“The poverty of modern architecture stems from the atrophy of sensuality.
Everything is dominated by reason in order to create amazement without proper research. We must mistrust pictorial elements if they are not assimilated by instinct.
It is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for great people.”

– Eileen Gray –

Some of you may remember A-Gent of Style ‘s stay in Paris last spring and his accompanying series ‘A Londoner in Paris’. For some hazy reasons, what didn’t make it to this blog was the remarkable show at the Pompidou Centre celebrating the career of the 20th C iconic designer and architect Eileen Gray which regrouped unique pieces and was aimed at reaffirming this design luminary’s recognition, influence and reputation today. A-Gent of Style felt slightly troubled over the last months to have missed the opportunity to write about this seminal retrospective and not to have featured some of his own (amateurishly and perilously taken) photographs
(“Les photos ne sont pas autorisées, monsieur!”). But thanks to today’s subject,
A-Gent of Style can rectify this oversight.

A forthcoming Irish-Belgian feature film called ‘The Price of Desire’ will tell the controversial story of Eileen Gray’s pioneering life between 1923 and 1956, of how her influential contribution to 20th C architecture and design was almost entirely effaced from history by the egotistical Franco-Swiss polymath Le Corbusier (real name Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), and of how her relationship with Romanian architect and architecture critic Jean Badovici further fuelled the rift between the two architects, both personally and professionally, thus consigning her legacy to a century of neglect and long-overdue recognition (Eileen Gray was difficult to pigeon-hole and was never strictly part of Art Deco).


Orla Brady and Alanis Morissette in The Price of Desire by Julian Lennon

Orla Brady as Eileen Gray and Alanis Morissette as lover “Damia” in The Price of Desire. Photo by Julian Lennon. The official poster has yet to be released.

Directed by Mary McGuckian, the movie which is due to be released this year and currently in post-production (the trailer has yet to be released) will star Irish actress Orla Brady as the private and elusive figure Gray, Swiss actor Vincent Perez as the malevolent Le Corbusier; Italian actor Francesco Scianna will play Jean Badovici and Canadian singer Alanis Morissette will be Gray’s lover, the French cabaret singer Marie-Louise Damien, better known as “Damia” (Gray was openly bisexual). Julian Lennon was commissioned to be the artistic stills photographer.

Filmmaker Mary McGuckian with Vincent Perez at the villa E1027 Filmmaker Mary McGuckian with Vincent Perez as Le Corbusier at the villa E1027  


Actress Orla Brady as Eileen Gray during make up Actress Orla Brady as Eileen Gray during make-up  

Vincent Perez as Le Corbusier
The hunksome Vincent Perez as Le Corbusier  

Francesco Scianna as Jean Badovici The other hunksome Francesco Scianna as Jean Badovici  

Alanis Morisette as "Damia"Alanis Morisette as “Damia” 

Damia / Alanis Morrisette as Damia Damia / Alanis Morisette on set as “Damia” (Instagram)  

Francesco Scianna Francesco Scianna and Orla Brady  

Julian Lennon at Villa E1027 Julian Lennon at Villa E-1027  


The other significant star of the film is Gray’s most abiding project,
the Villa E-1027, now recognized by many as a milestone and the first Modernist house ever constructed. ‘The price of Desire’ will explore the events and details surrounding Le Corbusier’s effacement, defacement and eventual erasure of Gray’s very ownership of the actual physical villa she so lovingly created. What was originally conceived as a peaceful, seaside lover’s nest and refuge (E-1027 was a gift from Gray to Badovici) ended up being obscured by artistic conflict, jealousy, rivalry, betrayal, strife, violence and even murder (a bit like Dynasty really).

Villa E-1027 Villa E-1027

Le Corbusier, his wife Yvonne Gallis and Badovici Le Corbusier, his wife Yvonne Gallis and Badovici

A friend of Badovici’s, Le Corbusier visited E-1027 on numerous occasions and admired it very much, so much so that he moved in to add his own touch to the clean white villa, painting a series of sexually graphic and explicit murals on its walls between 1937 and 1939. This intrusion onto her design infuriated Gray who considered the murals outright vandalism. Whether Le Corbusier painted (sometimes in the nude except for his trademark glasses and a palette and paintbrush in hand) these murals out of admiration for her work or jealousy of her accomplishment,
he became intricately tied with the future of the house.

Failing to purchase it himself, Le Corbusier eventually bought a piece of property just east of E-1027, where he built a small, rustic cabin, “Le Cabanon.” Here he would go for work and quiet contemplation, taking daily swims on the beach outside the house. After he died in those very waters in 1965, the whole area was declared
a “Site Moderne,” or “Modern Site,” and deemed an area of cultural and historical importance and international interest. Today, E-1027 is recognized as the founding element of this site.

