What do you mean you don’t know who Eileen Gray is? Ok, well think of all that modern furniture you really like but can’t afford, all that chrome and black leather – well that’s Eileen Gray – but, I hear you say – isn’t that Le Corbusier? Well yes some of it is, but the best stuff, the furniture you covet – that’s Eileen Gray.
Never heard of her, you shrug, well, she was Irish and she is the sort of Virginia Woolf of design. There are interesting similarities, Eileen Gray was born in 1878, Virginia in 1882, so they were born within 4 years of each other in the last decades of the 19th Century, the Aesthetic, Oscar Wilde decades. Although Eileen was born in Ireland, they both grew up in South Kensington in upper middle class, haute bourgeois families and were both highly intelligent women in a period when women were expected to be decorative and compliant, they were largely self-taught as ‘gels’ received only a rudimentary education and both were at the forefront of avant garde thinking in the decades after the first world war, in a world dominated by men. I’m not sure if they ever met. But as they both had lesbian affairs one can only wonder at the possibilities.