In 1977, Donald Judd began designing furniture out of necessity—he needed functional pieces for himself and his family in their expanding Marfa, Texas compound. What began as a bed and a metal sink developed in the following years into an entire catalog of design works, including desks, tables, chairs, beds, benches, and bookshelves.
In the decades since, Judd’s vision has become foundational to designers globally and major exhibitions and publications have been dedicated to his furniture practice. What remains distinctive about Judd Furniture, however, is the purposeful distinction Judd maintained between his sculptural practice and his furniture works. With the designed objects that became an integral part of his practice, Judd expected the furniture works would retain the fundamental aesthetic tenets of his sculptures all the while expecting use by the human body. Judd’s divide between sculpture and furniture was unambiguous: the purposefulness, and specificity, of his furniture practice was never derivative of his sculptural or architectural work, instead running strongly parallel to it.
After Judd started producing furniture more extensively, around 1984, the combination of different functions in single pieces—as seen in chairs containing storage areas under the seat, or desks withwork surfaces placed on perpendicularly oriented shelves—defined much of his furniture. Such double functionality significantly contributes to the history of modern furniture’s rhetoric and practice of functionalism.
Sharp and defined edges are highlighted by the combinations of volumes and space, by the bent ends of the metal furniture, by the colorless cut edges of the plywood chairs and shelves, and by changing directions of the wood grain at the seams of the later high-finish wood furniture. All of it is decidedly three-dimentional—addressing users and open on multiple sides, balancing open and closed areas tocreate a contained whole, structured by equally important planes meeting at right angles, revealing with dovetail joinery interlocking perpendicular planes. In Judd’s lived experience, furniture opens up to and occupies space like a specific object