Designer Profile: Greta Grossman
When one thinks of mid-century modern design, names like Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson are probably among the first to come to mind. But there is at least one MCM designer who, all but forgotten for many years, has rightfully reclaimed her place among those greats: Greta Grossman.
Greta Grossman was born Greta Magnusson in Helsingborg, Sweden, in 1906. By all accounts a precocious child, she defied expectations by taking up woodworking, which was largely considered to be a male profession at the time. She went on to become the first woman to graduate from the Stockholm School of Industrial Design. Traveling across Europe, Magnussen befriended many famous designers, including Gio Ponti.
Upon returning to Sweden, she opened a store/workshop called Studio, which became one of the most popular places for young Swedish designers to find inspiration. In 1933 she won the Furniture Design award from the Swedish Society of Industrial Design, the first woman to ever win it. That same year, she married a jazz musician by the name of Billy Grossman.
Grossman’s popularity grew until she became the poster girl of Swedish modernism. That is until World War II encroached on and razed much of Western Europe. So, in 1940, Grossman and her husband emigrated to the United States, fleeing the maelstrom.
The couple settled in Los Angeles, where they opened a store on Rodeo Drive. Grossman saw an opportunity to cash-in on her Swedish heritage due to the successful Swedish Modern exhibit at the New York World’s Fair. Her business cards simply read, “Greta Magnusson Grossman: Swedish Designer.”
Rejecting the idea that modernism needed to be cold and monochrome, Grossman wove together texture and color, seizing on the opportunities the warm and open Southern California climate brought. Her forms were organic yet simple. She emphasized a blend of comfort and practicality, though she never lost her lust for experimentation. She played with bold colors and combined new materials, like wood with plastic or metal.
From this came the famous Grasshoppa Floor Lamp. Introduced in 1947, the Grasshoppa features an aluminum conical shade supported by a tubular steel tripod stand. It remains, to this day, her most popular design. In 1950, her Cobra Lamp won a Good Design award and was subsequently displayed at the MoMA.
From the ’40s through the mid-1960s, Grossman enjoyed continual success in architectural, interior, furniture and lighting design. Her unique style was so in demand that she had several famous clients, like Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and Frank Sinatra. In 1966, however, she retired from the Los Angeles design scene and spent the rest of her years in near obscurity in Encinitas (near San Diego) until her death in 1999.
Recent rediscovery and appreciation of Grossman’s work has ensured that her legacy is once again alive and well. In 2010, Stockholm opened an exhibit honoring her work, and in 2012 Pasadena opened their own, which featured the first career retrospective of her work. Original Grossman furniture and lighting designs from companies like R & Company and reissues from GUBI have proven that the Grossman look is as timeless and popular as ever. In fact, one of her lamps sold for $37,500 at an auction in 2012.
Greta Grossman’s influence cannot be overstated. And she is, deservedly so, now renowned worldwide for her role in defining the modern aesthetic.
Rhyen Clevenger is a site merchandiser at YLiving. While he is new to the bath team, it does not hinder his enthusiasm for decorative plumbing. On the weekends he enjoys curling up with his wife and watching some good science fiction.