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Jean Desert Gallery

“To create, one must first question everything.” —Eileen Gray

Each of Designlab’s UX Academy cohorts is named after someone that inspires us. October’s intake takes the name of Eileen Gray, a prolific twentieth-century designer who was forgotten for much of her career but has achieved widespread recognition in the decades following her death.

She was...

  • amongst the first women to be admitted to The Slade, widely regarded as the UK’s top art and design institution, which is now part of University College London
  • curious – securing a lacquering internship after asking a shop owner in London if he would show her how it was done (unfortunately, she was so enthusiastic about this art form that she ended up with lacquer-induced contact dermatitis)
  • enterprising – to promote and sell her work and that of her artist friends, she opened up the Galerie Jean Désert in Paris
  • willing to take risks – designing the bibendum chair as a break with her earlier work, in order to make progress rather than stick with what she knew

Eileen Gray Table

The first E-1027… Gray’s side table is still being manufactured

  • responsive to innovation – observing the Bauhaus School’s experiments in tubular steel, she designed her E-1027 table, which became one of her most iconic pieces and is still manufactured today
  • someone who lived her work – her houses were buildings of her own design, and she reputedly worked fourteen-hour days into her nineties. Such was her passion, she exhibited in London shortly before her death at the age of 98, in spite of failing health
  • someone who inspired progress – she is credited with advancing both the Modernist and Art Deco movements
  • often annoyed by Le Corbusier – who painted murals all over some of her lacquer walls without her permission

Jean Desert Gallery

Gray’s gallery in Paris

  • prolific in spite of living on the margins – her gender and bisexuality denied her automatic access to the male-dominated world of art, design and architecture. To subvert this prejudice, her shop carried a pseudonym, Jean Désert
  • an astonishing architect – creating a modernist masterpiece, E-1027, to live in (yes, it has the same name as her table)

Eileen Gray Modernist House

The second E-1027… a Modernist house

To us, Eileen Gray stands out as a fiercely independent design thinker who used her curiosity and passion to drive progress in early twentieth century design. We hopes that students of the UX Academy Gray cohort will, like her, constantly push the limits of their knowledge.

To find out more about Gray, check out the Design Museum’s in-depth biography. You can also view a gallery of her work at Aram Designs, which holds the worldwide head licence for Eileen Gray products. Next month, we’ll profile Zaha Hadid (1950–2016), the celebrated British–Iraqi architect. You can also check out last month’s profile of Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller!

Want to learn more about design? Designlab offers a range of short courses in Design 101, Branding, Typography and more. We’re also enrolling for our next UX Academy cohort — but places are limited! Click here to find out more.

Image credits: ACMI, Victoria & Albert Museum, Core77

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