E-1027 VILLA, FRANCE ‘Rose Ash Light’, £43 for 2.5 litres, Sanderson (stylelibrary.com) ‘ Ultra Blue’, £49 for 2.5 litres, Little Greene ( littlegreene.com) ‘Farrow’s Cream’, £46.50 for 2.5 litres, Farrow & Ball (farrow-ball.com) ‘Hazelnut Truffle’, £27.5
Every month, we’ll look at the world’s most successful colour schemes, starting with the interior of designer Eileen Gray’s Modernist retreat
If you searched the world for the perfect colour palette to express the serene joy of a holiday, you might find yourself settling on the mid-century mix of blues, greens, yellows and pinks used by Eileen Gray at the E-1027 villa in France. She loved this place. In fact, the building’s Modernist composition of parallel white lines perched on a tumble of rocks above the sea on the Côte d’azur can be read as an ode to love. Take the villa’s name: E-1027. Gray, an Irish designer, built it with her Romanian paramour, Jean Badovici, at the age of 51. The E in its title is for Eileen; the ten for J, the tenth letter of the alphabet; the two for B; and the seven for G. Her initials enfolding his.
Gray’s cerebral temperament, eye for detail and passion for colour are also encoded in the villa’s fantastic interiors. She designed clever, multi-purpose furniture – foldaway beds and drawers set into tight corners – to make the most of the space. She also flooded it with light, setting a plethora of windows, large and small, into its walls, allowing shards of sunshine to pierce rooms and giving beds and reading nooks spectacular views.
These views were also mined by Gray for colour inspiration. She had never been afraid of using bold combinations – lacquer scarlet, gold, black – in the furniture she designed, but here, in her first architectural work, there was clearly something else at play. As well as the bountiful use of bright white – Gray was a Modernist, after all – many rooms have walls spliced with colours. Perhaps she felt at liberty to experiment in her holiday home. She was a woman who conceptualised dwellings as, in her words, ‘ living organisms’, and excoriated bland homes. She decried the ‘poverty of modern architecture,’ arguing that it stemmed ‘from the atrophy of sensuality’. Here, however, the senses are indulged. Textures and colours come together as a direct response to the landscape: dusty ultramarine evokes both the sea and sky, while walls of pale, powdery pink are cut through with chestnut brown, buttery yellow and soft black.
In part, these choices reflect Gray’s milieu. Her friend, renowned architect and designer Le Corbusier, although a proponent of the liberal use of white as morally cleansing, applied slices of vivid hues to his buildings. But while he, Piet Mondrian and many other colourists of the era loved the eye-catching contrasts of bright hues, Gray’s own palette, while bold, is also curiously restful. None of the colours are ‘pure’; all appear to be the fruit of painstaking mixtures and, as a result of their subtlety, feel lived-in and natural. The pink in E-1027 is that of the rocky earth in direct sunlight; the chestnut and black are the colour of shadows; the buttery yellow tint that of the traditional plaster used on nearby buildings. These are colours, in short, gathered up by a lover’s greedy eye.