Eileen Gray

Eileen Gray: Pioneer of Modern Architecture and Furniture Design

Eileen Gray (born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith; 9 August 1878 – 31 October 1976) was an Irish architect and furniture designer who played a pivotal role in shaping the Modern Movement in architecture. Her innovative designs, association with renowned European artists, and iconic architectural masterpiece, E-1027, have left an indelible mark on the world of design.

Eileen Gray was born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith on 9 August 1878, on the Brownswood estate near Enniscorthy in County Wexford, Ireland. She was the youngest of five children born to James McLaren Smith, a Scottish landscape painter, and Eveleen Pounden, the 19th Baroness Gray. Her parents' divorce when she was eleven led to a change in the family name to Gray.

Gray's journey in the world of art and design began with her fine arts education at the Slade School in London, where she studied from 1900 to 1902. This choice was unusual for the time, as the Slade was known for its bohemian and co-educational classes. Here, she learned from influential teachers, including Philip Wilson Steer and Henry Tonks, and even met furniture restorer Dean Charles, who introduced her to the art of lacquering.

Interior Design and Jean Désert
Gray's interest in lacquer work led her to Paris in 1902, where she continued her studies and established her own lacquer workshop. By 1912, she was producing commissioned pieces for Paris's elite. In 1922, Gray opened her own shop, Jean Désert, on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in Paris. The shop sold her geometric rugs and attracted clients like James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Elsa Schiaparelli.

E-1027 house designed by Eileen Gray in the Aples Maritimes.

Architecture and E-1027
Gray's romantic involvement with Romanian architect Jean Badovici in the 1920s sparked her interest in architecture. Despite not receiving formal architectural training, she embarked on a remarkable journey of self-education, including theoretical studies, drafting lessons, and on-site experiences. Together with Badovici, she created the iconic E-1027, a white cuboid masterpiece known for its open-plan design and harmonious integration of furniture and architecture.

World Wars and Later Life
Both World War I and World War II had a significant impact on Gray's life and work. She was interned during World War II, and her houses were looted, resulting in the loss of valuable drawings and personal papers. Despite these challenges, Gray's work gained renewed interest in the late 1960s, leading to retrospective exhibitions and a contract for reproducing her designs.

Two influential pieces designed by Gray, the Bibendum chair and an adjustable table created for the E-1027 house.

Personal Life
Eileen Gray was a bisexual woman who associated with notable LGBTQ+ figures of her time, including Romaine Brooks, Loie Fuller, Marie-Louise Damien (Damia), and Natalie Barney.

Legacy and Posthumous Recognition
Gray's contributions to design were underappreciated during her lifetime but have since gained recognition. Permanent exhibitions of her work exist, and her designs have fetched record prices at auctions. Documentaries and biopics have also shed light on her remarkable life and career.


  • “ARAM | Eileen Gray.” ARAM Eileen Gray, www.eileengray.co.uk/.
  • “Eileen Gray.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Aug. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eileen_Gray.
  • “ Gray: Pioneer of the Modern Movement” https://womenidchi.com/.