This week Jean-Marc and his wife Cynthia paid a visit to one of our favorite works of architecture. In the late 1920’s, architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray built a stunning modernist villa (E-1027) on the southern coast of France in Roquebrune. E-1027 is considered to be Gray’s first major work, going beyond the traditional limitations of architecture and decoration. It highlights the relationship between design and human function as each design within the villa is personalized to be in accord with the lifestyle of its intended occupants. Now almost a century later, and with a few of Le Corbusier’s unauthorized murals on display, her incredible modernist gem and one of the worlds most inspiring modernist spaces has been restored to its former glory.
Here are a few images our owner Jean-Marc took during his visit.
The villa is essentially a white rectangle perched upon the Cap-Martin cliff fac and is clearly a Modernist building. It adopts some aspects of Le Corbusier’s five points of new architecture (concrete piles, open plan rooms, a roof garden, horizontal windows and a “free” facade) which the Swiss-French architect had published in his seminal 1923 book Vers Une Architecture. However, despite Corbusier’s call for openness within and without the main objective of E-1027 is privacy. On the exterior, floor-to-ceiling concertina windows open to the Mediterranean Sea, providing light and views, yet rolling shutters and two strips of canvas shield the villa’s interiors from being seen, thereby also blocking harsh afternoon sunlight and framing the seaside vista.
Inside, the house refrains from using an open plan. Its interior spaces aren’t immediately revealed: Rooms are private places waiting to be discovered. Entering either the bedroom or living room-cum-boudoir, for example, requires walking around a series of corners. Furthermore, given the house’s compact size (1,400 square feet) and many rooms, Gray was meticulously efficient with space. Such constraints, as is commonly the case, led to delightfully innovative workarounds: Wardrobes open to become walls, the living room sofa turns into a bed, and a whole host of cupboards and other bespoke furnishings are either embedded or intrinsically in tune with the rest of the house.
The most prominent example of this ingenuity is the “E-1027 table.” Designed for Gray’s sister so she could eat breakfast in bed without getting crumbs in the sheets, it is a classic piece of Modernist furniture. The table comprises two steel tube circles whose open base fits around a bed post; the design’s height is also adjustable so the table can hover over the bed.
For all the work done by Gray, however, it took an essay by Joseph Rykwert in 1967 to bring her deserved recognition. By that time, the house had been credited as entirely the work of Badovici and even Le Corbusier.
In fact, Le Corbusier was a good friend of Badovici’s and was obsessed with E-1027. After Gray and Badovici split in 1932, Badovici inherited the house and often stayed there with his wife. Against Gray’s wishes, Le Corbusier, as Bodovici’s guest, painted murals on the walls. The French-Swiss architect even tried to buy the house but failed, instead purchasing property nearby where he built a small cabin, the Cabanon de vacances.
Here are some of the pieces that Eileen was most famous for, including her Bibendum chair as well as well as her iconic circular steel table. She also holds the ignominious title of creating the world’s most expensive chair, once owned by Yves St Laurent and Pierre Bergé, which sold for €22m at auction in 2009.
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