It was 1982 in the remote desert town of Marfa, Texas, and Rainer and Flavin Judd, daughter and son of artist Donald Judd, had just moved into rooms of their own. Don, as they call him, made each of them a desk, but as Flavin explains, “Once you have a desk, you need a chair—a place to sit and do your homework.” In no time, their father sketched one (actually, there were 10 variations) and took the plans to a carpenter to have seats hewn in pine from a lumberyard.

The design couldn’t have been simpler, made entirely from flat pine boards. But in that cubic volume beneath the seat, the artist experimented: In one version he placed a shelf, in another a slanting board; another was solid on the front but recessed on the sides.