Lifestyle & Culture

Virtual Museum: Shades of Gray

Authorized copies of Eileen Gray’s Adjustable Table E 1027 are produced today and available through the Museum of Modern Art store for $1,200. Made of chrome-plated steel, it appears that at least one original version (right) was painted black, though the Bard Graduate Center exhibit makes it clear that the piece had in fact been painted many times.

WHAT DOES it mean when the furniture we call “modern” was designed almost 100 years ago?

Well, I don’t know either, but there we are. Marcel Breuer’s “Cesca” chair was designed in 1928 (many call the cantilevered chair made from tubular steel simply the “Breuer chair,” but he designed many). The chrome and leather Barcelona chair, with its leather seat and back and curved-X legs of steel, dates from 1929.

And the little round Adjustable Table E 1027 was designed by Irish architect Eileen Gray in 1927. She made it for the Côte d’Azur vacation home she designed and lived in with fellow architect Jean Badovici.

In fact, the little table, which adjusts from 24 inches to about 40 inches tall and which can be easily moved around by its top handle, is a Gray icon, the one item known by those of us who know little or nothing about Gray.

A newly rediscovered drawing in Gray’s hand of a bedroom for a Monte Carlo home. Before this, the room was known only through a photo that appeared in a 1924 architecture magazine. I lean toward the chinoiserie end of the decorative spectrum, but I swear I can hear a Cole Porter tune when I look at this image.

An exhibit at the Bard Graduate Center in Manhattan promises to amend that. It offers—online, of course—drawings of rooms Gray designed for clients, vintage black-and-white shots of the E 1027 house, and interactive images of the Bard gallery rooms that allow viewers to click on objects for more information (my favorite thing). What emerges is a much fuller picture of a woman competing, and largely succeeding, in a man’s profession in the early part of the 20th century, mostly in Paris, where the world was open to her.

—Nancy McKeon

One of the exhibit rooms at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in Manhattan. Here the little Adjustable Table E 1027 is highlighted, and object information will pop up.


Two Eileen Gray designs.
LEFT: The “Rocket” Lamp from 1923. Eileen Gray made three versions of this lamp. The hand-painted parchment shade of this one is a modern replacement based on her original drawings. / Photo by Katherine Wetzel.
RIGHT: The 1930-33 Seat-Stepstool-Towel Rack, made of wood. / Photo by Bertrand Prevost.


Eileen Gray’s Transat Chair from 1930. / Photo copyright Phillips Auctioneers LLC.


An exhibition room at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery.

A modular tea table by Eileen Gray.


This is the living room of E 1027, the name of the vacation house on the southern French coast that architects Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici designed for themselves. The Transat chair is in the foreground at right. Off to the left is her Bibendum chair, named after the famously tubby Mchelin man.


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