Field Work: three members of our team spend a day working at Eileen Gray’s Villa E-1027 in the South of France
At The Modern House, one of the things that excites us most about architecture is that it is inhabitable, experiential and tactile. As such, we make regular team trips to places like Flint House, Turn End and Alvar Aalto’s home and studio, the highlight of this year’s annual staff trip abroad.
It is in this spirit that we have launched a new in-house initiative called ‘Field Work’, in which groups of our staff visit architecturally-significant houses to clock in a day’s work or two while experiencing spaces like Villa E-1027, our first Field Work destination.
This year was a particularly opportune time for us to visit, as 2018 marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray, who built the villa between 1926 and 1929 on a steep slope in the south of France, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
In recent years, a tripartite alliance between the Conservatoire du Littoral, the non-profit Association Cap Moderne – set up to protect, preserve and restore Villa E-1027 – and Friends of e.1027, based in New York, has carried out vital structural work, allowing the house to be opened to the public.
Prime Appraisals Specialist James Klonaris, Prime Sales Advisor Corey Hemingway and Sales Advisor Lucy Roome were the first lucky three to be sent off into the field, flying out of a dreary-looking London for sunnier climes on the Côte d’Azur.
“We went straight from the airport to lunch at the house, on one of the terraces overlooking the sea – it was unbelievably beautiful,” says Lucy. “We were joined by Michael Likierman and the Cap Moderne team, and Tim Benton, the historian involved in bringing the villa back to life,” says James.
After sampling traditional fare and local rosé, the team were given a tour of the house by Tim. “It was a real honour to be shown around by him,” says James, “he was able to give us an insight into the smallest details of the house, which is essential to fully appreciating Gray’s masterful design – everything she did was executed with precision and creativity.”
“It wasn’t like going to some historically-important houses where you are told you can’t touch things or interact with them. We were left to experience the house in our own way, so, for me, that was a really special part of being there,” says Corey.
“It’s so stylish,” says Lucy. “Even the letterbox is exquisite, being a black leather pouch with orange stitching down the side, made by Hermès.”
The team were a great deal more respectful than some of the house’s previous visitors, who include German soldiers in World War Two, who used the walls as a firing range, and Le Corbusier, who painted a series of controversial murals while Gray was away and without her permission.
“They are contentious additions for some, but I think we agreed that, for the most part, the murals add to the house, and weren’t necessarily intended as a put-down. It wasn’t graffiti, it was art,” says James.
Le Corbusier’s influence is further felt from the nearby beach, where a series of holiday cabins he designed around Villa E-1027 are visible in context. “It’s amazing to look up at the white structure of the villa and see his influence around it, which actually accentuates the profile of Gray’s house,” says Lucy.
After a quick dip in the sea as the sun began to disappear, the team headed back to the villa and then to the exhibition centre, housed in an old railway depot that now displays material about Gray and the design of the house.
On reflecting about the day, James says that “we felt quite spoilt, especially after being taken to Helsinki earlier this year. Two fairly exotic trips in six months is not bad going!”
“Yes, I think the opportunity was amazing, and a great privilege,” says Corey, “but it’s not just that. We were lucky to go, but what’s most special for me was that Cap Moderne invited us – the fact that they want The Modern House to be part of the dialogue around Villa E-1027’s restoration is a great honour.”
The restoration Corey refers to is the planned recreation of all of Gray’s furnishings inside the house, a significant undertaking. The project will stay true to the original designs, using the materials and methods favoured by Gray, and is currently the source of a crowdfunding campaign which Cap Moderne has partnered with The Modern House for.
“I will make sure to go back once all the furniture is restored and the place is put back together to match how it once looked,” says Corey, “it will be even more special than it is now.”
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