Eileen Gray, an Irishwoman, was one of the leading members of the modern design movement. Renowned in France during the early decades of the 20th Century as a designer in lacquer furniture and interiors, she then began to experiment with architectural forms in the late 1920s.
Being an avant garde artist she constantly reacted to new art movements and her individuality and ideas developed in Paris against its vibrant and artistic backdrop. In the world of design hers was a new approach to shape, line, the use of colour, materials and textures; yet the human sensibility of her work continues to inspire designers today.
In her lacquer work and carpets, she took traditional crafts and combined them in a radical manner with the principles of Fauvism, Cubism and De Stijl. Her attention focused on their tactile, kinaesthetic and sensual properties, and this expanded into the realm of her modern furniture. She was the first designer to work in chrome, preceding such acclaimed designers as Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Mies Van der Rohe, and Marcel Breuer; and was original in her use of aluminium, celluloid, tubular steel, bakelite and cork in her designs. These unique designs manifest an explicit engagement with pure form and line yet were always functional, sensible and comfortable.
In her interior design Gray divorced herself from the furnishing principles of the past. She unified her modern furniture with dramatic, minimalist interiors through the use of novel concepts of colours, textures and materials.
Whereas her early interiors were motivated by the sensual luxury of an affluent clientele, her adventures in architecture sought to address the changing political and social attitudes. In contrast to her contemporaries, who were solely concerned with the aesthetic forms of architectural design, Gray also addressed the occupant’s psychological and spiritual needs. As a self-taught architect, Gray’s buildings demonstrate a profound knowledge for space, the use of light, and ingenious planning. Envied by her contemporaries for her ability to manipulate these notions, she continued throughout her life to find new solutions, to explore the use of new materials and most of all to design for the people. Her approach is a spiritual manifestation of a personal statement that continuously directed itself toward human culture.
During her lifetime the land of her birth gave her little recognition except in an exhibition, Eileen Gray, Pioneer of Design. Held at the Bank of Ireland in the summer of 1973, it was organised by the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. Later they presented her with an honourary fellowship. In the citation Robin Walker, then of Michael Scott & Partners, Architects said, “...she was probably the sole representative from Ireland wholly immersed as an outstanding exponent in the pioneering work of the modern movement...”