A veritable icon of modernist architecture, villa E-1027, Eileen Gray’s first architectural creation, testifies to the thought and attention that she put into every detail of the design. It is tantamount to a manifesto both for its architecture and for the fixed and mobile furniture, lamps and decorations that are inseparable from it. Eileen spent three whole years designing the furniture and working with her partner Jean Badovici on the plans.
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Eileen Gray was particularly attracted to the little house on the shores of Lake Geneva that Le Corbusier had designed for his parents in 1924. Under the blue skies of the Riviera, she at first envisaged a refuge where she and Badovici could work in complete tranquillity. But under Jean’s influence, the idea evolved into a home where they could entertain their friends. By its architecture, its furnishings and furniture, lighting and decoration, E-1027, ‘a house by the sea’, is designed to be a living organism and serve as a kind of manifesto. In the special issue of ‘L’Architecture Vivante’ devoted to the villa in 1929, Eileen Gray wrote an article subtly criticising the functionalism of modern architecture.
Whilst the exterior appearance of the villa is in accord with the architectural principles established by Le Corbusier, this project nevertheless provided the architect couple with an opportunity to soften the, in their eyes, rather hard and cold lines of the Modern Movement’s conception of interior design by creating greater warmth and intimacy.
In the first issue of the review L'Architecture d'aujourd'hui they wrote:
“When one looks at these interiors where everything seems to obey a severe, cold calculation, one wonders whether a person could really feel at home in them. (...) We need to create an interior atmosphere which is in harmony with the refinements of modern intimate living.”
And Eileen Gray added:
“Everyone, even in a small house, needs to feel free and independent. They must have the feeling they are alone”.
Humorous inscriptions are scattered around the walls of the villa: “Fine weather”, Invitation to the voyage”, “Enter slowly”, “No laughter”, “No entry”, “Hats”, “Pillows, “Pyjamas” etc.
With its position, its roof topped by a lantern encased in glass, its railings, canvas awnings, lifebuoy and chromatic variations, it uses the analogy with the nautical world in order to reinvent the seaside holiday. Associating her sensitivity to modern ideals, Eileen Gray enriches it with shutters borrowed from vernacular architecture. This villa built on stilts, with its flat roof, reinforced-concrete structure and hollow-brick walls, needed to be harmoniously integrated in its environment so Eileen sited it on the lower limit of the terraces, just above the rocky area which plunges down towards the sea. Thus the garden extends the intimacy of the villa by varying the ambience to the north and to the south-west. On the south-west side facing the sea it becomes an outdoor living space sheltered from the wind by the pine trees. To the north Eileen took advantage of the shade to install an outside kitchen.
Eileen spent three years drawing the plans and designing the furniture. The 120m² surface area is an L shape on two levels. On the upper ground floor (90 m²), she laid out the entrance hall, the multi-purpose and convertible open-plan living room, a bedroom-studio, a bathroom, shower room, lavatory, and kitchen with movable partitions. A spiral staircase leads down to the lower ground floor to the guest room and servants’ quarters. A covered area (55m²) is left empty above the stilts to evoke a sea voyage against the horizon. Was the accordion structure in front of the bay windows inspired by the screens that Eileen designed in her younger Art Deco period?
Whilst each of the intimate, independent bedrooms enjoys direct access to the outside and a small terrace, Eileen facilitates conviviality by means of multipurpose furniture and features which separate, open up or create transitions. At the heart of the living area there are a large sofa, a fireplace, cupboards, and a shower room concealed by a screen wall. In an adjoining area, not partitioned off, there is an alcove with a small divan and, opposite, the bar/dining area. During the restoration of the Villa (2007), which was entrusted to the chief architect for Historic Monuments Pierre-Antoine Gatier, a polychrome composition was discovered on the north wall of the living room. Before publishing her article on the villa in ‘Architecture Vivante’ in 1929, Eileen Gray had already abandoned this initial decorating idea in favour of plain white.
The Villa is small but for Eileen Gray everyone “must be able to remain free and independent” and store everything in a minimum amount of space. For this purpose, she designed elegant, functional and highly ingenious furniture, paying the utmost attention to every detail.
The Villa is small but Eileen believed that everyone should be able to remain ’free and independent’ and store everything in a minimum amount of space. This concern for order and storage manifests itself in the tiny labels used to designate the place assigned to each item. Her designer drawings specify all the methods she invented to create sub-spaces and mobile furniture, fixed or inbuilt, accompanying every activity. Certain items of furniture and rugs are designs that were on sale in her Parisian gallery Jean Désert. Examples include the Transat lounger, reminiscent of those seen on ocean-going liners, the Bibendum armchair, a black-leather, chrome frame sofa, the flying tables, the ’Marine d’abord’ rug in the guest room and the clever circular chrome and bedside table (called the E-1027 table) whose height can be adjusted by a little steel chain.
Other items of furniture are built in such as the bedhead of the little divan in the main room, with its pillow cupboard, its blue bedside lamp and electric sockets. Next to it there is a mobile reading table on a folding metal arm.
