The Bisexual Designer Who Invented the Adjustable Side Table

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From the mundane to the quirky and outdated, Here's the Thing explores the histories and legends of the objects in our homes.

In the early 20th century, the world of modern architecture and design was largely run by men, but as always, a few women broke through with their talent and innovation. One such woman was Eileen Gray.

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The Anglo-Irish architect and designer was most famous for her first building, the E-1027 villa on France's Côte d'Azur — which was once defaced by jealous designer Le Corbusier. Gray filled the structure with furniture of her own creation, including the iconic Adjustable Table E1027, a simple piece that embodied Gray's focus on multifunctional design.

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Who was Eileen Gray?

Born Kathleen Eileen Moray Smith in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, in 1878, Eileen Gray took her surname after her mother inherited the Scottish peerage of Gray from her uncle. Her father was a landscape painter, which inspired a young Gray to pursue the same career path — she studied painting and drawing at the Slade School of Fine Art. However, Gray became enamored with East Asian lacquerware, and she soon found herself designing furniture in Paris.

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Though women didn't often own businesses in early 20th-century Europe, Gray was not an ordinary woman — she opened Galerie Jean Désert in Paris in 1922. (She also openly dated men and women, which was, again, unusual for the time.) During this period, Gray mingled with some of the era's icons of design, from Le Corbusier to Jean Badovici, with whom she'd later become romantically involved.

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Though Gray was well-versed in interior and furniture design, she only began experimenting with architecture in her late 40s. Though she had no formal architecture education, her very first building was an immense success. Named E-1027 in a nod to her initials and Badovici's (J is the 10th letter of the alphabet, B the second, and G the seventh), the modernist seaside villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, was completed in 1929.

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What is the Adjustable Table E1027?

Gray designed the Adjustable Table E1027 specifically for her villa, in which nearly everything was multifunctional per Gray's design ethos — even some of the walls were made of movable screens so she could alter configurations.

As its name suggests, the table is adjustable in height, which allows it to be used with all types of seating, from sofas to chairs and beds. Its cantilevered form allows the surface to be brought closer to the user — "she wanted guests to eat toast in bed without worrying about getting crumbs in the sheets," reports the Royal Academy in London. The Adjustable Table E1027 was added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1977

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Target's version of E1027. It's more affordable than other models, but it doesn't adjust like Gray's original.
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Where can you buy an Eileen Gray Adjustable Table E1027?

Aram holds the worldwide license for Gray's body of work, including Adjustable Table E1027, but it does authorize reproductions at all price points. For example, German manufacturer ClassiCon produces a version for Design Within Reach that starts at $1,395, while Target sells a non-adjustable version for just $185.99. Kardiel, however, sells an adjustable version for $460. And Aram itself sells the table starting at £713 (about $900). The original table was designed with clear glass and a chrome frame, but there are some other variations available today, depending on the manufacturer.

Gray's name is perhaps not as widely known as some of her male contemporaries, as is wont to happen to many creative women — and particularly, queer women. However, she is a seminal figure in modern architecture, one whose ethos of multipurpose design can be summed up by the simple, but genius, Adjustable Table E1027.

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