Gray was 51 years old when she completed her first private residence. It was a white Modernist villa on a slope descending to the sea in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a small village on the Côte d’Azur. Her lover, the Romanian architect and editor of L’Architecture Vivante, Jean Badovici, was 36 when they moved in, in 1929. The house was situated between the train tracks and the beach, among rocks and pine trees with a view of the bay of Monaco. Seen from the sea, it resembles a white yacht anchored behind reddish rocks. In designing the house Gray adopted a number of precepts formulated by the architect Le Corbusier in the mid-1920s. The structure stands on thin stilts, the windows form a horizontal band. Badovici was a close friend of Le Corbusier, and Le Corbusier and Gray knew each other from Paris. She was nine years Le Corbusier’s senior and one of the best-known furniture designers of her time. But Gray was the darker of the two. She was a close friend of the occult celebrity Aleister Crowley and had an open affair with the singer Damia. The two women cruised the boulevards of Paris wearing Lanvin, a panther curled up in the back seat of their car.
Though Gray’s house has a clinical air when seen from the outside (painted pure white like many early Modernist buildings), it is unexpectedly dim inside. The effect is of slipping into progressively deeper water, as one reaches the house’s most intimate corners, which are decorated in dark blue or black. E.1027, as the house is known, nods to Le Corbusier only at first sight. The spiral of the stairs, to Gray, represented both a physical form and metaphor — and she used it as a basis for a critique of Le Corbusier’s notion of the house as a “machine for living,” a phrase he had coined. A house, Gray once wrote, is “not a machine to live in. It is the shell of man — his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation.” “The poverty of modern architecture,” she later added, “stems from the atrophy of sensuality.”
It is impossible to identify the exact individual contributions of Gray or Badovici to E-1027. Gray also designed furniture for the house, including a tubular steel table which would enable her sister to eat breakfast in bed without leaving crumbs on sheets, due to an adjustable top that caught the crumbs. L-shaped and flat-roofed with floor-to-ceiling windows and a spiral stairway to the guest room, E-1027 was both open and compact.
The name of the house, E-1027, is a code of Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici, 'E' standing for Eileen, '10' Jean, '2' Badovici, '7' Gray. The encoded name was Eileen Gray's way of showing their relationship as lovers at the time when built.
Le Corbusier and E 1027
Le Corbusier was a friend of Badovici and visited the house several times after Badovici and Gray had parted. While staying as a guest in the house in 1938 and 1939, Le Corbusier painted bright murals on its plain white walls, and sometimes painted in the nude. This intrusion onto her design infuriated Gray, who considered the murals outright vandalism. Whether he painted these murals out of admiration for her work or jealousy of her accomplishment, Le Corbusier became intricately tied with the future of the house. Failing to purchase it himself, he eventually bought a piece of property just east of E-1027, where he built a small, rustic cabin, his Cabanon de vacances. Eileen Gray was so slow at putting her name forward as being the architect of the house that for many years it was assumed by many historians and journalists that Le Corbusier was in fact its designer.