Though now recognised as one of the most important modernist designers of the 20th century, widespread acknowledgement of Eileen Gray’s contributions was a long time coming. Her supposedly complicated relationship with Swiss–French designer Le Corbusier, the man often credited as the pioneer of the modern movement, is widely documented, even being explored in the biopic of her life released in Irish cinemas earlier this year.
Born near Enniscorthy, County Wexford, in 1878, Eileen Gray spent her early years between her parents’ Brownswood Estate there and their second home in London‘s South Kensington. In 1897, the family legally changed their surname to Smith-Gray, after Eileen’s mother inherited the title of Lady Gray from a Scottish peerage. By that time Eileen’s parents were separated, and she had spent time travelling around Europe with her father, Scottish landscape painter James McLaren Smith-Gray. Inheriting his interest, Eileen began studying painting at London’s Slade School of Fine Art in 1898, before graduating on to the Académie Julian art school in Paris.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Having stumbled across the workshop of a lacquer artist in Soho in 1901, Eileen became enchanted by this new medium. After moving to Paris she sought out Japanese lacquer expert Seizo Sugawara, with whom she collaborated for several years. During this time she also began to experiment with weaving, alongside the well-known rug maker Evelyn Wyld. In 1913 she exhibited her lacquer work for the first time at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs in Paris. She was 35.
The Rue de Lota Apartment
In 1917, Eileen was commissioned to design the interior of an apartment for a Madame Mathieu Lévy, owner of the Suzanne Talbot milliner boutique. Completed in 1921, the Rue de Lota apartment was to become something of a calling card for Gray. She created the majority of the furniture herself, including what is now one of her most recognisable creations – the semi-circular padded Bibendum chair, comically named after the Michelin man. Using chrome, steel and glass, her work was seen as stylish, ultra-modern, original and distinctive. She also created lacquer panels for the walls and her own unique carpets for the design.
Galerie Jean Désert
With the praise for Madame Mathieu Lévy’s apartment, Eileen began receiving further commissions from people like fashion designer and art collector Jacques Doucet, and in 1922 she was finally able to open her own store in Paris. She is said to have named it Galerie Jean Désert to hide her gender, since at the time she was one of very few women working in the industry. From here, she sold furniture, wall hangings and rugs to wealthy clients, including Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli.
In the early 1920s, Eileen began work on her first architectural project, a modernist villa in the south of France named E-1027 – a coded combination of her own name and that of her friend and lover of the time, Romanian architect Jean Badovici. Eileen impressed the architectural community with the house, indeed Le Corbusier – a friend of Badovici’s – is said by some historians to have become enviously obsessed with it, painting obscene murals on the walls and even buying a house for himself close by. E-1027 is now a French National Monument, opened to the public for tours in 2015 following a full restoration.
After E-1027, Eileen designed a home for herself outside Menton, France. After World War II she moved back to Paris and continued to produce valuable work, though only becoming well-known in the design world towards the end of her life. After the renowned architectural historian Joseph Rykwert wrote an article praising her in Domus magazine in 1968, interest in her work surged, and Eileen agreed to a deal with British furniture and interior designer Zeev Aram to produce and distribute her pieces around the world from his Covent Garden store. In 1972, she was made a Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in London.
Eileen Gray died in 1976, aged 98. The National Museum of Ireland in Dublin acquired her archives in the early 2000s and now houses a permanent exhibition of her work. In 2009, her Dragons armchair design reached €21.9million at auction in Paris, setting a new record amount raised for a piece of 20th century decorative art.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.