In the 1920s, the Irish architect Eileen Gray oversaw the construction of E-1027, a bracingly modern seaside villa that overlooks the turquoise waters of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in the south of France. Gray, then in her 40s and a major figure within the burgeoning Parisian Art Deco movement, conceived a white cube-like structure, perched on pilotis and wrapped in floor-to-ceiling windows, in which every detail was meticulously designed to foster the emotional wellness of its inhabitants. Intended as a romantic seaside getaway for her and her then-lover, Romanian architect and critic Jean Badovici, who also contributed to the building’s design, it has come to be regarded as a masterpiece and Gray’s most famous work, despite being misattributed to Badovici and Le Corbusier until a 1967 essay by Joseph Rykwert set the record straight.
After enduring what’s best described as a sordid saga (Metropolis recounts it as “desecration by Le Corbusier, target practice by the Nazis, a stint as drug den and orgy destination, and near dereliction”), E-1027 fell into a state of disrepair in the decades following World War II. Much of the ingenuity Gray invested into the villa was tarnished by Le Corbusier, who painted seven murals on the structure’s crisp white walls. Soon after, he purchased a property nearby and built a small cabin, the Cabanon de Vacances, but drowned and washed up on a nearby beach in 1965. The house and surrounding area were soon declared a “Site Moderne” due to their historical significance. In 1980, E-1027’s then-owner was found dead in Zurich. Her physician, Dr. Peter Kägi, secretly auctioned off almost all of Gray’s original furniture and inherited the house, where he hosted drug-fueled orgies and other licentious affairs until he was murdered there in 1996.
Thankfully, the villa has fallen into more caring hands. A series of unsuccessful conservation efforts kicked off in 1999, but the nonprofit Cap Moderne launched a crowdfunding campaign to rehab and reopen the villa as a cultural destination in 2014. Work recently wrapped on the years-long project, and E-1027 has finally been restored to perfection. Visitors to the South of France can drop by the entire Cap Moderne site, which includes Le Corbusier’s Cabanon and Unités de Camping, and L’Etoile de Mer restaurant. There are plans to develop the site as a study center for researchers and academics, but visitors can opt for guided tours of E-1027 in the meantime.
“E-1027 feels nothing like a museum,” Michael Likierman, president of Cap Moderne, tells Cultured. “You experience Gray’s astonishing attention to natural elements—a little cutout in the window by the divan, where the sun rises over the hill in the winter, or the two-part ceiling over the bar, cut diagonally to light up the bottles. Everything is about wind, sun, sea, angles, all calculated to be living in the moment.”
The restoration work touched nearly everything inside, from art and architecture to furniture and fittings. Because original pieces by Gray fetch astronomical prices at auction, one-off replicas—from her signature E-1027 Telescopic Table to a white Bibendum chair—were faithfully reproduced to her exacting standards. They sit atop marine-hued deep pile woven rugs that nod to the shimmering Mediterranean. Three of Le Corbusier’s seven original murals, painted slyly after Gray vacated the villa, were also restored—but only the ones least intrusive to the interiors. Elsewhere, modular details such as foldable tables, pivoting drawers, and swiveling window shutters revive Gray’s acute attention to detail and sense of how clever interior interventions can work in the service of humans.
“Everyone, even in a small house, needs to feel free and independent,” Gray once wrote. “They must have the feeling they are alone.” Nearly one century after its construction and 45 years after her death, the magic that she built into E-1027 has lost none of its power.