E.1027…A HAIKU In Concrete



By Cheryl Anderson




“To create, one must first question everything.”    Eileen Gray


E.1027 as it is today. Completely renovated.

E.1027 is a strikingly white concrete cliffside villa. A maison en Bord de Mer on the Promenade Le Corbusier in Roquebrune-Cap Martin, France.  Its simplicity speaks volumes, as does a HAIKU poem.  Built between the summer of 1926 and 1929 it marked Eileen Gray’s first venture into architecture design and has come to represent modern architecture.  She was forty seven years old at the time the construction began.  Gray was, “a well-born Irishwoman known for her elegant and original furniture designs, who lived mainly in Paris.” and is considered a pioneer in the Modern Movement of architecture.  Grand villas were all around the Côte d’Azur, but smaller maisons along the coastline were popping up. Hers stood out.

“Side elevation of E.1027 with balcony.”

In an effort to appreciate the genius of Eileen Gray and what this structure meant to the modern movement, as it is such a groundbreaking structure, I found it helpful to know more about the mysterious artist herself.  Peter Adam’s biography, Eileen Gray…Her Life and Work, does not disappoint and gives an insightful commentary on the elusive artist. I came away with a better understanding of the person beyond her designs in furniture and rugs.

Monaco in the distance.

The garden.

The name of the villa is a code and not a name like so many of the magnificent villas in the area that evoke love of location or beauty.  Instead, one letter and 4 numbers represents Eileen’s love for Jean Badovici, and how their lives were entwined…albeit a complicated relationship.  E, is for Eileen, J, the 10th letter in the alphabet, 2, for B, and G for Gray, the 7th letter in the alphabet. She met Jean, a Romanian-born architect fifteen years younger, shortly after World War One.  Gray was already a recognized artist, but it was his influence that led Gray to love architecture.  Once she was asked who was responsible for different aspects of the house. Her reply was very direct: “We were associated.  It is no use differentiating now. He had ideas for the roof and the staircase.”  She and Badovici lived in the house until 1932.  Their love affair ended, but they stayed friends.  He kept the house to use for holidays.

Living room today. “…Eileen Gray’s furniture reconstructed by Renaud Barrès and Burkhardt Rukschcio (2017-2021)”

The genesis of Villa E.1027 was simple.  Badovici wanted Eileen to build a “little refuge” for him in the South of France.  In early 1925, she began exploring the coast discovering a rocky plot of land in Roquebrune, thirty meters up from the sea. Anne de Courcy, states: “It was completely inaccessible and not overlooked from anywhere.  That was it.” Gray declared: “I knew I was going to build and I was going to build here.”  Gray lived in a small flat in Roquebrune during the three years of construction

E.1027  An early picture.

E.1027   View from above.

Gray states, “that a dwelling should be a ‘living organism’ serving the ‘atmosphere required by inner life.’…The poverty of modern architecture, she wrote in the Forties, stems from the atrophy of sensuality.  Everything is dominated by reason in order to create amazement without proper research. The art of the engineer is not enough if it is not guided by the primitive needs of men.  Reason without instinct.  We must mistrust merely pictorial elements if they are not assimilated by instinct.”

Stairs on the west side that lead up from the garden to the upper floor. Stairs on the west side that lead up from the garden to the upper floor.

Living room with a nautical chart on the wall with the words, Invitation au Voyage, handwoven rugs and her iconic Transat chair.

Adam writes that there is romanticism imbued in how Eileen viewed a structure.  Gray believed, “A house is not a machine à habiter.  It is the shell of man, his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation.  Not only its visual harmony but its organization as a whole, the whole work combined together, make it human in the most profound sense.”  In L’Architecture Vivante (1929), Eileen said: “It is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all dwellings for people.”  Peter Adam’s thought is that, “This house reveals more of Eileen Gray than any object, piece of furniture or anecdote.”

An elliptical celluloid cupboard at the entrance to the living room.

Terrace looking east with a dining table topped with cork “to reduce clatter and separate leaf for trays.” The frame is tubular steel.

Her ingenious Satellite mirror.

Guest room wardrobe cleverly lit, glass shelves.  In the background a washbasin beneath the Satellite mirror.


Construction began.  Eileen hired André-Joseph Roattino, an expert mason and carpenter, to build her villa. He was especially expert in building with reinforced concrete. With two assistants he built the entire building. People were amazed at this house built on pilotis and constructed of béton brut. It stood out from other villas. “And yet, despite her lack of architectural experience and the difficulties of building  the house, the extraordinary level of construction and the quality of the execution of the work are still clearly visible today.”  It’s no wonder architects and scholars have begun to examine her work.  Béton brut is architectural concrete, a specific way of using concrete that is left unfinished after being cast.  It was pioneered by, among other modernist architects, Le Corbusier.  Béton brut is a  phrase he coined.  In English, it means raw concrete.  Another example of béton brut being used is in the church of Notre Dame du Raincy that architect August Perret built in 1922-1923.


