August 2013 Notable Review - Eileen Gray: Objects and Furniture Design

Carmen Espegel
Eileen Gray: Objects and Furniture Design

Introduction by Carmen Espegel; edited by Sandra Dachs
Ediciones Polígrafa (April 2013)
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Reviewer: Book Board member Norman Weinstein (

Eileen Gray: Objects and Furniture Design, introduction by Carmen Espegel, 2013 (Ediciones Polígrafa)

This compact and well-illustrated introduction to objects and furniture designed by Eileen Gray was published at a propitious time. The largest exhibition ever presented of Gray’s designs was presented by the Centre Pompidou, attracting widespread popular and critical attention at the beginning of 2013. If the catalogue associated with that extensive exhibition were more widely available outside of France, there might be no rationale for this well-informed, devout, but slim introductory survey. But despite that catalogue, and the half-dozen previously penned books on this elusive designer, there is always room for another text to shed light.

Consider Gray the Emily Dickinson of design: reclusive, simultaneously ancient, modern, and timeless, a relentless questioner of conventional aesthetic wisdom, and a loner beyond simple categorization. Even the title of this text can arouse controversy. Other books about Gray label her as “architect/designer,” although she lacked any formal architectural training, and only three of her architectural projects were completed during her lifetime. Yet arguably her best-known work is E-1027 Villa, an influential modernist house Gray designed with the architectural critic Jean Badovici, soon to be reopened on the southern French coast after a laborious restoration process.

Non-Conformist Chair, designed by Eileen Gray, 1926–1929. Philippe Garner Archives

She was protean: initially creating original lacquered screens mingling Art Deco and Orientalism, inventing carpet designs suggesting cubist geometry, and designing scores of memorably offbeat lamps, mirrors, chairs, and tables. One of her chairs invited two different manners of sitting. She aptly named it “Non-Conformist Chair.” Of the Transat Chair, unfortunately currently in storage at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the architect and furniture designer Amanda Levete spoke with great clarity when she noted that Gray’s chair is “like architecture in miniature. Because every piece of it is doing exactly what it should be doing.” The authors of this survey don’t wax as eloquently about Gray’s furniture as Levete, but their emphasis on Gray as a restless explorer of “every possible use that a piece of furniture could be put to” makes for a mesmerizing read.

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