Eileen Gray’s E-1027 house

E-1027 house by Eileen Gray

villa e1027 by lesacablog.

E1027 house by Eileen Gray, living room

e1027 interior/patio

E1027 house by Eileen Gray, exterior by Eleni

In the late 1920s, the modernist designer and architect Eileen Gray designed and built a landmark piece of modernist architecture in the form of a seaside house. The Irish-born Gray is best known for her furniture design (her Bibendum chair is visible in the third photo above), but it is odd that she is only known as a furniture designer considering her architectural contributions.

On a hill overlooking the Mediterranean at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, Gray’s E-1027 house was built to share with her lover, critic Jean Badovici. The name of the house sounds impersonal, but it is in fact a numeric code for their joint initials; that interesting story is here. Also see a story about the building of the house by Patricia O’Reilly, who has also written a novel based on Gray’s life  (and who has kindly commented below). The house has steadily fallen into disrepair, and in the 1990s the house’s furniture, also designed by Gray, was sold off by its owner to fund house repairs. But the house continued to disintegrate until efforts to save it were apparently successful in 2000. It was mostly restored (see second photo above), then again fell into disrepair, and by 2008 was going through a second restoration.

As of May 2015, the house has been restored and is opening to the public. For information visit the relaunched website of the Friends of e1027.

Gray’s inexplicable obscurity delayed the restoration project for far too long. Here is a description about its condition in the 1990s:

What’s… remarkable is that E1027 is still a deteriorating ruin. When I lived in Monaco in 1995-7, I tried once to find it, but no locals could figure out what I was talking about. The most comprehensive images I’ve seen, though, are on flickr, a photoset made by Daniel, an Irish architect, who hopped the fence in 1997 when the house was a squat [the last owner had been murdered a couple of months prior.] I can’t find any images of Gray’s last house, Lou Perou, which was done near St Tropez, either. And I can’t find any word on the status of her own house, Tempe à Pailla, which was inland, up the mountains from Roquebrune & Menton in the village of Castellar. How is it that no modernist pilgrims have tracked and documented this stuff?

[You can read about the state of e1027 in 2008-9 in this post and also in the comments below. You may also want to listen to a “By Design” 2011 radio segment on the house on Australian Broadcasting Corp – audio is here at 15:18]

Corbusier, his wife & Jean Badovici in Eileen Gray's E1027 house

The photo above shows Corbusier, his wife, and Jean Badovici as photographed by Gray. When you start researching the house,  you begin to suspect that Corbusier had something to do with Gray’s obscurity, and in fact many believe this. (See the link above for a summary of an interesting paper by Beatriz Colomina). It’s hard to determine what role Corbusier played in this, but it’s clear that he was extremely fascinated by E-1027.

Le Corbusier, arguably the greatest architect of the 20th century, was obsessed and haunted by E-1027, the seaside villa Eileen Gray built at Roquebrune Cap Martin in 1929. Over the decades, he sought to possess her “maison en bord de mer” in a multitude of ways. It may have been the last thing he saw before dying of a heart attack while swimming off the rocks beneath E-1027 in 1965. After he died, the footpath serving the area was designated Promenade Le Corbusier. In time, as Gray’s reputation faded, some would even credit him with the design of her villa.

More at Irish Architecture and The Charnel House. It’s known that Gray was infuriated by Corbusier’s alterations of the villa, especially the murals he painted on it (after she broke with Badovici and moved out of the house) and which she felt had vandalized it. She never returned to the house after that, and even in her nineties it was said that she was still fuming about it. (The house’s state of disarray in the early 2000s is obvious in the second mural photo. Again, full set of Flickr photos by Irish architect Daniel is here.) Alastair Gordon tells the story in more detail in his 2013 Wall Street Journal article.

e.1027 by Elen..

e.1027 by Elen..

Gray disagreed strongly with Corbusier’s idea of a house as a machine, arguing for a more organic conception of a functional living space. To this end she built her house taking into consideration the angle of the sun and the wind and the elements of the site, so that in every season the house fit into its environment but also, and more importantly, provided maximum pleasure for its inhabitants.

It seems unlikely that the house’s obscurity, given its contributions to architectural history, are unrelated to the fact that the architect was a woman. Thoughts welcome.

In 2008 the house was listed by Building Design as one of the world’s most romantic buildings, whatever that means. This house ought to be listed in an entirely less silly (and ghettoized feminine) category, one that doesn’t further deprive this house of the status it deserves. Perhaps I would not be so annoyed by this categorization if the house were also highlighted in other less ghettoized categories, but it tends not to be.

Photo of early restoration, 2nd from top, is from flickr.

For more information about the house and a group working to save it, click below. Monograph on Gray’s work available from Amazon: Eileen Gray: Her Life and Work.

e.1027 by Elen..