She describes how difficult the construction was: “As there was no road the work was arduous.  All the material had to be brought to the site on wheelbarrows pushed along the little footpath, often helped by myself.”  Roattino brought her an orange from his garden, “in affection and respect for this strange, determined woman in a trouser suit and and bow tie, twice his age but who he always called Mademoiselle.  Eileen hated being contradicted and could be quite firm and demanding, but the workmen liked her a lot.”  It’s been noted that after a long day working Eileen would sit on the terrace quietly stroking the surface of the concrete as if it were a loved one.  She also availed herself of a dip in the sea after a long day working to sooth, what I imagined, were very sore muscles. I’ve walked along a portion of the Promenade Le Corbusier and from where I entered the path, a shortcut I was told by a friend, is not for the faint of heart to negotiate. It was quite steep and narrow. Promenade Le Corbusier runs from the edge of Menton along the coastal walk of Cap Martin.  The views are unimpeded out to the blue sea. I guarantee it will be a walk you will long remember.

Le Corbusier’s gouache, Untitled (Woman Looking into a Mirror). He gave this to Eileen as a gift in 1938.

Maritime, was the theme of the villa. Sailcloth for the awnings, railings, and deck chairs all accented the white concrete building.

Closeup of the Transat chair and the nautical chart with Invitation Au Voyage inscription. Closeup of the Transat 

The fronts of these drawers are perforated aluminum sheets that had been used for sieving in flour mills.

“The E.1027 living room before Le Corbusier’s frescoes, with the Transat chair, daybed, side table and ‘Invitation Au Voyage’ nautical chart. the Centimetre and ‘Blue and White’ rugs are on the floor. The image was partly colourized for reproduction in The Architectural Review.”

According to Paul Adam, “The E.1027 table, which was Eileen’s most successful design.” I read that this adjustable table was designed for her sister who liked to eat in bed. This design is among the most reproduced editions of her furniture along with the tube light and Transat chair. Very few of Gray’s original pieces exist.

According to Paul Adam, “The E.1027 table, which was Eileen’s most successful design.” I read that this adjustable table was designed for her sister who liked to eat in bed. This design is among the most reproduced editions of her furniture along with the tube light and Transat chair. Very few of Gray’s original pieces exist.


The pilotis were painted blue…from a distance the contrast of the white had an appearance of a boat anchored on the cliff.   Within the two stories there was no wasted space inside…a large living room and two small bedrooms.  Eileen’s genius had created the small square footage to look and feel more spacious than it was.  She did this with mirrors, different colors on the walls, (dark or light), brilliantly designed cupboards and materials that reflected light.  “Eileen also played with perspective.  Inside and outside were one, giving the feeling of spaciousness.” Each room has its own outside space.  Peter Adam states: “Even in the smallest house each person must feel alone, completely alone.” Eileen preferred or needed isolation and protection.  E.1027 provided it.  Freedom.  There is pure logic to the well thoughout organization of the space…“eating, resting, reading and relaxing” are all in the living room.  All of her criteria were met in the living room.

“The Transat chair with black lacquer frame upholstered in canvas, 1925-30.”

  E.1027 table used as a bedside table.

“Eileen, aged about eighteen.”


You may wonder, where is the kitchen?  Eileen was not interested in running a household.  The kitchen was a galley with storage high-up.  Food was more of an after thought, however she did like cocktails (aperitifs) in pretty glasses designed by Poiret.  Her thoughts regard the “dwelling as a living organism…each of the inhabitants could, if needed, find total independence and an atmosphere of solitude and concentration.”  Her inspiration came from, “Life, the sense of life is my inspiration.”

Lacquer tools, pigments and lacquer samples that belonged to Eileen.

Not far away, also in Roquebrune, is Coco Chanel’s Villa La Pausa.  Chanel had parties with many of the swells and important figures at the time, as did Francis Picabia at his Château de Mai in Mougin.  Among the luminaries at Picabia’s parties were Fernand Léger, Jacques Doucet and Gertrude Stein. Peter Adam suggests that, “Eileen would have been quite amused to see Picabia’s Château de Mai, ‘a Brazil in cardboard’, as Paul Morand described it, but nobody ever invited her.”  How electric would those parties have been if the hosts and hostesses had invited Eileen.

“One of Eileen’s dark-toned artworks, Black Magic, in gouache and pencil, c. 1930.”

“Rug design, 1920s (modern re-edition, ClassiCon).”

“Rug with abstract geometrical pattern, c. 1925 (modern re-edition ClassiCon).

“Two early rug designs in gouache.”

As I mentioned, Eileen moved out of the house she had designed in 1932.  The architect, Le Corbusier, stayed there with his friend Badovici for a few days.  After his visit he wrote the following to Gray: “I am so happy to tell you how much these few days spent in your house have made me appreciate the rare spirit that dictates all the organization inside and outside.  A rare spirit which has given the modern furniture and installations such a dignified, charming and witty shape.”  This was high praise indeed.

“Dragon armchair with lacquer armrests in the form of snakes, designed in 1920-22 for the Rue de Lota apartment. This leather version was later owned by Yves Saint Laurent.”

