After 11 years of planning and intensive-yet-delicate restoration, Donald Judd's Soho home and studio looks exactly the way it did in 1994: the year the famed American abstract artist passed away. Judd bought the five-story building in 1968 for $68,000 after outgrowing his old workspace; over the last decade, his eponymous foundation sold off art from its collection to fund a $23 million overhaul of the historic structure at the corner of Mercer and Spring streets. Filled to the brim with iconic art, curios, and personal effects arranged precisely the way Judd had them, the foundation opened up the building to a small group of media for its first-ever tours this morning. (Public tours, which must be booked in advance, of what is essentially a house museum will launch in June; check this site for more info.)
Built in 1870, the entirely cast-iron facade, with floor-to-ceiling windows divided by columns, is unique among its peers nearby; what makes the building even more unusual is that Judd tore down walls to make each floor unobstructed and full of light. "The building predated electricity," says Michele F. Saliola, the Judd Foundation's director of programs. "It makes sense as an artist's studio, where natural light is so important."
That open plan, though, made it exceedingly hard for a small team of architects and engineers, led by the Architecture Research Office, to bring 101 Spring Street up to code for public visits while still preserving the intimacy, creativity, and cultural significance of Judd's original space. Even when it opens to the public, only two groups of eight can be inside at the same time.
Unlike many nearby buildings, Judd's building wasn't subdivided into lofts or offices, making it the only sole-occupancy fully residential building of its kind in the area. 101 Spring Street was the place where Judd worked, where he lived with his family, and where he hosted intimate gatherings with contemporaries he considered friends?a veritable who's who of major artists of the time: Dan Flavin; John Chamberlain; Lucas Samaras; David Novros.
Judd's work, their work, and other pieces are scattered across the five floors, which Judd used, from bottom to top, as a revolving exhibition space (ground level), a kitchen, dining, hang-out, and puppet-show-performance area (2nd floor), a studio with a charming, impressive drafting table (3rd floor), a meeting room (4th floor), and a bedroom/living space (5th floor). Original wood floors, painted tin ceilings, rippled glass in the enormous windows, atmospherically creaky and uneven wooden stairs, old-fashioned radiator pipes and a pot-belly stove, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lined with rocks and other sundries?attention to detail was paramount in the renovation. Though the house contains 200 pieces of art and furniture and 1,800 household objects, it doesn't feel cramped or cluttered. Rather, it's airy and eccentric, dotted with modern art masterpieces. (Seriously. That's not overstating it.)
Flavin Judd, Donald's son, who was named after the artist and is also co-president of the foundation's board, recalls growing up at 101 Spring (where he climbed a ladder to his lofted bed) and thinking that the typical shoebox apartments where his friends lived in neighborhoods like the Upper East Side were weird. "I just thought that it was normal. I don't know if I was better off... they had heat," he says. "I thought this was how everyone should live."
· Official site: 101 Spring Street, NY [Judd Foundation]
· Finally See Soho's Ghost Ship Unshrouded [Curbed]
· Donald Judd Home + Studio [ARO]