A Look at the World’s Most Iconic Minimalist Furniture

The furniture of pioneering American artist Donald Judd balances absolute simplicity with visionary design, and a new design is now available to buy.

White Bedroom
Photography by Martien Mulder

In the early 1970s, a decade after he left painting behind to create large-scale three-dimensional works, the late artist Donald Judd designed his first piece of furniture. It was an act of necessity; he needed beds for his two young children, Rainer and Flavin, who shared a room.

Made of wood and featuring a central freestanding wall that doubled as a divider for privacy, the first iteration of Judd’s now iconic daybed was born. A desk, dining table, chairs, benches, and bookshelves soon followed—all variations of meticulously pared-down forms defined by function.

Red Portrait
Donald Judd in 1993. Laura Wilson was the last person to photograph Judd before he died of cancer in 1994. Photography by Laura Wilson

Much like Judd’s art, an enterprise he considered completely separate, the furniture nevertheless emanates a timeless beauty—appearing both solid yet weightless in a space, akin to the stacking boxes and progressions in galvanized steel, plexiglass, and concrete that came to define his career. 

At his homes in New York, at 101 Spring Street (now HQ for the Judd Foundation and Donald Judd Furniture), and Marfa, Texas, where he relocated with his family and later established the Chinati Foundation, Judd’s art and furniture create a complete whole.

Red and White and Wood Study
At his home in Marfa, now open to the public through the Judd Foundation and known as The Block, Judd was an avid collector of everything from early Shaker designs and books (the on-site library holds some 13,000 titles) to Navajo textiles.  Photography by Elizabeth Felicella + Esto

“If you go through all the spaces, it’s clearly one person’s way of living,” says Flavin of the distinctive Judd aesthetic. This included placing things with intention: “He would generally not put anything right up against a wall, or push a chair flush with a table,” explains Rainer. “Things had to have space around all sides,” creating a kind of vibrational pull between objects.

Still, the pieces are very much meant to be lived with. The son of a long line of woodworkers and cabinetmakers, Judd was drawn to simple proportions, saying in an interview, “We understand symmetry best.” 

Behind each design is a pragmatic “farmer’s sensibility,” as described by Flavin, solving spatial problems while working within the limitations of a material—the standard width of wood from the lumberyard to determine the dimensions of a chair, for example, or the industrial RAL metal paints serving as a color palette.

White and Wood Kitchen
Judd's children, Flavin and Rainer, have worked to carefully preserve his homes and studios in Marfa and New York. Photography by Elizabeth Felicella + Esto
Blue and Yellow Vignette
Corner Chair 15, from $6,900, and Stool 5, from $6,080, Judd Furniture. Both are part of the ready-to-purchase line. 
Black and Red and White Shop interior
Early prototypes of Judd’s chair designs were considered too elaborate by the artist because of their dovetails (which he phased out in production). “It was not germane to what the chair needs to do, so why have it?” explains Flavin. | Forward Slant Plywood Chair 84Center Divider Plywood Chair 84, Half Divided Plywood Chair 84, Judd Furniture, all starting at $2,950

Until last year, the furniture (which encompasses more than 70 pieces in wood and 15 in aluminum) was only made to order—a lesser-known fact outside of art and design circles that it even continued to be in production. The ready-for-purchase offerings launched in 2017 with the Library Stool 42 and Corner Chair 15 (chosen, according to Rainer, for being best suited to her father’s preferred sideways seating position).

This May, the Forward Slant Plywood Chair 84 in black joins the collection. Add to that two major shows—paintings at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami, in April and furniture at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in July—and the work is clearly resonating anew.

In his 1993 essay, “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp,” written a year before his death, Judd noted, “As bad ideas should not be accepted because they are fashionable, good ideas should not be rejected because they are unfashionable.” His steadfast vision continues to hold true.

Green and Taupe and Wood Patio
Chair Benches 22 and La Mansana Table 22, Judd Furniture. Photography by Elizabeth Felicella + Esto

This story originally appeared in the spring 2018 issue with the headline "The Essentialist."

See more inspiring vintage designs:
How One Woman Saved Danish Modernism’s Most Iconic Designs
Tour a SoCal Home Overflowing With Vintage Gems
Our 12 Favorite Decor Items of Decades Past

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Published on April 19, 2018 - 5:05am EDT

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