She became fascinated by Japanese lacquer work and studied with Sugawara for four years. When World War I began, she and Sugawara moved to London, where they were supported by Gray's family till the war ended. At that time, they moved back to Paris, and she was commissioned to decorate an apartment.
Her work received so much positive attention that she decided to open Galerie Jean Désert, making up the name of a male "owner." She was too shy and introverted to work there, but she nevertheless was involved in decisions about every display. Although the French critics lambasted her designs for the boudoir for Monte-Carlo at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, she received encouragement from the likes of Dutch architect J. P. Oud, Le Corbusier and architect Robert Mallet-Stevens.
By this time, she had decided to concentrate on architecture and began to design a house and its furnishings on a steep cliff overlooking the Mediterranean near Monaco. Her circular glass E.1027 table designed during this period (originally designed to enable one of her sisters to indulge her love of eating breakfast in bed) and Bibendum armchair were inspired by the recent tubular steel experiments of Marcel Breuer at the Bauhaus.
Later she designed space-saving pieces for small houses, including a folding lounge chair and a double-sided dresser which is said to have inspired Joe Colombo's Boby cart. During this time, she was part of the Union des Artistes Modernes. She was invited to exhibit her work, but her personality was so retiring that she sometimes failed to appear at the shows.
After World War II, she returned to Paris and lived an increasingly reclusive life and was largely forgotten by the design world. It was not until 1968 that her name returned to prominence when Joseph Rykwert wrote about her in Domus magazine and Aram, a London-based furniture company, put the Bibendum chair and the E.1027 table back into production.
Gray is now regarded as one of the most important designers and architects of the early 20th century. Her work inspired designers of both the Art Deco and Modernism periods.
|Monte Carlo sofa|
|E-1027 side table|