Among the glamorous beach resorts and rolling hills of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, a commune in the French Riviera, is a modernist home whose hard lines and crisp white exterior defy the Mediterranean vernacular of the region. The home is one of only a small handful of architectural works by Irish architect Eileen Gray, who had a far more prolific career in the fields of photography, textiles, furniture, and interior design. Gray built the home for herself and her partner Jean Badovici between 1926 and 1929, and its principles are evident in its very name, E-1027, as it reflects their shared allegiance to the aesthetics of modernity as well as to each other: The ‘E’ is for Eileen, the 10 is the letter ‘J’ for Jean, 2 for Badovici, and 7 for Gray.
Like many early modernist homes, however, E-1027 quickly fell into disrepair under the weight of its own experimental use of materials. Locals gathered nearly 20 years ago to launch a restoration of the historic villa, which led to the establishment of the Cap Moderne Association in 2014, whose mission became to restore everything on the site—including the home, its furniture built-ins, and artwork (some of which is the unsolicited work of Le Corbusier)—to their lived-in state. The goal was to offer the public an opportunity to walk through its corridors to discover for themselves how the architect pioneered a version of modernist warmth that had so rarely existed within the movement. “When one looks at these interiors where everything seems to obey a severe, cold calculation,” the couple wrote in the first issue of the L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui in 1930, “one wonders whether a person could really feel at home in them. (…) We need to create an interior atmosphere which is in harmony with the refinements of modern intimate living.”
With the support of several local benefactors, including the Department of Alpes Maritimes, the Conservatoire du Littoral, and the French Ministry of Culture, Cap Moderne first reopened E-1027 to the public in 2015 at the same time as the home slowly underwent renovations. Following six years of those renovations—55 percent of which were funded by regional and state authorities, while the remainder was raised by private sponsorship, fundraisers, and tourism—the home is finally open to the public in a condition remarkably similar to that of nearly a century ago.
The high level of historical accuracy achieved on the site was made possible by pouring through archives, sourcing building materials in use in the 1920s, and recreating the furnishings to their original specifications by adopting the handicraft techniques that were first employed to create them. These reproductions brought several novel designs, including Grey’s signature foldable tables and swiveling window shutters, back into the home after the originals had been auctioned off decades ago.
Though the renovations have generally come to a close after six years, the foundation warned that there may be more to come. “[T]he building remains exposed to an unfriendly ambient atmosphere,” Cap Moderne explained, “and the preservation of as much of the original as possible means that the building and its contents are fragile.” In an effort to hold off further renovations the foundation will only allow small groups in at a time for guided tours, which can be booked through its website.