Villa E-1027 has a checkered and painful past. Originally designed as a private love nest, it has been abandoned by its creator, vandalised by a famous artist and left for ruin for decades. But the world has become fascinated by it because of its significance to early-modern architecture, its many innovative built-in ‘tricks’ and the fact that the architect was a woman, at a time when women weren’t even supposed to wear trousers.
Eileen Gray (1878 - 1976) was an enigmatic Irish woman who many people still can’t quite figure out. She was eccentric, brilliant, reclusive, ingenious, sought peace and serenity. She designed E-1027 as a respite and hideaway for herself and her partner, Jean Badovici, himself an architect and editor of the architecture magazine “L’Architecture Vivante”.
The strange name of the villa is actually a numerological play on their names, with E for Eileen, 10 for J (the 10th letter in the alphabet), 2 for B (for Badovici) and 7 for G (for Gray).
Unfortunately, their partnership was rockier than the cliffs below the house. He loved having friends over, especially his famous friend, Jean Corbusier, and she wanted seclusion. Gray wound up leaving Badovici and her specifically designed home to build another one even better suited to her. It was a few years after her departure that Badocivi’s close friend, Corbusier thought it a great idea to mural over Eileen’s pristine white walls. An act that disgusted her to no end, but in the end, could have been what saved the building.
Perched on a cliff just off Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Villa E-1027 is now part of the Cap Moderne complex, which includes the neighbouring camping bungalows designed by Corbusier and the Étoile de mer bar and restaurant. The complex is now classified as a historical monument and listed as a UNESCO heritage site.
For the last several years, the villa has gone through painstaking restoration to bring the very humble abode back to a solid existence. Owned by the Conservatoire du Littoral, the Cap Moderne site has been open to the public since 2015, and gradually restored at the initiative of the Cap Moderne association, chaired by Michael Likierman along with the support of the City of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
The restoration effort has slowly been rebuilding, re-creating and restoring each section of the house. This past winter, the kitchen was completely restored as seen in archival photos, with a period coal oven and original water filtration system. At the eastern end of the living room, the ingenious folding bar has been reconstructed next to the alcove reserved for the dining room. The lemon box designed Eileen has found its place, ready to receive the fruits of the many lemon trees she planted on the terraces of the garden.
The drawing table, identical to the original, will be installed this summer in the designer's work studio.
The mobile furniture in the villa are works by Aram Design, while the fixed furniture has all been rebuilt by specialized craftsmen in France and Austria for the Association Cap Moderne in accordance with the original plans and photos. The goal of the association is to return the villa as faithfully as possible to the designs of Eileen Gray in 1929.
"Encounters by the sea: E-1027, Starfish, Cabanon at Roquebrune Cap Martin" is open to the public from June 29 to October 31, 2019. It will retrace the "modern" life that took place in 1930s on the banks of the Mediterranean. The exhibition will use photographs from the period as well as handwritten documents and press clippings that will allow the visitor to imagine what this life was like, restoring itself to its original state.
Throughout the summer, jazz concerts, meetings, workshops for children and conferences,are organized by the cultural association "Eileen Gray. Starfish. Le Corbusier".
Additionally, every year, Cap Moderne offers dinners in the garden of Villa E-1027, a magical evening with an exceptional view of Monaco's fireworks display. The dates are: Saturday, 20 & 27 July and 3 & 10 August. Part of the price is donated to the site restoration fund.
From late October to early May, the site is closed to the public, allowing the continuation of the work.
Visit Cap Moderne
Visits are only possible with a guided tour, offered twice a day (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) until the end of September. From November to May, the complex is closed for further renovation work. The 2-hour visit costs 18 euros. Meeting point is at the reception directly opposite the station Cap-Martin Roquebrune. Reservation: email@example.com
Throughout July and August, Villa E1027 has a lovely cultural and jazz concert series in the garden. Tickets start at €15. Check their website for details: www.capmoderne.com
- Nicole Ruskell