iPlayer Radio What's New?
Image for Eileen Gray: The Missing Heart of Design

Sorry, this episode is not currently available on BBC iPlayer Radio

Eileen Gray: The Missing Heart of Design

45 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 23 February 2014

In anticipation of Eileen Gray's newly restored E1027 house opening to the public, Fiona Shaw explores the life and work of the Irish-born designer and architect.

Following a major exhibition at the Pompidou in Paris, which brought Gray new attention, she remains mysterious. She was born into a wealthy, aristocratic family in County Wexford in Ireland in 1878. Stifled by her mother's ostentation, she fled to live in Paris where she dared to enter the male-dominated professions of architecture and design as a self-taught woman.

In the first decades of the 20th Century, she created some of her iconic chairs and tables - the Bibendum and Dragon chairs among them. The Dragon Chair would sell for a record £19 million in 2009. Her clients famously included the fashion designers Jacques Doucet and Elsa Schiaparelli.

Although she's better known for her furniture, she devoted most of her working life to architectural projects. The pale, coloured concrete E-1027 house, near Monaco, is a true prototype for many architects today.

It was her close friend, the architect and writer, Jean Badovici who really encouraged her to focus on architecture, writing that, "She knows that our time, with its new possibilities of living, necessitates new ways of feeling.

She earned the respect of the De Stijl movement and Le Corbusier yet she openly contested the hard edged "machine" maxim. Her instinctive anti-heroicism is partly why her work is less known, but Le Corbusier also claimed E1027 as his own when, uninvited he painted "gregarious" murals on the interior walls, which Gray later commented "felt like rape".

As Fiona reveals, Gray's modernity was in her rethinking of the interior space; in how this could transform and become used, rather than imposing its functionality on us.

Contributors include Colm Toibin, Deborah Saunt, Beatriz Colomina, Peter Adam, Joseph Rykwert, Pierre-Antoine Gatier, Alice Rawsthorn and Elisabeth Lebovici.


Discover Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas season

Explore the life, work and legacy of the Welsh poet on the centenary of his birth.

Free downloads

  1. Image for BBC World War One

    BBC World War One

    BBC Radio brings you stories of the war that changed who we are, with documentaries exploring the…

  2. Image for Music and Culture of WW1

    Music and Culture of WW1

    Highlights of BBC Radio 3’s special programmes to mark the WW1 centenary. Classical music, art,…

  3. Image for Ravel Revealed

    Ravel Revealed

    Maurice Ravel revealed through guides to his work and life. Ravel and Jazz, Ravel and literature,…

  4. Image for The Radio 3 Documentary

    The Radio 3 Documentary

    In-depth documentaries which each week explore a different aspect of history, science, philosophy,…

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Added. Check out your playlist Dismiss