The How and Why of Donald Judd’s Brilliant Plywood Tables

We’ve long admired Donald Judd’s austere, beautiful, eminently practical table made of big sheets of plywood, three of them notched to slide together to make a strong angular base. We only recently discovered his marvelous variation on the theme: an architecture table made from the classic base topped with an elevated sheet of plywood that forms a space for storing projects. It and Judd’s drawings for the tables are part of SFMOMA exhibition, Donald Judd: Specific Furniture.

Judd Foundation


The tables carries on the theme of the utterly, stunningly straightforward that Judd started in 1973 when he designed his first furniture pieces – beds for his children. He couldn’t find what he needed in Marfa, the small town in Texas to which he’d recently moved, so he set about to make them himself out of simple pine planks that he had cut at the local lumberyard. He designed around the constraints:

I figured it out so I could tell the lumberyard what I wanted – four pieces, five feet long, three pieces, two feet long – and they would cut them for me. They wouldn’t do too many and they wouldn’t do anything fancy. They would just chop it up. For a long time the basic module was the width of the wood: 1x12s, 2x12s.

Donald Judd drawing for birch plywood desks © Judd Foundation

Judd gradually refined his designs, making them out of different types of woods and plywood, and sheets of metal like aluminum and copper. (Click here to read about Judd’s thinking and see more examples of his furniture, or visit the Judd Foundation site.)

His designs, hold many ideas that could be implemented or emulated.

The amazing thing about his tables is that they are made with materials you can get anywhere, with methods just about anybody can do; you don’t even need nails.

© Judd Foundation

3 Responses to The How and Why of Donald Judd’s Brilliant Plywood Tables

  1. Cynthia A. 07.25.2018 at 8:10am #

    Interesting piece. The links don’t work though, can you please provide the URLs? Thanks.

  2. ellen rocco 07.25.2018 at 11:59am #

    FYI Cynthia A, You might want to try again. I had no difficulty getting in.

  3. Richard Francis 07.28.2018 at 5:30pm #

    And you might look at this to see how difficult it really is to get Judd’s aesthetic absolutely right:

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