Your stripe bar message here.

Hide
Show
Categories: Interior Design

Eileen Gray was a lot of things: an aristocrat but also a rebel, a talented designer, but one whose work went mostly unrecognized in her own time. Now her name is mentioned alongside other pioneers of Modernism, but that wasn’t always the case. This is the story of her early career, her fall into obscurity, and her rediscovery and recognition as one of the most accomplished designers of the 20th century.

Eileen Gray was born Katherine Eileen Moray Smith, in 1878, near Enniscorthy, Ireland. Her mother, who was the granddaughter of an earl, had made a bit of an unconventional choice by marrying a middle-class artist. When Eileen was 10, her parents separated; when she was 17, her mother became Baroness Gray upon the death of her own mother, and Eileen and all four of her siblings took the surname Gray.

At 20, Eileen enrolled in the Slade School of Art in London, where she studied painting. Four years later, she moved to Paris, along with two classmates, and continued to study painting and drawing at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. A few years later, she returned to London to be with her ailing mother and while in England, she came upon a lacquer workshop owned by Mr. D. Charles, becoming instantly entranced by the medium. When she returned to Paris, Charles connected her with Seizo Sugawara, a lacquer artist from Japan who had emigrated to France.

This is Eileen Gray’s Bibendum chair, which she designed for Madame Mathieu-Levy’s apartment on the Rue de Lota. It’s shown here in an image from Zeeloft, alongside her adjustable E-1027 table.

(Image credit: Zeeloft)

Eileen worked with Sugawara for four years, learning the fundamentals of the lacquer trade. In 1913, when she was 35, she exhibited her work for the first time, and began to attract the attention of wealthy clients. Her design for Madame Mathieu-Levy’s apartment on the Rue de Lota cemented her reputation, and in 1922 she opened a shop, called Jean Désert, to sell her work and that of her artist friends. Many of her friends and clients came from Paris’ fashionable lesbian set. Eileen was bisexual, and throughout her life had relationships with both men and women.

In 1929, a relationship with Jean Badovici, the Romanian-born architecture critic, led to what is perhaps her greatest accomplishment: E-1027, the holiday home they built on a cliffside overlooking the Mediterranean, just east of Monaco. The effort was collaborative, but many people agree that most of the design input came from Eileen.

The house was a labor of love for her, reflecting the minimalist ideals of modernism but also an extraordinary attention to the natural beauty of the surroundings and the comfort of the occupants. Before the house was built, she explored the site on foot, looking for the perfect spot to situate the house to take advantage of light and views. She also designed all the furniture and interiors, taking into account details as small as the way natural light would illuminate the inside of a cabinet. Almost all of the home’s furniture was adjustable, designed to change with the needs of the home’s inhabitants. It was for this home that she designed what is now known simply as the E-1027 table, a glass side table of adjustable height that was designed so that her sister could eat breakfast in bed without getting crumbs all over the sheets.

The design of E-1027 marked a shift in Eileen’s style. Her earlier designs were more ornamental and luxurious, very much in keeping with the Art Deco style that was then popular in Europe. With E-1027, and the pieces she created for it, Eileen moved toward a more streamlined, modern style. Inspired by Modern architects like Le Corbusier, she embraced simple shapes and industrial materials like steel tubing — although her pieces were never without a touch of luxury. She was critical of what she saw as the excessive asceticism of modernism. “The poverty of modern architecture,” she said, “stems from the atrophy of sensuality.”

Unfortunately, the relationship did not turn out as well as the house. Shortly after it was completed, Eileen left Badovici, and built a home for herself, which she called Tempe à Pailla (meaning “Time for Yawning”), in Castellar. (You can see many photos of that house here.) Badovici continued to live at E-1027, where Le Corbusier, who had been a friend of the couple, was a frequent visitor. In the late ’30s, while staying as a guest at the home, Le Corbusier covered the walls with eight enormous and highly colorful murals depicting abstracted human forms. When Eileen found out, she was incensed.

It has been alleged that his motivation was jealousy — that he was galled by the idea that a woman could create such a perfect building in what he considered to be “his” style. Whatever the motivation, Eileen did not see the murals as an improvement. Le Corbusier, she felt, had vandalized the home she designed with so much care, and the friendship between the two designers was over.

Besides E-1027 and the house she created for herself, Eileen only built one other small residence. Her falling out with Le Corbusier meant she was excluded from many design circles, and as the years went on she worked less and fell into obscurity.

A petite dressing table Eileen Gray designed for an apartment in Paris, featuring a lacquered top and innovative pivoting drawers. It’s available today from ARAM.

(Image credit: ARAM)

In 1967, her work was rediscovered by architectural historian Joseph Rykwert, who published an essay about her in the Italian design magazine Domus. In 1973, Zeev Aram, a designer and the founder of a namesake furniture store, approached her about producing some of her furniture designs, which were originally made in small quantities for individual projects. The company still manufactures and sells her designs today.

Eileen Gray’s ‘Dragon’ armchair, seen in an image from Yatzer. The chair, which was created by the designer for one of her clients between 1917 and 1919, sold at auction in 2009 for £19.4 million, making it the most expensive piece of 20th century furniture ever sold.