In the guest bedroom, a similar device carries the tray inserted into the writing table and with shelves fitted in the wall. In Eileen’s bedroom the tall, narrow mirror cabinet serves as a screen between the wash-basin and the work studio. In a corner, pivoting drawers are superimposed on one another. In the guest room the famous circular wall mirror (“Satellite”) with its articulated arm was patented by Jean Badovici.
Today the items of mobile furniture in the villa are modern copies made by Aram, and the fixed furniture items were reconstituted by the Eileen Gray. Etoile de Mer. Le Corbusier Association
All the reconstituted furniture now present in the villa was made with the support of Aram Designs.
Like the villa, the gardens and land are a listed historic monument.
Whilst varying the moods to the north and the south west, the garden extends the intimacy of the villa on the sea side. To the south west it becomes an outdoor drawing room sheltered from the wind by maritime pines, with paved paths, seats, an area for sunbathing and a table for drinks. Further down, a cypress overlooks the sea-lashed rocks to which cling a few indigenous plants. To the north Eileen rehabilitated the citrus terraces and used the shade to install an outdoor kitchen.
Whilst Eileen Gray set great store by the walls of the villa remaining white, Le Corbusier was evidently not of the same opinion…
Long after Eileen Gray left the villa in 1932, Le Corbusier spent a few days there in 1937, 1938 and 1939. In April 1938, encouraged by Jean Badovici, he painted two murals in the villa, and returned the following year to paint another five. He said “I am dying to dirty the walls: ten compositions are ready, enough to daub the whole lot”. According to her biographers, Eileen Gray didn’t think much of these paintings. In 1949 Badovici threatened to remove them. Several paintings that had been damaged during the war were restored by Le Corbusier himself in 1949 and again in 1963. Three of them however have disappeared. Those that have been preserved have since been restored or are under restoration.
Between 1926 and 1929, when she built the villa with her partner the architect Jean Badovici (1893-1956), the name of this holiday home they designed together was derived from the interlinking of their initials: E for Eileen, 10 for the J of Jean, 2 for the B of Badovici, 7 for the G of Gray, the name of the villa thus interweaves their initials.
9 August 1878. Kathleen Eileen Moray born at Brownswood Manor, in Ireland, in the County of Wexford, near Enniscorthy.
In 1900, her mother takes her to Paris to see the World Fair.
1901-02, she leaves for London where she attends the Slade School of Fine Arts, a painting school for high society youngsters. The following year she goes to Paris to study drawing and enrols at the Atelier Colarossi and later the Académie Jullian.
In 1905, Eileen returns to London to look after her mother. There she discovers Chinese lacquer work at D Charles’s restoration workshop where she is immediately taken on as an apprentice
In 1907, she moves into an 18th century apartment at 21 rue Bonaparte in Paris, which she was to keep until the end of her life.
In 1909, she travels to Morocco with Evelyn Wyld, a childhood friend, with the aim of learning how to make rugs in the da Silva Bruhns style. Shortly afterwards she sets up her Parisian workshop in rue Visconti.
In 1913, she exhibits her lacquer work at the Salon des Artistes décorateurs (SAD).
In 1914, the couturier Jacques Doucet buys her four-panelled screen ’Le destin’, and subsequently orders various items of furniture.
In 1920, during a journey to Mexico, Eileen visits Teotihuacan (a plan of which was to feature in one of her Mediterranean houses.)
In 1922, she opens her boutique, the gallery Jean Désert, at 217, rue du Faubourg-Sant-Honoré in Paris, opposite the Salle Pleyel. Exhibiting her work at the Autumn Salon she meets Robert Mallet-Stevens who orders a rug and some furniture for the Villa des Noailles he was building at Hyères.
In 1923, she is invited to the 14th exhibition of the Society of Decorators where she presents Bedroom for Monte Carlo (or Hall 1922). The same year Léonce Rosenberg submits to the Galerie de l’Effort Moderne an exhibition devoted to Dutch architecture. This may have been when Eileen met the young architect of Romanian origin Jean Badovici.
In 1924, Pierre Chareau invites Eileen Gray to exhibit her work at his stand at the SAd. The Dutch periodical ’Wendingen’ (turning-points) which was close to the de Stijl movement, devotes an article to Eileen Gray with an introduction by Jan Wils and an article by Jean Badovici.
In 1926, 'House for an engineer’ forms just a part of her projected work. At Cap Martin, Roquebrune, she buys a plot of land in Badovici’s name and starts to work using models and plans. She studies topography, the sun’s trajectory and the direction of the winds.
In 1926-1929, she supervises work in progress on the building of her villa at Roquebrune Cap-Martin for which she has a few items of furniture sent down from her Jean Désert gallery. She designs new items for the villa, some of which are built into the walls. A gifted improviser, she designs some highly practical dual-function foldaway items. When his work as editor of his Paris-based periodical allows, Jean Badovici comes down to advise her. The villa is called E-1027: E for Eileen, 10 for the J of Jean as the 10th letter of the alphabet, 2 for the B of Badovici, and 7 for the G of Gray.
