Eileen Gray was born into an aristocratic family in Ireland in 1878. Interested in art and wishing to live beyond the boundaries of conventional expectations, Eileen left home for Paris in 1902. Already having attended art school in England, Gray continued her education in Paris, developing her talents as a painter and ultimately as a great designer. Gray was first recognized for her adaptation of traditional Asian lacquer techniques to contemporary furniture designs. By 1912–13 she was already becoming a name, and her luxurious screens, tables, and door panels sold well and were exhibited. Throughout this time she was also designing striking rugs decorated with geometric shapes and patterns. Like her early lacquer work, these rugs, and later her famous chairs – particularly the Transat chair, the non-conformist chair, the Lota sofa, and the Bibendum chair – secured Eileen Gray's place as an influential designer of the 20th century.
In 1922 Gray opened her own shop, Jean Désert, where she exhibited her furniture and designs as well as those of her contemporaries. At around the same time she met Jean Badovici, a Romanian architect and editor of the influential journal L'architecture Vivante, with whom she formed a very close personal and professional relationship. Her friendship with Badovici dramatically affected the course of her artistic practice. When her furniture did not sell well causing Gray to ultimately close her shop, it was Badovici who suggested that Gray try her hand at architecture.
Between 1926 and 1929, Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici worked on a summer vacation residence called e.1027, one of her most enduring achievements. The name of the house was a code for their intertwined initials: E for Eileen, 10 for J, the 10th 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.
E.1027 was built 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 that 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 that 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 fundamental contribution towards modern architecture.
After many years of neglect and isolation, restoration work on e.1027 started after 2000, with "emergency restorations" completed by 2006. The bulk of the restoration took place between 2006 and 2010, with the state-appointed Architecte en Chef et Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historiques, Pierre-Antoine Gatier, who restored many important elements, including the facade, the windows, and the Corbusier murals. Further restoration work was done in conjunction with the film shoots of the Price of Desire and Gray Matters in 2014.