though? They had the best mocha I've ever tasted.)

 Who's ready for tree pose?

Who's ready for tree pose?

  Dartbrook Lodge, with their picture-perfect plantings.

Dartbrook Lodge, with their picture-perfect plantings.

  ADK Market. "Our food is so good, you'll need two forks."

ADK Market. "Our food is so good, you'll need two forks."

Standards Are a Happy Thing

Let's expand on this a bit. 

I think, when you see how the rules have been applied in the Adirondacks, it's easy to get a visceral sense of the way in which consistent standards affect a brand. By adopting (and strictly enforcing) certain guidelines, wise preservationist influences have done a great service to the region. When you are in the Adirondack Park, you know it. You know you are in a differentiated, historic place that is worthy of reverence and respect. You know you are "away." Without these standards, what would be different? Development in the park is limited, so fortunately we should never find any excessive density there. But other than that, what else could create the sense of place that is so clear there?

I hope all our readers have been to, or will get to visit, the Adirondack Park at some point. And, if you do, I hope you will take some extra time to notice the commercial esthetics and appreciate how disciplined, well considered rules about fluffy things like graphic design have had a positive impact.

Be well, and please keep in touch!

Kindly,
Melissa

1895 Marvin Washburn Commissioner

Knee-deep in the Water: Cape Cod Colors

'Tis the season for family vacation, and last week was my turn! My family and I headed to Cape Cod for our second-ever adventure there and had a fantastic time. 

 July 12th view overlooking Barnstable Harbor, MA

July 12th view overlooking Barnstable Harbor, MA

The house we rented was, in Real Estate-speak, "a cozy, quaint and authentic cottage with historical charm." It also happened to be just steps from Barnstable Harbor, and I took advantage of our first night there to snap a photo at sunset – a requirement of all beach vacations.

Typically, when I think of Cape Cod, I think of weathered gray cedar shakes, New England blues, tan and white … maybe a pop of red here and there. I was surprised when, upon closer examination of this photo, I found such a bright color palette. There is of course the dusky gray sand, but I was surprised by the vibrant green sea grasses, and the rich lavender and hot coral hues of the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. 

We were greeted by colors everywhere, once I started looking for them: a virtual highway of hermit crabs with a speckled variety of shells, pink and purple granite, moon snails with iridescent pearly gray exoskeletons, blue and green sea glass … And every day a vast display of beach umbrellas created a polka-dotted shoreline. We were even treated with a thrilling and colorful post-4th of July fireworks display right on the beach. Rumor has it that the belated fireworks show was owed to foul weather over the official holiday weekend, but I prefer to think it was cosmically arranged as a celebration of our arrival.

- Kelly
 

Adirondack Hand-painted Signage, Pt I

Here Melissa details her curiosity about the many custom, sometimes funny, often dilapidated, retail signs and façades seen during a recent vacation in New York's beautiful Adirondack Park.

It's nearly impossible for most of us to turn off our work brains when we go on vacation. And I wouldn't really want to, since I love what I do. Because design is a factor, consciously or not, in all things created by humans, it pervades every culture – and regional subculture – with much for us to glean through observation.

Architects can't ignore a new building. I'm sure stylists must notice and critique the hair of everyone they lay eyes on. (Though I try not to think about that.) And I have a dog-trainer friend who is vigilantly concerned about the behavior and welfare of most animals she comes into contact with in casual settings. It's ingrained in her, and it's what makes her good at her job.

Me? I notice your logo. And your color scheme. And your marketing materials. And your fonts and ads and websites. And … signs! 

 Moose Caboose, Inlet, NY

Moose Caboose, Inlet, NY

Found in the Mountains

So, on a recent 3-day trip in the Adirondacks, I decided to just go with it and pay closer attention to branding & design in the region. (Shout out to my husband who was so patient about my frequent, sudden requests to pull over and capture my findings while we were in the midst of our first official romantic excursion since our 9-year-old was born.)

 Looks yummy, doesn't it? I think I feel some grease on my chin.

Looks yummy, doesn't it? I think I feel some grease on my chin.

 TJ's BBQ in Lowville, NY

TJ's BBQ in Lowville, NY

At times, truth be told, taking in branding and signage in any rural area presents a particular challenge for us seasoned creatives. Things can get – How do I finesse this? – rustic. And not well-thought-out. And, well, not really created with any intention or resources whatsoever. Ok, it's painful sometimes, but I get how/why it happens, and so far I have managed never to heed any violent urges to walk into a remote establishment and offer my services for free if they would just get rid of the uneven, unreadable yellow lettering on the diner sandwich board that's stuck on with scotch tape please for the love of all things decent. 

Yeah, fortunately, I've never gone there. It helps not to drink.

And then! There is all the awesome stuff. These are the signs and brands you would never see anywhere else, that capture the flavor of the region through a sense of truly unique character that can often be sorely missing from any metro locale.

 Another gorgeous wooden sign at BarkEater Craft Brewery in Lowville, NY

Another gorgeous wooden sign at BarkEater Craft Brewery in Lowville, NY

Hand-painted signs are few and far between in most places. Not in the Adirondacks. Yes, some of them are old and faded, and some of them don't necessarily fit into a broader design scheme, but in many cases you can tell they are made with great care, and often with a sense of humor. You can look at them and see the proprietor's vision represented in each stroke. 

I happen to love that in a brand. 

Enjoy a few more examples below, and remember to take a minute to appreciate the rich variety of regional aesthetics next time you are traveling through the US!

 Is this place closed for good? I can never tell.

Is this place closed for good? I can never tell.

Hiking beaver sign