Designers often choose a focus for their craft, whether that’s designing furniture, architecture or art. Eileen Gray, however, is one of those designers that was multitalented, starting with a love for painting and moving on to furniture design, interior design and even architecture.

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Stainless steel framework with a handcrafted lacquer finish. ARAM

Design Roots

Eileen Gray was born in Enniscorthy, Ireland, on August 9, 1878. Her artistic experience started not with design, but with painting at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, where she was one of the first women to be accepted.

She also started an apprenticeship at a London lacquer workshop, taking instruction from Japanese artisan Seizo Sougawara, which formed the basis of her design foundation. With his tutelage, she became one of the leading designers of lacquered screens and decorative panels.

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The Bibendum chair was designed after the Michelin character, with its tubelike body shape. The design consists of two padded tubes encased in leather, formed around a padded seat. ARAM

Interior Design

In 1902 she moved to Paris and continued her lacquered designs. Her first commissioned work was the entire home interior of milliner, Madame Mathieu-Lévy. She designed many of her future famous pieces for this house, including the Bibendum chair, known for its tubular shape, and the Pirogue boat bed. Shortly thereafter, she also designed the E1027 table and the Transat chair for her own home interior. Her main materials of choice were chrome, steel tubing and glass for modern appeal.

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The E1027 table was designed to be visually artistic and functional. You can use it over your knees while sitting down, and it can be raised or lowered to the correct height. ARAM

Without a place to showcase her new pieces, she felt the need to open her own design studio, Jean Désert in Rue du Fauborg Saint Honoré in 1922.  She continued to forge her way into the design community. She created pieces with revolutionary design structures and worked with popular artists, Le Corbusier and J.J.P Oud.

Architecture

In 1926, she began to work with home architecture, building what would be known as, “the purest example of domestic architecture and interior design of the period” (ARAM). The home, built for herself and Jean Badovici, was called E-1027. Located in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the flat roofed rectilinear home contains mostly furniture she designed.

Architecture portfolio 1, page 20 image 3, NMIEG:2000.250, Eileen Gray Collection I
Architecture portfolio 1, page 20 image 3, NMIEG:2000.250, Eileen Gray Collection I.

Still standing today, the home has recently been updated, refreshing the older items while maintaining its original look (updated images and article in French can be found here).

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Selections of Eileen Gray’s furniture on display in E-1027.

Her multiple talents in modern design is still appreciated today, her pieces still popular for furnishing MCM homes.

Keep reading to learn about other extraordinary Mid Century Modern women such as Grete Jalk, Eva Zeisel and Florence Knoll. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!