Designer Olivia Stutz shares her tips for getting the most out of the design Mecca of Texas.
Marfa, Texas is three-hour drive from the nearest airport—the sort of place where you’re just as likely to see a tumbleweed as you are another person. But thanks to minimalist magnate Donald Judd—who in 1979 bought 340 acres of desert land to showcase his art in an unconventional setting—the dusty desert town has evolved into a pilgrimage destination for the design-obsessed.
The latest to make the trek: Homepolish designer Olivia Stutz, who ventured south from New York City to see the miniature design Mecca for herself. She attributed her pull to Marfa to the unique juxtaposition of art and desert.
“It has always been high on my bucket list in terms of places that really interest me,” she explains. “There’s a mystery to Marfa. I’m inquisitive by nature and love exploring; especially when there is excellent art to observe along the way.”
Read on to discover more about Olivia’s experience, and the tips any design enthusiast should follow.
On getting there and how long to stay
“In all honesty, this was the part I dreaded as I hate long car rides!” reveals Olivia. The designer took two separate flights to get to the El Paso airport, in addition to a three-hour car ride. The travel time in total? A whopping 18 hours. But fortunately, Olivia and her travel companion made the most of their road trip.
“Thankfully, I went with one of my closest friends and we had a Thelma and Louise moment while we drove to Marfa from the El Paso Airport,” she shares. “It ended up being such a beautiful car ride with the most beautiful backdrop of the Wild Wild West.”
Marfa is brimming world-class art and design, but it’s densely packed—so make your trip short and sweet.
“Marfa is very, very, very small,” Olivia says. “We are talking two whole blocks in the whole town. Two to three days is a perfect amount of time to visit.”
On where to stay in Marfa
Once you’ve made the multi-hour trek to the quiet town, you’ll want somewhere comfortable and central to rest, and Olivia recommends the Hotel Saint George. Situated on the site of the original Hotel Saint George, which was built in 1886, the new location still nods to its storied past, using locally sourced elements and repurposed materials from its 1929 reincarnation.
If you’re traveling during spring or summer, however, Olivia recommends a more weather-friendly alternative.
“We would have opted to stay in the yurts at bohemian inspired Hotel El Cosmico—hello stargazing and outdoor showers!” she shares. “It was too cold at night for us to stay there in November unfortunately.”
On how the desert landscape shapes your experience
Like countless before her, Olivia was taken aback by the way the setting influences the modern art.
“It’s illuminating,” she gushes. “Donald Judd chose these places to make his artwork because they were isolated, desolate, discreet. I don’t know if seeing his art anywhere else would give you the impact that it does in Marfa. Everything surrounding his art was meant to be seen as art as well. Judd played with contrast and used the materials he had in the best of ways.”
A must-see is The Chinati Foundation, a contemporary art museum in Marfa based on Judd’s idea, where you can take in the brilliance of his work.
“What was really beautiful about The Chinati Foundation was that the tour guide didn’t talk much about the art,” Olivia says. “She let the work speak for itself, as that is what Judd would have wanted. The art rarely had names either, which allowed me to consider for myself why he would have done the things he did, and I actually understood it more that way than someone else telling me. We all had to figure it out like a puzzle which I thought was brilliant.”
On Donald Judd’s renowned furniture designs
A highlight of Olivia’s trip to Marfa is Judd’s acclaimed furniture designs, which you can also view at The Chinati Foundation.
“They are excellent! They are unique. They are modern. They are fresh,” Olivia shares. “They never go out of style. I particularly loved Donald Judd’s bed structures and day beds and would be thrilled to incorporate one of them into a child’s room or guest room. Judd thought chairs were supposed to look amazing but not feel great, but he thought beds were comfortable, and if you were going to spend an extended amount of time in one place, it better be the bed.”
But when it comes to incorporating Judd’s designs into her projects, Olivia doesn’t stop at just furniture.
“In addition to the furniture pieces I would incorporate into my projects, I would be happy to incorporate his art “Stacks” into one of my projects simply because I find empty space too many times in my projects that I would love to fill with something more permanent and bold, with a pop of color,” she says.
On Dan Flavin’s influence on Marfa
Judd’s imprint on Marfa is so significant, it even enticed other artists to leave their own mark on the town. Dan Flavin, an American minimalist artist, is one of the most notable and his works can also be seen at The Chinati Foundation.
“Dan Flavin studied under Donald Judd for a number of years,” Olivia shares. “You can see the parallels of their work with the use of symmetry, color theory, precision, and balance.”
But Olivia emphasized their differences as well.
“In my opinion, they are such a separate species of art that I wouldn’t put them in the same category,” she says. “Flavin’s work inspires me tremendously with his use of large neon-colored sticks in six desolate concrete buildings. Each building connects so that when you go in each one to see the lights up close, you can see the people in the other opposite building looking through the neon pole, making it an interactive experience with people and light.”
On other destinations to visit in Marfa
In addition to The Chinati Foundation, Olivia recommends a stop at The Judd Foundation, where you can view more of the prolific artist’s works.
“The Judd Foundation maintains and preserves Donald Judd’s permanently installed living and working spaces, libraries, and archives in Marfa, Texas,” Olivia explains. “This is a great full day tour if you want to see Donald Judd’s homes and art studios. The history and detail of his life that is given throughout this tour are well worth it.”
The Ayn Foundation is also worth a visit, and current projects include Andy Warhol’s “The Last Supper” and Maria Zerres’ “September Eleven.” Olivia also recommends scoping out the town’s gems—literally.
“I know it sounds weird, but Marfa is really into gems, rocks, crystals of all sorts, etc.,” she shares. “When you walk into any bookstore in town or in the lobby at The Chinati Foundation, there would be beautiful rocks laying on the books. I thought that was so beautiful and so unique to Marfa. I actually ended up buying a beautiful white crystal about seven inches tall and three inches wide, and it is now on my coffee table at home on top of The Chinati Foundation book.”
To source some rocks and crystals for yourself, Olivia suggests Communitie Marfa, a local shop that offers a fine selection of high-end clothing, art, books, and other objects.
On that iconic Prada story
It’s worth carving out some extra time to pay a visit to Prada Marfa, which is situated 26 miles northwest of the city. But don’t expect to buy anything there; the one-room installation, which was constructed in 2005, is just a replica of real Prada stores and features Prada purses with no bottoms to avoid burglary. For Olivia, visiting the design darling of Instagram was a dream.
“It was surreal honestly!” she says. “I couldn’t believe I was there; I know that sounds cliché, but when you did get there, you are forced to think about why they placed that there. It’s because it makes no sense and therefore, is intriguing to all walks of life who are seeking something different from the norm. A lot of thought went into this piece, and it garnered a lot of attention and press for a great reason.”
Want to read more of Olivia’s tips? Brush up on your flower arrangement skills here. And need some design inspo? Click here to check out the bohemian oasis she designed for Lily Kunin of Clean Food Dirty City.