The great Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray spent her life creating for the now; when she died in 1976 at the age of 98, she was enthusiastically working on a new kind of table. From first to last, Gray had been concerned with making beautiful and useful things for real people, rather than constructing monuments to her own excellence. She’d devoted her working days to mastering difficult materials and rarefied techniques, such as Japanese urushi lacquering. But Gray’s lack of interest in promoting her reputation during her lifetime almost led to her work and life disappearing from view after her death. For years, she was remembered only by a select group of design aficionados. That all changed when one of her Dragon Chairs sold for €21 million at a 2009 auction of Yves Saint Laurent’s personal collection, a record for a piece of 20th-century decorative art.
Other things take longer to turn around, though. Ninety years have passed since Gray began work on e.1027, the house she designed and built on a beautiful stretch of the rocky cliffs of Cap Martin, near the town of Roquebrune, between Menton and Monaco. The name and design were a coded tribute to her then-partner, the architectural journalist Jean Badovici, to whom she gave the house after they split (Badovici was just one of several influential lovers, male and female, who shaped Gray’s life and designs). Badovici died young, and his friend Le Corbusier, who loved the house, moved in, first painting the walls with his murals, then building his own structures all around it. In the process, he totally changed the delicate, subtle relationship that e.1027’s design had with the natural landscape and the shifting light of each day. Le Corbusier died on the beach below the house, and the condition of e.1027 only got worse in the years that followed.
But for more than a decade now, Eileen Gray acolytes have been gradually restoring her house, and recently, the furniture retailer Zeev Aram donated Gray-approved replicas of her designs to the house for the filming of a new biopic, The Price of Desire. The day when design pilgrims can visit this concise architectural classic finally seems near. Until then, we should perhaps just be grateful that the destination didn’t disappear altogether from our dreams and our world.
e.1027 is scheduled to reopen in August 2015, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of
Le Corbusier’s death.
Le Corbusier’s death.
Text Peter Lyle
Photo Olivier Amsellem