Friends of E.1027 – text from 2008:

Friends of E.1027 is an organization devoted to raising funds for the restoration and preservation of E.1027, the modernist villa designed and built by Eileen Gray in association with Jean Badovici on the Mediterranean coast of France at Roquebrune-Cap Martin.

E.1027 was built by Gray between 1926 and 1929 as a summer vacation residence for Badovici. The name of the house was a code for their intertwined initials: E for Eileen, 10 for J, the10th letter of the alphabet, and, following this logic, 2 for B, and 7 for G. Though the house was in one sense a collaborative effort, in reality Gray was entirely responsible for its design and for overseeing its construction. Badovici mainly assisted in technical matters when needed. Gray built the house on an isolated stretch of the French Riviera, on the western side of Cap Martin overlooking the Bay of Monaco. She chose this sight for the beauty of its view and built the house directly into the terrain. Wishing to build a house that interacted with the natural elements surrounding it, she carefully studied the wind and the angles of the sun at different times of the day and year and in this way was able to build a structure with a constant, evolving relationship with the sun, the wind, and the sea. Gray designed the house so that inside and outside flowed together. Not only does every room give out onto a balcony, but the shutters, screens, and windows are all movable, allowing the inhabitant to harmoniously engage with the sea and the hills surrounding the villa. The house was designed as a “maison minimum” – simple and efficient, with areas of built-in furniture and no wasted space. The main level of the house consists of a large open living room, a study/bedroom, a kitchen, and a bath. The lower level consists of a large covered sitting area, a guest bedroom, maid’s quarters, and a WC. On the roof she built a garden which included an outdoor kitchen connected to the interior kitchen, and a small area for sunbathing. While E.1027 was a modern movement house and employed many of the key tenets of the movement’s chief architect, Le Corbusier, Gray took issue with Le Corbusier who famously felt that “the house is a machine to live in.” Rather, she described the house as a living organism, an extension of the human experience, stating that “it is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for people.” “Formulas are nothing,” she insisted, “Life is everything.” Gray created a villa with an open and flexible design which allowed the user to experience the space of living as an organic whole comprising the self, the house, and the outside environment. At the same time her designs allowed the user to maintain a feeling of intimacy and privacy, both of which she herself valued enormously. With E.1027 Gray made a singular and fundamental contribution towards modern architecture.

30 comments on "Eileen Gray’s E-1027 house"

  1. It is hard to believe such a building is in disrepair, it must be worth a mint! I visited the Design Museum Eileen Grey exhibition in London several years ago and learnt what a great artist she was. I would love to see the house (even with Corbu’s murals!) It is in the same category as Villa Malaparte on Capri in terms of heritage importance, another stunning modern design.
    I hope E 1027 is rescued and people can visit it and discover and learn all about Grey’s work.

  2. Great information on Eileen Gray. For those who’ve bemoaned what has happened to E.1027, I was lucky enough to see over it in November 2008 while I was giving a talk on Eileen Gray in Monaco. The house is undergoing a €800,000 re-vamp with architect Gattier remaining close to Eileen Gray’s original concept, such as the black and white tiles; inbuilt furniture and footsteps cut out of stone staircase leading to roof terrace. But it has to be said that the focus of attention is on LeCorbusier’s murals and they seem to be the reason for this re-furbishment. The most glorious thing about this is the perfection of the site Eileen chose for her dream house. More about this on my website: http://www.patriciaoreilly.net/html/gray_s_e_1027.html

    1. Thanks Patricia. It’s a little annoying that the Corbusier murals are the driving force; I know they irritated Gray, and also they’re quite derivative of Picasso and others. But I’m just glad it’s going to be saved. I wonder who owns this house now?

  3. fabulous e1027 must be preserved if not for the arts and designer culture, but for the future generations. i am 41 and can appreciate the beautiful structure even in its disrepair and it would be a sad sad loss if this wasnt to be taken underhand. it was enduring then and is enduring now…i will drink a toast to eileen grey, not only for her designer furniture pieces and e1027 but for the memories of her dedication to building e1027… no, we must preserve it, it would be as she would want it….

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  5. I will be in the South of France in September 2010 and would love to see this house. Is it at all accessible? Would there be someone I could contact to see it?

    Thank you.

  6. Hi frank jen,
    when Eileen Gray left e.1027 in disgust, it is said, over Le Corbusier’s murals, she build another house but inland this time which she named Tempe a Paille, the name taken from an Provencal proverb meaning it takes time and straw for figs to ripen.

  7. I did manage to go to E.1027. I didn’t get inside but got lots of pictures from the outside. A lot of work has been done, it looks great from what I could see. There were no workers on site the day I visited but I was impressed with what I was able to get a look at, it feels reborn.

    I’m going to post pics on my blog that I have started very soon.

