Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-30

In the desert of West Texas lies Marfa, a picturesque town dedicated to the design style and legacy of modern artist Donald Judd. While visiting last summer, I fell in love with the minimal, utilitarian design of his art and the unique style he inspired in the town itself. I especially loved the many variations of plain plywood chairs that were set throughout the Chianti Foundation, which also houses Judd’s modern art collection.

There is a simplicity that makes the furniture feel so accessible, and yet still so beautiful — and it was enough to inspire me to make my own replica.

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I’m a beginner woodworker, so I set out to make a simple, Marfa-inspired plywood chair, which requires only the most basic of skills. With some easy measuring, cutting, gluing, drilling, and sanding, you can make one, too!

Marfa Inspired Chair-01

The entire chair is 15″ wide from the front, so each piece is cut to 15″ width, and then cut to different lengths for each different piece. Of course, you can vary any of these measurements to work for your own personal design taste. For example, you could create a bench-style minimal chair, with the full measurement being 35″-50″ wide.

Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-6

Spread a thin layer of wood glue along the edge of the front-leg piece, and glue it at a 90° angle to the seat piece. The seat sits on top of the front-leg, as shown by the traced line in the photo above.

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Use a metal square or a square piece of wood to ensure the angle stays even while the glue dries.

Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-1

Measure 2″ up from the bottom of the leg and, using the same method, glue the bottom-support piece onto the front-leg. Let the glue dry completely (a full 24 hours is always recommended).

Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-2

After the seat and support are secure, use a straight edge to pencil a line down the center of the perpendicular plywood. This will be your guide for drilling holes for the screws.

Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-3

Drill 4 even holes straight through both pieces of plywood along the front edge of the seat, and the front of the leg where it meets the support.

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Screw the 2″ screws into the pre-drilled holes.

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Next, glue the back piece onto the front pieces, measuring the same 2″ from the bottom and meeting the support piece evenly so the chair is square.

Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-21

Use the same method as above to pencil, drill, and screw the back of the chair in place.

Marfa-Inspired Minimal Chair-22

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Finally, use the wood filler to cover the screws. Once it’s dry, sand the filler smooth. Sand any rough or sharp edges along the chair, then enjoy!

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I plan to take my chairs one step further by painting the edges white, and then finishing the wood all over with a couple clear coats of polyurethane to protect them from the elements. Using the same basic steps, I’m also looking forward to creating some minimal style bookshelves and a table to sit out on the patio along side them! 

Miranda Anderson is a creative DIY and lifestyle blogger living and working in Austin, Texas where she is a regular design and decor contributor to the home remodeling website Modernize. She also shares her ideas and inspiration regularly on her own blog One Little Minute.

  • Undisclosed Identity

    I’m deeply concerned about the stability of this design.

  • Harald Hansen

    There are several design flaws in this design (note: I’m armchair (!) quarterbacking here, so please contradict me if I’m wrong):

    1. The butt joints are not especially strong with screws into the plywood edges, even if you glue them.
    2. The open box design is only stable in one dimension. If the sitter leans back they will put a large amount of stress in the not-strong dimension.
    3. The chair will tend to wobble on a less-than perfectly flat surface under the downward facing edges.

    I think all of these are easy to fix, though: I note that at least one of the originals are actually boxed in on five out of six sides, making the structure much more rigid. Maybe that’ll even make the butt joints strong enough. If not, some simple joinery will improve matters. Google “plywood jointery”. Only you can decide if that adds or takes away from the concept, though.

    To make it more wobble-proof you could saw away a “portal” (my English is failing me here) on the bottom edge front and back so that the contact with the ground will be four smaller legs.

    I do think the chair is cool, though… ;)

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  • james w

    I have to agree with Harald’s opinion on the lack of structural strength of this design. When you first make it it may see strong but a couple of weeks of regular sitting will destroy those unsupported joints. Screws going into the plywood parallel to the layers makes them weak, and all of them are set to fail in the same direction. This design is guaranteed to fail.

  • Graeme Leggett

    I see a possibly weak chair. But I also see a possibly strong piece of storage furniture that doubles as a chair at times of need. As already suggested by others I would put something (vertically) in the centre to give strength. This would give a rigidity to the square frame that it currently lacks.

    Offsetting the sheet (left to right) within the square space would not significantly weaken the bracing but would make the area below the seat two separate storage areas. eg paperback book depth on one side but – a more useful – shoebox depth on the other. You could go further and subdivide the spaces if required but all this additional weight of ply will make the “chair” heavier.

    Put a seat pad on top and let your cat sleep there on your new storage unit but when you’re hard-pressed to seat an extra guest turf the cat off and turn the cushion.

  • Alwyn Smith

    Congratulations on your efforts. Keep going. As Minimalist Art, this is lovely.

    If you intend to use this chair daily; however, it’s going to need some additional bracing or alterations to your joinery, for the sake of safety and utility. I think the comments here already address the details, so I won;t repeat them.

    I would really love to see a follow-up article on the evolution of your design as it progresses.