(Image credit: Christies)

When Eileen Gray died in 1976, she had already started to gain acclaim within the design world. Today, she is recognized as one of the pioneers of Modernism, the master of a style of design that marries minimalism with a touch of luxury, and an extraordinary sensitivity for the needs of its human users.

Further Reading about Eileen Gray:

Design Within Reach: We make authentic modern design accessible.<

Spread the Word, like or share this page, your friends will also love it and thanks for it.

RSS Webhose

RSS Google+

  • 24.09.2017 17:02
    It's not just Facebook and Google who are slimming down their mobile apps for the sake of regions where data is slow or spotty. Twitter has confir...
  • 24.09.2017 16:59
    There have been hints that Sprint and T-Mobile are seriously talking about a merger (again), but how likely is that union, really? Quite likely, if you...
  • 24.09.2017 16:55
    The Replicant: Inside the Dark Future of 'Blade Runner 2049' Brian Raftery, Wired The much-anticipated Blade Runner sequel is due to hit the...
  • 24.09.2017 16:40
    State officials finally know if they serve one of the 21 states Russia tried to hack during the 2016 Presidential elections. Homeland Security and other...
  • 24.09.2017 16:37
    Uber may have lost its London taxi license with no small amount of drama, but it's already willing to make concessions. The ridesharing outfit&#039...
  • 24.09.2017 16:34
    You'd be forgiven for wondering what was happening with Super Mario Run. After a flurry of activity in its first few months, things have mostly qu...
  • 23.09.2017 15:40
    The latest ThinkPad that Lenovo brought to CES back in January had a notably sleeker, more modern appearance than the line's traditional boxy black...
  • 23.09.2017 15:29
    Intel won't be releasing its Project Alloy VR headset platform anytime this year -- in fact, it won't be releasing the technology at all. The ...
  • 23.09.2017 15:26
    Nintendo now supports two-factor verification to its Nintendo Accounts. This adds another layer of security by requiring codes generated from the Google...
  • 21.09.2017 21:02
    The origin of cosmic rays has been a mystery to scientists since their detection over fifty years ago. One of the prevailing theories is that they come ...

RSS AbodeToday

  • Great Things To Think About When Improving Your Home September 25, 2017
    You must be aware of your own limitations, and be willing to hire a professional if needed. Read on to get some handy advice that may be of use in your home improvement projects, whether or not you are doing the work yourself. Consider a combo unit if you don’t have much space available for […]
  • Television with built-in Fire TV makes better use of your voice September 25, 2017
    One of the Element Fire TV Edition set’s main hooks is clearly its Alexa voice control, so it stands to reason that the entire television stands to benefit the more you can use it, doesn’t it? Sure enough, Element is trotting out an update that makes… Gadget
  • Jared Kushner uses private email for White House business September 25, 2017
    You don’t have to be a former presidential hopeful to draw heat over using private email for work. Politico has revealed that presidential senior adviser (not to mention son-in-law) Jared Kushner has been using a private email account to conduct Whit… Gadget
  • Ruling gives FAA more power over drones than local governments September 25, 2017
    When it comes to drone regulations, the FAA’s rules trump anything local governments conjure up. That’s what a federal court in Massachusetts has proven when it ruled in favor of a commercial drone owner who sued the city of Newton over its drone ord… Gadget
  • Fire Emblem Warriors DLC Plans Revealed September 25, 2017
    Fire Emblem Warriors will get three add-on packs by spring 2018, Koei Tecmo announced at Tokyo Game Show 2017. As detailed by Gematsu the first DLC pack, Fire Emblem Fates, will be released by the end of this year. It will be followed by the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon add-on pack at the start of 2018, and […]
  • The 6 Most Emotional Experiences I Had at Tokyo Game Show September 25, 2017
    Outside of the big booths like PlayStation, Bandai Namco, Capcom, and Konami, TGS has a huge emphasis on VR and mobile games. After checking out Monster Hunter World and Zone of the Enders’ new VR mode , I explored the rest of the show floor to see what this year’s TGS had to offer. There […]
  • Nioh Complete Edition Announced September 25, 2017
    Nioh Complete Edition was announced this weekend at Tokyo Game Show 2017 and will be released in Japan later this year. As reported by Gematsu , Nioh Complete Edition includes the base game of Team Ninja’s action RPG, along with all three add-ons: Dragon of the North, Defiant Honor, and Bloodshed. The game will be available digitally in Japan […]
  • Maze-like chip helps spot aggressive cancer cells September 24, 2017
    It’s difficult to spot cancer cells — just one in a billion blood cells are cancerous. How do you isolate them to know the trouble someone is facing and eventually treat it? By drawing the kind of mazes you enjoyed as a kid, apparently. Researche… Gadget
  • Office 365’s revamped web launchers put you to work sooner September 24, 2017
    Sometimes, it’s not your productivity apps that need a tune-up… it’s how you get to those apps that needs work. And Microsoft knows it. The tech firm has redesigned the Office.com front end and Office 365’s web app launcher. There’s now a recommend… Gadget
  • Robots learn to walk naturally by understanding their bodies September 24, 2017
    The challenge with bipedal robots isn’t so much getting them to walk at all (although that’s sometimes a problem) as it is getting them to walk naturally. They tend to either step cautiously or quickly run into trouble. Swiss researchers think they… Gadget

Top