Saturday, 18 May 2013

1930s Interior Design - Eileen Grey

Have you ever seen a table like this before? I am betting you have.

Table E 1027
This ultra modern looking table s made of chrome and glass, and is height adjustable.

Did you know that this particular table is called the  E1027 table and was designed in 1925. By a woman no less!  Her name was Eileen Gray, or more formally Kathleen Eileen Moray Gray, and she was born in Ireland on 9 August 1878.  The mysterious code E 1027 hides her name and that of her co-worker and friend: E is for Eileen, 10 for Jean (J is the 10th letter of the alphabet), 2 for B(adovici) and 7 for G(ray). The perfect table for breakfast in bed!

Table E 1027 and day bed

Although born into an aristocratic family, Eileen did not follow the path that many wealthier women of that era trod. Instead, Gray’s father encouraged her love of art and took her on painting tours of Europe to nurture her growing talent and at age twenty went to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Eileen Gray
After her father’s death in 1900, she travelled to Paris and saw the Exposition Universelle, which greatly featured designs in the Parisian Art Nouveau, and became a great influence on Eileen.  She decided to move to Paris along with friends from the Slade School, and continued her studies in Paris at the Académie Julian and the Académie Colarossi. For four or five years after the move, Gray travelled back and forth from Paris to Ireland to London, but in 1905, due to her mother's illness, she settled back in London.

eileen gray's lacquered screens
Gray’s primary artistic career started with lacquer work, a skill she learned under the guidance of D. Charles, who owned a repair shop in Soho. She subsequently met a number of artisans from Japan who were skilled in the art form, including Seizo Sugawara. Gray went on to exhibit her lacquer work successfully in 1913.
Eileen Gray serpent chair, or chair with dragons, 1917-1919

sugiwara desu.

One of Eileen’s most famous pieces of furniture, the Daybed, came into being in 1925 as a result of a commission; she was assigned the task of decorating an apartment in the Rue de Lota in Paris for sucessful milliner; Madame Mathieu Lévy.  Eileen began work on the apartment in 1917, and as the decorating process went on, she realized that the furniture she wanted to use for the apartment,  did not yet exist. As a result, she chose to design most of the pieces that later went into the apartment, including the Daybed - Part sofa, part bench, and part daybed - a truly versatile piece of furniture, constructed of a chrome and wood frame, and covered in leather on all contact surfaces.  Perfect to visually separate a large room, or work in multiple roles in smaller spaces as a bench, bed or sofa.
She also designed the carpets, lacquer screen, and chairs including the Bibendum armchair and the Serpent armchair. 

Rue de Lota apartment

In 1924 Eileen and Jean Badovici began work on designing the house E-1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in southern France (near Monaco).  Compact and modern, the house was rectilinear and flat-roofed with floor-to-ceiling and ribbon windows and a spiral stairway descending to a guest room. Eileen designed the furniture, including the circular glass E-1027 table.  She was inspired by the tubular steel experiments of Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus and   Le Corbusier was said to be quite impressed by the house, and built a summer house nearby.

Bibendum chair, c. 1925
E-1027 (1929), Cap Martin, France, by Eileen Gray

Side chair for E-1027
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Eileen designed and furnished herself a new modern home, 'Tempe à Pailla' , outside Menton, a space designed for her to dwell and work, which could be constantly changed with multi-purpose furniture, like her day bed.

Tempe à Pailla
After a brief move to the inland of France during World War II, Eileen returned to Paris, to discover her home had been completely destroyed in a German bombing raid and then looted. She led a quiet life there and continued her design career but dropped out of sight in the design industry for several decades.

In 1968, her works were featured in a magazine and drew attention to her designs once again. As a result, several pieces including the Bibendum chair were manufactured by Zeev Aram and went on to soar in popularity. In England you can buy a copy chair here, or here if you are in Australia.

Eileen Gray died in Paris in 1976 at the age of ninety-eight. It's sad to say that during her lifetime she did not receive the recognition that she so well deserved, although she later became known as the pioneer of the modern movement. In 2002, the Irish Museum of Modern art in Dublin purchased her archive and opened a permanent exhibition of her furniture design legacy.

Eileen Gray, Architectural Cabinet and transat chair, c. 1926 National Museum of Ireland, via E-Flux
In 2009 her one-off dragon chair of 1917 sold at Christie's France for a record breaking $28.3 million, and a black-lacquered wood ‘Transat’ lounge chair sold recently for just over $1 million dollars.  Oh how I wish my grandparents had been into her sort of furniture!

Do you have any Eileen Gray, or Eileen Gray inspired, furniture?

Deb xx

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