Slipped through

Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

Villa E.1027, Cap Martin, Roquebrune

Designer: Badovici, Jean (1893-1956); Gray, Eileen (1879-1976)
Copyright: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection

Born in south-east Ireland and the daughter of a painter, Gray was encouraged to paint from an early age, and her father enrolled her to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in 1898. After visiting the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900, and becoming a fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's work, Gray subsequently moved to Paris to live.


Gray's early work with lacquer artist Seizo Sugawara did not prove to be the breakthrough she needed. This came towards the end of the first World War when she was given the task of decorating an apartment in the rue de Lota in Paris. She decorated this with her designs, winning several favourable reviews from the critics. By 1923, Gray's confidence was growing and she accepted several more commissions, designing both houses and their interiors.


In 1924, Gray worked with Jean Badovivi on the E-1027 house in Rocquebrune-Cap-Martin, south of France, named in code for the two of them. An open yet compact house with floor-to-ceiling windows, it caught the eye of Le Corbusier who built a summer house behind it. Such was Le Corbusier's enthusiasm for the house that he asked Gray to assist him with his pavilion at the Paris Exposition in 1937.


Gray's innovative Bibendum chair became one of the 20th centuries most recognisable furniture designs. Originally designed as an alternative and daring piece of work, the critics called it 'a triumph of modern living'.


Gray was never nominated for the Royal Gold Medal.