The 3,66 m by 3,66 m modernist 'house' with Villa E-1027 on the left foreground The 3,66 m by 3,66 m modernist ‘Le Cabanon’ and Villa E-1027 in the foreground  

Le Corbusier's Cabanon, 1951
Le Corbusier’s Cabanon, 1951

Situated in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in an isolated stretch of the French Riviera overlooking the Bay of Monaco, the site for E-1027 was chosen by the Irish designer and the Romanian philanderer in 1924 for the beauty of its views.

Wishing to build a house that interacted with the natural elements,
Eileen Gray developed the design to incorporate an evolving relationship with the sun, the prevailing winds, and the sea. Inside and outside flow together. Delicate, white and ship-like, the L-shaped and flat-roofed building with floor-to-ceiling windows, a sunken solarium and spiralling sky-lit staircase was completed in 1929. Gray was responsible for much of the design and for overseeing its construction;
Badovici provided conceptual inspiration and assisted in technical matters. Not only does every room give out onto a balcony or terrace and the bedrooms get the morning sun but the shutters and windows are also adjustable, allowing the inhabitant to harmoniously engage with the sea and the hills surrounding the villa. Gray went on to develop innovative avant-garde architecture and design in line with the pure aesthetic of the modern movement combined with her personal sense of interior comfort and practicality. E-1027 makes indistinct the border between architecture and decoration.

Eileen Gray's plan of e1027, her first fully realised architectural design
Eileen Gray’s plan of E-1027, her first fully realised architectural design  

Eileen Gray gave her Villa E1027 walls of glass looking out to sea

Eileen Gray gave her Villa E-1027 walls of glass looking out to sea  

The spiral staircase leading to the roof of E1027 The spiral staircase leading to the roof of E-1027

The living room of E-1027 designed by Eileen Gray in the late 1920s  

The same living room in the late 1930s with the muralp aintings by Le Corbusier The same living room in the late 1930s with the mural paintings by Le Corbusier  

The living room reconstructed for the film The living room reconstructed for the film  

 According to Gray: "A window without shutters is an eye without eyelids" According to Gray, “A window without shutters is an eye without eyelids”

The alphanumeric encoded Villa E-1027 (typical example of the modernist obsession with the rational and industrial) was named by Gray and a way of showing her relationship with Badovici at the time when built (they ended their ten-year long romance shortly after the completion of the house): E standing for Eileen, 10 being the tenth letter in the alphabet, J, standing for Jean, 2 is letter B, for the first letter of Badovici and 7, the seventh letter, for the G in Gray.

Gray was so slow at putting her name forward as being the architect of the house that for many years it was assumed by many historians and journalists that Le Corbusier was in fact its designer. It is worth noting that Le Corbusier’s murals were preserved due to his greater fame as arguably the most famous and influential of the early modernists. Gray’s career was largely forgotten until after her death in 1976 despite her long-lasting influence nowadays; it is only in 1972 that the sale of the collection of internationally revered couturier, Jacques Doucet, specifically the Destiny screen, restored Gray and her works to their rightful place in the decorative arts.

Jacques Doucet's Paris Apartment by Eileen Gray in the Late 20's Jacques Doucet’s Paris Apartment by Eileen Gray in the late 1920s

Le Destin screen, 1910

After her beginnings designing sumptuous lacquer furniture, wool carpets and draperies that reflected the sensual luxury of traditional French decorative arts,
Eileen Gray turned to architecture in the mid-1920s, influenced by the modern movement. But Gray’s talent was not always appreciated. In 1923, French authorities on the decorative arts and design use such words as “strange,” “abnormal,” “tormented,” and even “nightmarishˮ and “caligaresque” to describe the now iconic Monte Carlo ensemble she exhibited that year at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs.

Gray exhibits at the 1923 Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, Paris Gray exhibits at the 1923 Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, Paris

Having fallen into dereliction and dilapidation in the 1990s, E-1027 was acquired in 1999 by Le Conservatoire du Littoral, a French public organisation, and the township of Roquebrune after its last private owner was mysteriously murdered in 1996 in one of the bedrooms (an event dramatised too in the movie). The original furniture that Gray had designed herself specifically has now been removed from the villa. Some of her products have now become iconic, timeless and ubiquitous (A-Gent of Style has her iconic circular, adjustable table at home). There has been a lot of criticism as to whether Le Corbusier’s murals should have been removed or not.

E-1027 in a shockingly dilapidated state before its restoration this summer E-1027 in a shockingly dilapidated state before its restoration a few years ago

London furniture retailer Zeev Aram, who became a close friend of Irish-born Gray in her later years, and who owns the rights to her designs, provided furniture for the film such as the Bibendum chair, the eponymous E-1027 adjustable table and
the Rivoli table – to complement the renovation. Aram have just recently launched a fantastic website dedicated to Eileen Gray and all of her designs.