In 1930, following the 1929 economic crisis, she closes her boutiques (Jean Désert and rue Guénégaud). E-1027 gets top billing in the very first issue of L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui.
In 1932, along the road to Castellar in the Alpes Maritimes, Eileen Gray, this time without Badovici’s help, starts work on a second house, ’a house of her own’, which takes two years to complete.
In 1934, she designs furniture for this house which she has just completed.
In 1937, she submits to Le Corbusier’s ’Au pavillon des Temps nouveaux’ her design for a holiday and leisure centre incorporating prefabricated and knock-down bungalows.
In the years 1946-1947, Eileen Gray turning her attention to the problems of the time, starts work on a cultural and social centre and draws up a project for a Workers’ Club
In 1956, Jean Badovici dies in Monaco.
In 1960, Villa E-1027 is sold to Mrs Schelbert, a relative of Le Corbusier whom he brought over from Switzerland.
In 1972 the screen Le Destin from Jacques Doucet’s collection is auctioned off at Drouot’s for a record price, helping Eileen Gray and her work to be rediscovered. She is named Royal Designer for Industry in England
In 1973, RiBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) organises a retrospective of her work in London, an itinerant exhibition is held in the United States and she is elected Honorary Fellow in Ireland.
On 31 October 1976, Eileen Gray dies in Paris.
In 1999, Villa E-1027 becomes a listed building
Jean Badovici, real name Badoviso, was born in Bucharest on 6 January 1893. He became a naturalised French citizen in the 1930s and died in Monaco on 17 August 1956.
In 1919, Jean Badovici began academic study at the School of Fine Art under the supervision of Julien Guadet and Jean-Baptiste Paulin and took his degree at the ESA (Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture) of which Robert Mallet-Stevens and Adrienne Gorska were both graduate
In 1920, he shares a student flat with Christian Zervos, a Greek philosophy student from Alexandria. In 1923, the two of them persuade the publisher Albert Morancé to entrust them with two new periodicals. Christian Zervos was to edit Cahiers d’Art, and Badovici L’Architecture vivante, comprising documents on architectural activity.
The first issue is published and Badovici writes the editorial ‘conversations on living architecture’. Badovici keeps this periodical alive for 10 years. It gives encouragement to modern architecture, not least Le Corbusier who uses it to publish comments on his work.
In 1924, Jean Badovici contributes to Wendingen, the Dutch periodical close to the de Stijl movement which devotes an entire issue to Eileen Gray. With her he also works on the restoration of old houses in Vézelay.
From 1927 to 1936 he publishes the ‘l’œuvre complète Morancé’ by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret and it is he who first mentions Eileen Gray to Le Corbusier.
In 1929, he devotes a special issue of L’Architecture Vivante to E-1027, a house by the sea.
In 1930-1931, Eileen Gray redesigns Badovici’s apartment in rue de Châteaubriand.
In 1933, he takes part, along with Christian Zervos, Fernand Léger, André Lurçat and Le Corbusier in the 4th International Congress on Modern Architecture which resulted in the Athens Charter.
In 1937, in Le Corbusier’s Pavilion of the New Spirit he exhibits a new sea rescue boat in the form of an unsinkable liferaft.
In 1938 he buys a new house in Vézelay and asks Fernand Léger to do a mural for it.
1945. Takes part in the reconstruction de Maubeuge under the supervision of André Lurçat.
On 17 August 1956, Badovici dies in Monaco. The UAM pays tribute to him at the Museum of Decorative Arts.
Often ill treated by its successive owners, one of whom was murdered on the spot, the villa, emptied of its furniture, was in a severely degraded condition when it was bought by the Conservatoire du littoral in 1999.
Major restoration work has been carried out on the site, under the project management of, first, DRAC PACA (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs for the Provence), then the Conservatoire du littoral and now Cap Moderne. These works have involved rehabilitation not only of the structure of the building but the internal fittings and the garden. The DRAC and Pierre-Antoine Gatier, chief architect of Historic Monuments charged with project management for the restoration process, were at pains to lay the emphasis on conservation, endeavouring wherever possible to preserve the villa’s original features. Consequently, in spite of their extreme fragility, the large “accordion” picture window in the living room, the tiled floors, and the few items of fixed furniture still in place have been preserved, the aim being to adhere as faithfully as possible to the spirit, refinement, elegance and experimental nature of the design. By the same token, Le Corbusier’s murals have been retained and restored as they embody a key phase in the history of the villa’s occupation and are a reminder of the indelible imprint left by the architect.
This policy decision (restore and conserve) explains why the villa does not look entirely ”new” and consequently requires ongoing maintenance. This fragility, which the architects responsible for the restoration have taken on board, implies the need for very stringent protective measures such as a limit on the number of visitors and strict visiting arrangements – prior booking, small groups, guided tours only.