Born in Enniscorthy, Ireland, Eileen Gray spent her childhood in London and was among the first women to be admitted to the Slade School of Art where she took up painting in 1898 before undergoing an apprenticeship in a lacquer workshop.
She moved to Paris in 1902 where she quickly established herself as one of the leading designers of lacquered screens and decorative panels. During the ’20s and ’30s she became one of the leading exponents of the revolutionary new theories of design and construction and worked with many of the outstanding figures of the modern movement, including Le Corbusier and JJP Oud.
Her boredom with the flowing, leafy lines of the Art Nouveau movement led to an artistic vocabulary which was more closely related to the De Stijl movement: clean lines and simple forms. A pioneer in design, she exhibited chrome, steel tube and glass furniture in 1925 – the same year as Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer and well before Le Corbusier. Her next major contribution to design was in architecture. Encouraged by Le Corbusier and JJP Oud, she designed two houses in the Alp’s Maritimes, one at Roquebrune (built 1927-29), the other at Castellar (built 1932-34).
After the war, she continued to work as a designer, on both major projects like the cultural and social center, which occupied her from 1946-49, and on a number of smaller furniture designs. In 1972 the Royal Society of Art in London appointed her as a Royal Designer to Industry.
Shortly before her death, she was honored with a retrospective showing of her most significant works at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Since 1978 the Museum of Modern Art in New York has in its permanent design collection the “E1027 adjustable table”. Her work lives on today, widely appreciated in architecture and design communities all over the world.
In August 2000, Luminaire illuminated the public with an exhibition featuring the works of Eileen Gray. Richard Geary, lifelong friend of Gray and president of Geary design, brought to life the impact of her work on modern furniture design and architecture in a lecture during the opening reception.