Monday, April 12, 2010

The Stoic and Modernist Designs of Eileen Gray

We focus a lot on Mid-Century Modern designers—those designers working around the 1950s and 1960s—a lot on the Swank Lighting blog (it is a favorite era of ours) but there were a number of designers that came into favor during the turn of the century that proved not only influential on design of the day, but also on many design movements to come. Eileen Gray was one of those designers.

Not as popular as other big names of her time like Le Corbusier, we had actually forgotten about Gray until we came across one of her furniture pieces again, which is surprising considering the impact her designs had on us in design school. Her pieces, though innovative for the time, are quite distinguished and share many characteristics. Almost all of her furniture features jet straight, sleek lines or geometrically accurate curves. Metal, especially stainless steel, plays a huge part in the frames of her furniture, sometimes being the only material used. Black, in particular black leather, is almost the only upholstery material she used. You can say she really knew her on style. She produced chairs, sofas, and quite a few side tables, as well as a number of smaller home d├ęcor items.

She’s definitely most famous for her Bibendum Chair, which really set her apart from other designers in her time and is still considered an important piece of modern furniture. The chair features a plush, rounded seat, which atop it sits two curved, thick, cylindrical cushions, which make up a tubular back and armrest. All of the cushions sit on top of a shiny, stainless steel, one-piece leg stand. Though we’ve never personally sat in one, it’s purported to be rather comfortable (which is more than we can say about other pieces of furniture, sometimes).

Quite a dynamic personality in her time, Gray was born in 1878 in Ireland, but lived a very international life, calling London, Paris and other parts of France her home at different stages of her life. She first started in her creative life as a painter and artist, but soon fell in love with furniture design after working in a small lacquer repair shop in Soho in London. From there, she received success on project after project, eventually moving on to interior design projects, more furniture commissions and more. Though the war got a bit in the way, she continued working well into her 90s, until she finally passed away in Paris at 98. May we all possess such a strong work ethic in our older years!

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