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The Courtauldian

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The Courtauld Institute of Art

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The Boss: Non-Conformity Through the Eyes of Eileen Gray

April 6, 2019

Non-Conformist, Eileen Gray, 1926 (Image: eileengray.co.uk)

 

One of my least favourite questions, right after “what are your plans after university?”, is without a doubt “Emi, which chair is your favourite?”. Without sounding corny, I think all chairs are special. There is no universal checklist that makes it possible for me to decide my ultimate favourite, particularly because these objects are designed to fulfil countless functions. I do, however, have a favourite strain of chair: design inspired by sculpture. 

 

With this in mind, I want to present this week’s playful take on chair design as an art form, the Non-Conformist by Eileen Gray. This chair was designed by Gray for the bedroom of the E-1027 house and was later briefly mass-produced for her shop in France. It boasts a chromed tubular metal frame and sleek leather upholstery, its asymmetrical form alluding to a fresh sculptural take on modernity. Whilst one could comment that the chair, with only one upholstered arm rest, cannot be comfortable, it is the restlessness of a seated figure that Gray had in mind when designing the Non-Conformist. The singular arm rest proposes a resolution for people who lean slightly to one side when seated, which I suspect most of us do, albeit subconsciously. 

 

Gray had a particularly fascinating outlook on furniture that nobody, in my view, can replicate. The Non-Conformist is sleek, refined; its enticing shape combined with the materials make it the ultimate boss of the chair world. Considering its primary function was furnishing the inside of E-1027, it works harmoniously with other furniture inside, such as the Monte Carlo bench. I particularly enjoy the element of exposed tubular steel in Gray’s designs, through which she celebrates new machinery. 

 

Personally, I rarely see something so modern and ahead of its time that grasps me in this way. I additionally have a soft spot for Eileen Gray as a woman designer in a profession so populated by men, particularly during this period. I have never had the pleasure of seeing this chair in the flesh, let alone testing out the Non-Conformist for myself, however I often like to entertain the thought that it would fit seamlessly somewhere in the background of the set in The Sopranos...

 

 

 

 

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