Once on the verge of ruin from neglect, architect Eileen Gray’s Villa E.1027 has been fully restored and is available for tours by appointment. Built between 1926 and 1929, E.1027 is one of the finest examples of International Style architecture, which Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock described as possessing rectilinear forms, taut plane surfaces devoid of applied ornamentation, open interior spaces and a visual weightlessness created through cantilever construction.
Gray’s masterpiece preceded many better-known structures of its time – including Villa Savoye (1931) by Le Corbusier – which is especially remarkable when you learn that she was a self-taught architect. The fact that she was a woman working in a male-dominated field also rocks.
Located in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin on the French Riviera, Gray designed this seaside home as a vacation retreat to share with her lover, Jean Badovici. To celebrate their relationship, the house is named E.1027, which is a cipher for their intertwined initials: The E is for Eileen, and the numbers 10, 2 and 7 represent the alphabetical order of the letters J, B and G, respectively. The site was chosen for its views of the Bay of Monaco, and Gray carefully studied the angles of the sun and wind to ensure an intimate relationship between the house and nature.
“The value of a piece of work is in direct correlation to the amount of love invested in it,” wrote Gray, and if that is true then this home is priceless. Gray and Badovici and their many friends, including Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger and Charlotte Perriand, enjoyed E.1027 for many summers. Relations between the friends eventually strained over Corbu’s increasing jealousy of the couple and Gray’s decreasing tolerance for Badovici’s philandering.
The relaxing retreat had turned into a place of sadness for Gray, and so she left it and Badovici behind. Not long after Gray’s departure, a nude Le Corbusier painted brightly colored sexually charged murals on eight of the interior walls of E.1027. It’s unclear if this was done at Badovici’s invitation or not, but when Gray learned of it, she considered it an act of vandalism. Whether or not to keep the murals in the renovated interior is an ongoing debate.
It is because of these murals that many people mistake Corbu as the architect of E.1027, but he had nothing to do with its design or construction. He did, however, take over the site by adding additional structures. He built his one-room “Cabanon” behind E.1027 in 1952, and four years later he added a row of colorful huts called “Les Unités de Camping” directly above the property that Gray had loved so much. It was in these waters that Corbu drowned in 1965.
The restoration of E.1027 is a return to the optimism and love in which it was originally created. The recognition of Gray’s work is long overdue. In celebration of her birthday, August 9, 1878, we raise our glasses in a toast to this brilliant pioneer of architecture and design, and we invite the world to get to know her better.
For tours, visit capmoderne.com.