Eileen Gray -1878 -1976
Born to a wealthy family in Ireland in 1878, Eileen’s interest in design began initially with painting, attending London’s prestigious Slade School of Art. During her lifetime , she worked at the forefront of contemporary furniture design, interior design and architecture. She styled interiors for the Parisian elite to great acclaim and impressed with her architecture. She experimented with a great range of techniques and materials including lacquer, wood, wool, leather, chrome, tubular steel, aluminum, glass and concrete.
While Eileen shared the philosophies of the Bauhaus movement and was influenced by the work of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer , she did not attend the Bauhaus school, nor did she do an apprenticeship with Bauhaus designers as many of her female contempories had done. She remained independent and self funded her entire career…
Furniture Design / Chairs
While Gray’s design interests became broad, she is perhaps most acclaimed as a designer of furniture – in particular chairs. Eileen’s work with tubular chrome stainless steel , leather and glass were considered innovative and unique and at the forefront of design, attracting the attentions of her contempories including Le Corbusier, Badovechi.
1. Original “Bibendum” Chair in cream leather and chrome.
Named after the Michelin Man, the design in Chrome with leather upholstery features soft curves in 3 layers of soft leather “tubes”. The softly padded seat was supported with webbing and the structure supported with a sycamore frame. The effect creates a sense of great comfort and luxury hugging and supporting the body when seated. The sleek chrome structure adding the modernist contemporary feel that was evolving at the time. Grays distinctive style embodies the utilitarian simple design of her Bauhaus contempories, with a perhaps slightly more feminine elegance and comfort, justifying her place as one of the great designer of the modernist movement.
Photo: Christie’s Images LTD. 2011
2. Original “Nonconformist” Chair in cream fabric
This chair again displays Grays unique style and experimental approach, typifying her philosophy “to Create one must first question everything”. The Nonconformist chair displays one armrest with Grays familiar feminine curve, the other with exposed chrome tubular steel – exposing the minimalist, functional structure synonymous with the Bauhaus tenant.
3. “Transat” Reclining Chair in mustard leather, Sycamore and chrome.
So named as it evokes memories of deck chairs of Trans- Atlantic Voyages on luxury ocean liners of the day. It was designed and used inside Gray’s homes and outside on the roof terraces overlooking the Mediterranean ocean of both E1027 and Tempe a Pailla. This reclining chair again displays Gray’s design aesthetic of functional, simple design featuring the geometric structure of the modernist movement, exposing the structure of the chairs thin sycamore frame and highly polished Chrome joinery, with the gentle reclining feminine curve of the seat and padded cushioning adding the luxurious elegant feel associated with Grays furniture.
Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum –
4. “Bonaparte” Chair
This chair again displays the design features synonymous with Grays’ design aesthetic, simplicity of structure and design with a sense of luxurious comfort in the highly padded chair seat and back. Gray utilises materials popular with the movement, chrome plated tubular steel and padded leather.
5. “Monte Carlo” Sofa
This sofa designed by Gray in tubular chrome and leather provides another example of her unique style, includes an elegant, feminine curvature of both the seat and backrest and an attached side table- a favorite addition to Grays’ furniture . The side table reminiscent of her iconic E1027 round adjustable side table in glass and Chrome. The sofa design so modern in appearance it is difficult to believe it is not a contemporary piece. In 1970’s before her death, Eileen Gray worked with Aram, who now own and reproduce her designs still popular in today’s market.
In my opinion, an indisputable acknowledgement of truly great design is the longevity of its appeal and ongoing relevance, Eileen Grays’ designs certainly qualify her as one of the greats.
1.Lacquer Block Screen
Gray’s first commission for interior design came in 1919, for a project in Paris for which she developed her famous lacquered “block screens”. The screens featured simple geometric design, highly polished finish in a single colour- produced a in black and white.
2. Interior Design – Monte Carlo Salon des Artistes Decorateurs
Gray caused uproar with her radical design at the 14th Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in 1923 where she presented a largely white boudoir including her distinctive abstract “Block Screen” in shiny white lacquer. Gray designed all the furniture for the display including, rugs, lamps. French critiques at the time recoiled at her use of white wall dark carpet, geometric designs and radical abstract geometric screens.
3. Interior Design E-1027 – Open Plan Living
Grays design aesthetic is repeated in her beloved home E1027. The open floor plan is spacious, her own furniture is sparsely distributed. Geometric floor tiles enhance her modernist style are enhanced with floor rugs she designed. The built in Bedhead incorporates a great deal of storage.
4. Interior Design -Rue de Bonaparte apartment
Grays design shows an open plan spacious design that is full of light and reflected by the rooms white walls. Flooring is also white adding to the airy feel with simple geometric design in floor tiles of the modernist style. Her Bibendum Chairs provides elegant, luxurious seating and a feeling of comfort. Contrast, softness and a sense of the exotic is provided with the use of animal skins on the floor and draped over furniture. This design would not be out of place today.
5. Castelar Rug
An example of Grays simple geometric design and primary colour pallet representative of Bauhaus school of thought.
6. Iconic E1027 Round Side Table in Glass and Chrome tubular steel
Originally designed to enable one of her sisters to indulge her love of eating breakfast in bed and prevent toast crumbs falling to the sheets. The glass and chrome plated steel tubing was designed to be adjustable, and so had multiple uses. The simple circular design and materials used were representative of modernist movement, function taking precedence over form.
E.1027 table, 1927-1929, Lacquered tube steel, with transparent table-top, Collection: Muse national d’Art Moderne – Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Copyright: RMN/ © Jean-Claude Planchet
As an architect, Gray embraced the Modernist aesthetic as depicted in her beloved home “E-1027” in Roquebrune Cap Martin and “Tempe á Pailla” in Castellar France. Without formal training in architecture , she collaborated with Jean Badovici on the design. Her design philosophy to create a working building reflects Bauhaus principles of utilitarian function before form.
Her simple rectilinear designs featured flat roof with roof garden terrace, E-1027 featuring floor-to-ceiling ribbon windows, and open plan living designed to light the interior during the day. Gray cleverly separated living areas from bedrooms, keeping sleeping areas toward the back. A a spiral stairway descending to a guest room below, and open breezeways to direct the breeze and cool the house.
Built between 1926 and 1934, they are considered classic examples of modern domestic architecture of the time.