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It’s fair to say Eileen Gray’s E-1027 French villa hasn’t lived a charmed life: It has survived desecration by
The house certainly had optimistic—and idealistic—beginnings. “One must build for the human being, that he might rediscover in the architectural construction the joys of self-fulfillment in a whole that extends and completes him,” Gray wrote in the 1929 issue of L’Architecture Vivante. “Even the furnishings should lose their individuality by blending in with the architectural ensemble.” The villa was intended as a peaceful retreat for Gray and her then lover, Romanian architect, critic, and editor of L’Architecture Vivante, Jean Badovici, who had partially contributed to the project’s design.
The villa—essentially a white rectangle perched upon the Cap-Martin cliff face—is clearly a Modernist building. It adopts some aspects of
However, despite Corbusier’s call for openness within and without, privacy is a main objective of E-1027. 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 “
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.
The degradation continued during World War II when German soldiers practiced their aim against E-1027’s walls. Actual death came next. On August 27, 1965,
More death was to follow. In 1980, E-1027’s then-owner, Marie-Louise Schelbert was found dead in her flat in Zurich. Three days prior, her physician, Dr. Peter Kägi had secretly snuck almost all of Gray’s original furniture out and auctioned it off in Zurich. When Schelbert died, Kägi inherited the house, using it host an array of hedonistic affairs, notably drug-fueled orgies. In 1996, this came to an end when he was murdered in the living room.
Now, finally, the house is being looked after. In 1999, the villa was bought by the
“Almost everything has, or is being, or will be redone,” Benton adds, pointing to the furniture.
“Left empty, this is one of 100 important houses of the late Modern period,” says Benton. “But the interior is one of [the] four most important modern interiors in the world. This why we are remaking the furniture with the same tools, the same materials, the same processes as the originals.”