Yves Saint Laurent seated in the dragon chair.  In 2009 this armchair sold for twenty two million euros. “It was the highest price for a piece of furniture in the twentieth century.”

 Eileen Gray photographed in 1926. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxx 

“Le Magicien de las Nuit, lacquer panel, c. 1912.”

Both Bibendum chair and the folding table were designed for E.1027.

By 1935 Le Corbusier had begun to ask his friends if they would allow him to paint murals on the walls of their houses.  Badovici’s ego was flattered at the thought, he said yes to Le Corbusier.  “I have a furious desire to dirty the walls.” was what Le Corbusier had told Badovici.  So, in 1938 and 1939 he began to paint the pristine walls in E.1027… murals that Gray thought were, “huge, lurid and frequently sexual in content…  were vandalism…Eileen was angry and appalled.  With justification, she regarded E.1027 as her creation, expressing her ideas: she had designed everything, down to the lamp fittings.”  She was later to find out that “Corbu”, as Eileen called him because his horn-rimmed glasses, “made him look like a raven (corbeau)”, painted the murals in the nude further angering Gray.  She had met “Corbu” in 1922 at the Salon d’Automme.  Their relationship was not a close one, but knowing he painted in the nude she was disgusted, and furious by the nine huge erotic murals that defaced her creation

Le Corbusier painting in the nude at E.1027. The scar on his leg was caused by a propeller blade that ran over him. He was swimming in the bay of St. Tropez.

Le Corbusier painting at E.1027 in 1938

Le Corbusier in the living room of E.1027 in front of one of his wall paintings, 1938.

Le Corbusier with his wife and Jean Badovici photographed in E.1027, “with the wall painting in the redesigned entrance hall.”

Peter Adam was a dear friend as well as Gray’s biographer.  His first biography about Gray was published in 1987.  Since then, more information has emerged and it was important to Adam to right, “absurd untruths.”  Regarding Eileen’s thoughts about examining her work Adam states: “However, I can still hear her voice: ‘totally unnecessary ‘, she used to say, and if she were alive today I am sure she still would.”  The very private side of Gray was related to Adam through Eileen’s niece, artist Prunella Clough, and tells us she was the most helpful with information regarding Eileen’s “preoccupations, thoughts and worries.” There was quite a lot of correspondence between Prunella and Eileen.  “Prunella was Eileen’s only true and lasting friend.”

“A mural by Le Corbusier on the outside wall of E.1027.”

Adam met Prunella in 1958.  Through her, he met Eileen in the 1960s. Gray was eighty-two at the time of their meeting.  Looking back, Adam says: “For fourteen years she became an important part of my life.”  From the very beginning he found her to be “solid and honest, who was never hesitant in revealing her fears and weaknesses.”  In reading this biography, one can see just how committed the author was to tell more than the story of her work.  The inner Eileen Gray that until Adam’s biography few were aware.   He brings to life this very elusive artist. The two of them corresponded regularly and met up in London, the south of France, and in Paris. Eileen died October 31,1976. Peter had last seen her just seventeen days before on October 14, 1976.

Eileen Gray

Eileen was well known in the “architectural circles” in the twenties and thirties, but her contribution to the modern movement had been forgotten.  She was not given the praise deserved, but now at last, her contribution is appreciated.  Over time, she became more of a recluse. Her desire of privacy was always there and this desire is in the design of E.1027.  She once stated: “It is only when one feels one can count on being alone that one can let one’s brain free-wheel that one has moments of lucidity.”

My view from a walk on Promenade Le Corbusier.

Wonderful quotes from conversations Peter had with Eileen are throughout the book.  After her death, he went through her belongings finding photographs, bits of paper, even a “sales ledger of a shop, some work notes, a few architectural  and carpet drawings and much of the remnant paraphernalia of her personal life.”  Her entire archive of work is in the National Museum of Ireland.

My view from a walk on Promenade Le Corbusier.

My view from a walk on Promenade Le Corbusier.

Thanks to the not-for-profit Cap Moderne Association and the chair of the project, the English visionary Michael Likierman, the restoration on E.1027 is now complete.  Michael and his wife moved to Menton from Paris around 2005 and renovated Les Colombières and its gardens.  I visited Les Colombières in 1994, my first year in Menton, well before Likierman was the owner.  I revisited it years later after his purchase. The difference in the gardens on my second visit, even then, was amazing.  However, from the current pictures online of the gardens, they are simply glorious! The work on Les Colombières completed Likierman found himself ready for a new project and so began the renovations and restoration of E.1027 in 2014.  He is quoted as saying, “everything seen in photographs in 1929 looks now as it did then.”

My painting, Les Colombières,1994.

“The future projects light; the past only shadows.”   Eileen Gray

À bientôt

Quotes and Pictures:


Eileen Gray…Her Life and Work, by Peter Adam, published by Thames & Hudson.


Chanel’s Riviera, by Anne de Courcy, published by St. Martin’s Press.


The Painter Le Corbusier, by Tim Benton, published by Birkhäuser.