  8. Greetings!

    I am a design writer for Modernism magazine, currently finishing up a long feature story about Eileen Gray that will be ublished in mid-November. My editor would like me to find and get permission to use several archival photos of EG’s work and environments — images that would give readers the flavor of the times in which she lived. I’ve found quite a few excellent black & white photos, but can’t seem to find the names of the people I need to contact to obtain photo permissions. I found your blog, and thought that maybe you could help. If so, I’d really appreciate it!
    Thanks, Judy Polan

    1. Hi Judy,
      I get this sort of request a lot but the problem is I’m a second-hand user of these images already. One of the commenters above, Patricia O’Reilly, might know who has the rights to all these images – are some of these in the public domain, Patricia?
      Sorry I can’t be of more assistance.
      You might also contact the New York gallery which seems to be the HQ for Friends of e1027 – http://www.geringlopez.com/

  9. Hi Judy,
    If you go to my website http://www.patriciaoreilly.net, to eileen gray page and to the end of the feature in the Gloss magazine, you’ll find several photos that I took when I viewed E.1027 – you’re welcome to use them but plse credit.

    If you’re still short, I can let you have images I used both for my powerpoint presentation in Monaco and for feature in History Ireland (see website again).

    best luck, hope you’ll post your feature..

  10. Hi Patricia and Lindsay,

    Thanks so much for your quick replies. Much appreciated! I have quite a few terrific images of individual pieces of EG furniture from Aram Designs of London; what we’re looking for now are archival b & w photos (in high-res) to lend some flavor of the times to my article.

    Patricia — if we use any of your photos, we will of course give you a photo credit, and a mention in the author’s (meaning my) thank-you at the end of the piece. I’ll post the story as soon as the magazine allows me to — there’s usually a 3-month-long prohibition on doing that, while the current issue of the magazine is on the stands. (It’s a quarterly.)

    BTW/ I did a piece on Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat (in Brno, Czech Republic) in a fairly recent article in Modernism; also one on iconic mid-century modern furniture designer Milo Baughman in the issue prior to the current one. You might enjoy either or both of these!

    Thanks again, and I’ll keep you posted —

    Judy Polan

  11. How wonderful to find your site and photos. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. But I did wince when I read “…This house ought to be listed in an entirely less silly (and feminine) category, one that doesn’t further deprive this house of the status it deserves.” Does that imply that “feminine” isn’t valuable? Or that things feminine are of lesser status?
    As a man who respects the influence of femininity on society as a vital contribution, I suggest this deserves considered reflection. Heaven forbid that we keep on insisting that ideas, design, and measures can only demonstrate value if they are masculine.
    I mean, isn’t that precisely what Eilleen Gray did that confounded Le Corbusier so much? He insisted on regarding architecture as a mechanical form. Whereas, she considered the importance of humanity.
    Despite my quibble, I am glad you have helped to educate us. Thanks again.

    1. @Christian That would be fine if Eileen Gray had been honoured in any other category – but “romantic buildings”? It’s a dumb category and also a form of ghettoization in the absence of any other honours. As you can see if you peruse this site there’s a strong interest in women designers, but I feel their work should be honoured as “design” or “architecture,” not romantic, or “design by women” or architecture by women.” Why not just “good architecture” or “good design”? It’s always second tier when qualified. You know? A very different thing. I am doing the opposite of denigrating women, but let’s remember that the “feminine” is itself largely a constructed category. “Humanity” is the province of both (or all) genders.

      Corbusier knew Gray had created a masterpiece, but he tried to contain it, and contain it sexually (see the rather derivative sexualized/female nude murals he painted on the house without Gray’s permission) and in terms of gender and sexual attraction. The Australian Broadcasting Corp’s excellent radio segment on the house, in the show “By Design,” is great on this topic. Thanks for your other remarks! Lindsay
      and here, at 15:28:

  12. Thank you Christian!! The association b/n feminine and silly/lesser status is an unfortunate one. I am glad you pointed it out, b/c I think you can be female, interested in female designers’ art and work to honor them and still be susceptible to our culture’s views on what feminine means. When I make comments like that and find out what I’m really thinking (how’d that stay hidden so long?), I appreciate respectful notice of it, like yours to LB. Thank you!

    1. @Christian and @MR None of us are disagreeing; if you think you heard a denigration of the category “feminine” here, you missed the rest of this blog! What I DO object to is the relegation of Gray’s work to that category *only*.The important point is that Gray was not honoured in her own time not because her *work* was seen as feminine, but that *she* was a woman and was discriminated against accordingly.

  13. ‘In 2008 the house was listed by Building Design as one of the world’s most romantic buildings, whatever that means. This house ought to be listed in an entirely less silly (and feminine) category, one that doesn’t further deprive this house of the status it deserves.’ Agree that ‘romantic’ does not mean much…but less silly and feminine?

  14. Hello there!
    Does anyone know about the Interior design that Eileen Gray did for Suzanne Talbot? I am an Interior design student and have to write a paper on this subject. Thank you.

  15. Hi! I’m trying to find the plans (dwg or similar) of the E-1027 house for a school project. Did anyone knows where can I find them?
    Thanks a lot!!

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