Rarely is a house so intertwined with the lives of those who built it and lived there
‘A house is not a machine to live in’, wrote designer and architect Eileen Gray in rebuttal to Le Corbusier’s zeitgeisty maxim. Perhaps this is why he stripped off and covered her magnum opus – architecturally, at least – the E-1027 house in saucy murals. Be it a crime of jealousy, vengeance or passion, these murals (and the brief miscrediting of the house to Le Corbusier himself) are somewhat emblematic of Gray’s rather fraught route to fame, which, if we are to measure such things in monetary terms, was finally arrived at with the 2009 sale of her Dragons Armchair for £19 million.
E-1027 – depicted here by the illustrator Josephin Ritschel – was Gray’s first major work, and a collaboration with her then lover Jean Badovici (E-1027 being a code for their initials). From a glance at the exterior it may appear a veritable International Style machine, but Gray’s more playful flourishes, and certainly her furniture, are a departure from the strictures of early 20th-century Modernism.
Fabric awnings, doughy Bibendum chairs and the E-1027 side table (designed for enjoying breakfast in bed) speak more to a cosy lover’s refuge than the sterile shag pads of Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler – although none housed particularly happy unions, in Gray’s case thanks to the ever-looming third wheel of Corbusier.
E-1027 remains a charged place – Corbusier died in the nearby waters, a later owner was murdered there in 1996, it is at the centre of two recent films and soon to be the star in its own video game. Its restoration – drawn out for over a decade and termed a ‘massacre’ by some – is a fight for Gray’s deserved legacy as much as the structure itself, but doing so involves unpicking a tangled web of history and authorship. A reminder, at the very least, that rarely is a house so intertwined with the lives of those who built, visited and lived there – not a machine, indeed.