Bibendum chair The Bibendum chair  

The E-1027 adjustable tubular steel table designed to enable Gray’s sister to eat breakfast in bed without leaving crumbs on sheets, due to an adjustable top that caught the crumbs.  

The Rivoli table The Rivoli table  

Leather transat Leather transat

Another scene to look forward to will re-stage the moment Sotheby’s sold the infamous Eileen Gray’s ‘Fauteuil aux dragons’ that belonged to Yves Saint Laurent
and Pierre Bergé for a staggering $28m in 2009 and which broke the record for 20th C furniture. Cheska Vallois of the respected 20th C antiques Galerie Vallois in Paris plays herself in the production as the anonymous private client who buys the chair and famously explains the high price-tag to reporters immediately after the auction by saying “it can only be the price of desire” hence the title of the film.

Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé with ‘the Dragon chair’ behind him. You can see A-Gent‘s latest review on the new biopic and their storied Paris apartment here.

The renovation and refurbishment have proved to be lengthy and a burden. In 2008 the site was in full renovation spate and due to be opened in 2009. But money ran out and it lay dormant until now and McGuckian’s intervention. It was hoped the film’s fundraising would help contribute to this work.

Summary timeline of E1027

1926-29 Eileen Gray designs and builds E1027 in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin for Jean Badovici

1931-35 Eileen Gray designs and builds Tempe à Pailla, a house for herself in Castellar; she leaves E1027

1938-40 Le Corbusier paints eight large-scale overtly sexual frescoes on the walls of E-1027

1952 Le Corbusier builds his Cabanon next to E-1027

1956 Badovici dies; E-1027 is inherited by his sister in Romania

1958 The Romanian government offers the house at public auction

1960 Marie-Louise Schelbert purchases E-1027 at auction at the bidding of Le Corbusier

1965 Le Corbusier dies of a heart-attack during his daily swim in the waters just in front of E-1027

1982 Dr. Kaegi claims title to E-1027 by bequest after the death of Marie-Louise Schelbert

1991 Dr. Kaegi sells 28 pieces of furniture from the villa at a Sotheby’s auction in Monaco – The Pompidou Centre (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris) pre-empts the purchase of some of the more important proto-types

1996 Dr. Kaegi is violently murdered by a gardener after a dispute

1996-99 Left empty for several years, the villa is overtaken by squatters and vandalized

1999 The Conservatoire Du Littoral, a public entity charged with the preservation of the French coastline, purchases the property

2000 The villa, its garden and the surrounding land are classified as Historic Monuments by national decree on March 27th

The Conseil Général has since tried to undertake the restoration project with the commune Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Alpes-Maritimes.

Even in her 90s, Eileen Gray had a formidable spirit; pictured here in the 1970s at her work table in her Paris apartment at 21 rue Bonaparte. She never lost the passion and sheer need to create
Even in her 90s, Eileen Gray had a formidable spirit; pictured here in the 1970s at her work table in her Paris apartment at 21 rue Bonaparte. She never lost the passion and sheer need to create.

“The Price of Desire” sounds like an intriguing dramatisation of a turbulent period and the checkered history of a seminal building. Focusing on E-1027, it will manifest Gray’s most fundamental contribution to modern design and architecture and should reaffirm and recognises her evolution as a major and influential artist.
A-Gent of Style looks forward to the release of “The Price of Desire” which will hopefully receive the resonance and relevance it deserves today.

As Gray professed: “The future projects light, the past only clouds”.

The major retrospective ‘Eileen Gray, Designer Architect Painter’ of
the Pompidou Centre from last year moved to Ireland until the end of last month at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.


  • kathryn wilken

    I am stunned by the beauty and extraordinary vision she shred in the plans of this house. It is amazing. The huge windows overlooking the water, the spiral staircase, the limes of each room, down to the furnishings she used. Quite talented and an inspiring woman.

    June 15, 2014
  • Jade Robinson Myers

    I am looking forward to the release of this fascinating film . Julian Lennon’s photography has drawn me in along with, of course, the plot, article, actors, and old photos. I am anxious to see “The Price of Desire”!

    June 16, 2014
  • Brilliant subject and writing. I spent an hour trying to locate both pieces of Architecture in 1999,. unsuccessfully. But I look forward to this film with great anticipation and hope the villa finally gets restored to its original condition.

    December 29, 2014
  • Now we know how Le Cabanon came about…

    May 3, 2015
  • majchers

    Sounds interesting. Is this movie available to buy? To download? Where from?

    October 12, 2015
  • […] Price of Desire features Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier Besides Vincent Perez Orla Brady as Eileen Gray and Alanis Morissette as lover “Damia” in The […]

    June 10, 2016

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