Muskoka Chair Challenge at Ontario Science Centre

Who doesn’t love a good throw down? Several year ago we had the opportunity to take part in the Ontario Science Centre (OSC) Muskoka chair challenge (or Adirondack chair as our neighbours to the south call it)!  The objective: to create a unique Muskoka chair that would appeal to OSC visitors during the summer months.

The Brief

A science connection was naturally something to consider. However the chair also needed to be comfortable to sit in and withstand the elements that an outdoor chair would be exposed to. Not to mention, the attention and affection (aka wear and tear) that their visitors would bestow upon it!

Each team was given a dissembled chair in a box, and the rest was up to us. We started by sanding all the pieces of wood that made up the chair.

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Inspiration Strikes

Rather than do the obvious thing and incorporate a science theme, I decided to take a different approach to the challenge; one that no one else would think of. I didn’t know this for the longest time, but OSC staff conceives, designs, builds and finishes all the exhibits right on-site. Incredible!

Yes indeed, it takes the collaboration of many people to create the interesting, informative and interactive exhibits that are on display — and they do it in a way that is as green as possible!

Armed with this knowledge, I narrowed it down. Our Muskoka chair would pay tribute to the people who are ‘behind the scenes’ in Exhibit Fabrication: namely the designers, wood workers and finishers.

Turning Blueprints Green

Since every good concept must start with a plan, I knew that part of developing great experiences for their visitors would start with a ‘blueprint’. By upcycling them, we could pay homage to all the exhibit fabricators while being environmentally friendly. I guess you could say that we turned blueprints ‘green’!

I was able to secure duplicate blueprint copies of the Living Earth exhibit –  a fitting theme as every element we used was recycled and/or earth friendly.


I lined up all the slats, and positioned the blue prints. The should all read perfectly once assembled! When I was happy with the layout, I ran the side of a pencil around each outline to ‘crease it’ so I could faintly see where to cut each piece.

I used the pencil lead to lightly number the back of the paper and corresponding wood so the order wouldn’t get mixed up. Then I glued the blueprints to the wood using a 1:2 mixture of water and glue to thin it out. When all the slats were finished I moved onto the arms (seen below):

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Because of the size of the chair, I had to overlap several blueprints.  By laying it all out first to visualize it, I was able to come up with an interesting idea for the back of the chair!

I found that one of the blueprints in the set had a circular pattern rendered on it. It turned on a lightbulb. We would incorporate the Science Centre logo into the design in recognition of the graphics department!


I love that OSC’s logo forms a trillium in the centre: the provincial flower of Ontario since 1937!

When it came to fabricating the logo, I didn’t want to completely mask the beauty of the blueprints. I also wanted to create a peek-a-boo effect with the trillium. So I came up with the idea of cutting out the circles from recycled coloured tissue paper. When découpaged over the blueprint you can still make out the details of the blueprint through the tissue. Furthermore, once sprayed with a clear finish it was even better; it worked like a charm!

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Tissue paper OSC logo superimposed onto bluepint

One More Upcycle

Next, to accompany our chair, we upcycled an old wooden shipping pallet and brought it to life as a footstool and cup holder (our ode to OSC wood workers). There’s never a shortage of pallets in our neighbourhood!

After breaking down the skid, each piece was sanded smooth, as we did with the chair, to better accept the découpage treatment.


Salvaged shipping pallet turned into slats and sides for footstool

I used one of the blueprints and overprinted it with seven of the exhibit hall names. Each slat of our footstool was a tie to the displays that at one time all started out as blueprints!

Since the width of the footstool was wider than I was able to print, I added in the red, blue and green tissue paper once again to make up the width.

The project took up space on our dining room table and in the garage but it was well worth it because we had so much fun working on it together (this was pre-craft studio days)!

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Footstool slats made from an upcycled shipping pallet

One pallet slat was the perfect width for the sides of the cup holder.

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Creating the pattern for the cup holder


Hubs glued and clamped together two pieces of the pallet to gain enough width for the top of the cup holder, then cut out the shapes with a jigsaw.

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The finished cup holder came together nicely; who would guess it was made from a pallet? The wood was actually quite beautiful.

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A pop of colour would tie the cup holder into the OSC logo. So Hubs tested a few stains and ended up choosing a red dye for the accent colour.

Our chair, footstool and cup holder were protected from the elements with water based varnish and dye, reducing the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VoCs) into the air  – and recognizing the contribution of OSC’s finishing department.

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We clear coated all the pieces individually.

Then screwed the footstool together.

Not bad for pallet wood!

Next, we assembled the seat and back of chair, and mounted the cup holder, also fashioned from the pallet.

Finishing Touches

Before we gathered in a room at the Science Centre for the throw down, Hubs made a last minute purchase in the gift shop. He found a coin bank in the shape of a can with OSC’s logo on it. The perfect final touch to complete the cup holder!

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We also thought it a good idea to write up the story of how the collaborative efforts of OSC fabricators inspired us. It’s right on the arm for the judges to read.

To see how we place in the competition, and all the other competitor submissions, check out muskoka chair throw down designs.

What Would We Change?

We jumped at the chance to team up and give the chair challenge a go. It’s an honour to lend our creative talent to a chair that the public will enjoy!

In retrospect, I would spray a few more layers of topcoat onto the entire chair. The trick to making this endure the elements better is spraying many light coats of water-based varnish. The better you seal in the paper, the less it will lift. Unfortunately we did run out of time before we could build up the layers of topcoat. So it did suffer once on display.

If I were to create another découpage chair, I probably wouldn’t expose it directly to the elements. A 3-season porch or under an awning would be more appropriate. For our own home, it would be fun to incorporate something personal to us. Maybe a layout of our house, a satellite view of our street or even a vintage map of our neighbourhood for the découpage element. I might even repeat the tissue paper element on the back using our Birdz of a Feather logo 🙂

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Celebrating 50 Years

OSC officially celebrates its 50th anniversary this year on September 26th, 2019. While OSC aims to inspire a lifelong journey of curiosity, discovery and action to create a better future for the planet, it’s ultimately a downright fun experience when you visit! Hubs and I have racked up so many memorable experiences each time we go.

If you’re ever in the Toronto area (or just haven’t visited for a while), you should definitely  check out what’s on at the Ontario Science Centre and drop in! I know that Hubs and I are due for a visit soon 🙂

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