Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Mechanical Ballet: The Furniture of E.1027

When you place a piece of furniture that Eileen Gray designed in 1915 next to a piece of furniture that she designed for E-1027, it's hard to tell that they were conceived by the same person. Her earlier work was aften opulent, designed for wealthy clients, and exhibits a style influenced by the art nouveau movement that was so popular in Paris at the time. The furniture in E-1027, on the other hand, while it may be luxurious in it's elegance, is breath breathtakingly modern. A lot of the furniture is designed with tubular steel coated with chrome, much like Marcel Breuer or Mart Stam were doing at the same time. What made Gray's furniture designs for E-1027 so special is what she called "le style camping". More after the break!

Laquer table by Eileen Gray, 1915

Tube Steel Tables by Eileen Gray - Late 1920s

Gray designed the furniture in the spaces of E-1027 to be lightweight, portable, and highly interactive. That is to say, many pieces of furniture could be transformed to suit a wide range of activities. For example, a table could become a desk, a dining surface, or a coffee table depending on the needs of the user, and could be manipulated quite easily by a few gestures. 

In this sense, the furniture was not designed to remain in one place. It was designed with the intent that it could be moved around, adjusted, and used not just for one specific purpose. This idea is part of a greater theme evident in the design of E-1027, one which we will explore in more detail where rooms can be transformed and adjusted depending on the mood, the weather, and the company. Even where the furniture is more fixed, such as in the bedrooms and in the bathrooms, the furniture maintains it's interactivity. The mirrors in the bathrooms have telescopic arms and whole sections on hinges, allowing the user to adjust the mirror to his or her needs. The headboards of the beds contain tables which can be pulled out, storage for books and cushions, a space to heat a hot water bottle, and a lamp, again begging the presence of a user to operate it's many functions. By realizing that the experience and needs of the users of her furniture may vary over a period of time, she anticipated many of the possible ways in which her furniture could adapt to the many situations they find themselves in. Now the imagery of the mechanical ballet seems to be a bit more applicable.

Bedside Table, Adjustable Height

Adjustable Mirrors

Dresser, Corner Hinged Drawers

Headboards with built in accessories


1. Constant, Caroline, "E. 1027: The Nonheroic Modernism of Eileen Gray", Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vol. 53, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 265-279, Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the Society of Architectural Historians
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2. Adam, Peter, "Eileen Gray: Her life and Work". Munich: Schirmer/Mosel, 2008

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