A Forgotten Swedish Star

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Born and raised in Helsingborg, Sweden in 1906, Greta Magnusson Grossman represents a literal link between European design and California modernism. Grossman remained in her hometown until the late 1920s upon finishing a woodworking apprenticeship.

Awarded a scholarship, she attended Högre Konstindustriella Skolan (Konstfack) where she reportedly focused on furniture, textiles and ceramics. In 1933, having successfully completed her fellowship at the renowned Stockholm arts institution, she and classmate Erik Ullrich opened Studio, a combined store and workshop. The same year Grossman married jazz bandleader Billy Grossman. Here she took numerous commissions, including a crib for Sweden’s Princess Birgitta.

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In 1934 she became the first woman to receive a prize for furniture design from the Swedish Society of Industrial Design. She traveled throughout Europe and filed reports of her observations on interior design and architecture for the “Women and Home” section of the Swedish paper Nya Dagligt Allehanda.

The Greta Magnusson Grossman exhibition in Stockholm
The Greta Magnusson Grossman exhibition in Stockholm

She rose to a level of prominence in her native Sweden, and In 1940 she and her husband, immigrated to Los Angeles, where she opened her second shop, Magnusson-Grossman Studio, on Rodeo Drive, which was popular with clients like Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Gracie Allen. There she sold her designs as well as imports from her native Sweden.

Bel Air Mic Century by Greta Magnusson Grossman
Bel Air Mid Century by Greta Magnusson Grossman

Greta began designing furniture and fixtures for Glenn of California, Sherman Bertram, Martin Brattrud, Cal-Mode and Modern Line Inc. When Barker Brothers’ Modern Shop launched in 1947, Grossman began designing exclusive pieces and taking interior design commissions.

Table Lamp by Greta Magnusson Grossman
Table Lamp by Greta Magnusson Grossma

Grossman’s compact, functional and visually lightweight modern aesthetic appealed to a previously ignored, but ever-growing demographic: single, savvy, career-minded women. Some of her pieces, like the Cobra floor and table Lamps, designed in 1950 for Ralph O. Smith (and recently brought back into production by Gubi) and her 1952 Desk with Storage for Glen of California, have become icons of California modern. In 1950, the Cobra lamp won the Good Design Award and was subsequently exhibited at the Good Design Show at the Museum of Modern Art.
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Her achievements were many and encompassed industrial design, interior design and architecture. Through the 40’s and 50’s Grossman exhibited her designs at museums worldwide, including MoMA in New York and The National Museum in Stockholm.

Architectural design by Greta Magnusson Grossman
Architectural design by Greta Magnusson Grossman

In an era where too few women garnered public acclaim for their design and architectural talents, Greta Grossman enjoyed the spotlight in a number of articles in publications that ranged from daily newspapers to sophisticated magazines and journals focused on her homes, furniture designs and her savvy. Her work was photographed by Julius Shulman, she appeared frequently in John Entenza’s Art & Architecture magazine and she received two prestigious Good Design Awards from MoMA.

Greta Magnusson Grossmans Mid-Century Masterpiece in the Hills hitting the market for the first time
Greta Magnusson Grossmans Mid-Century Masterpiece in the Hills hitting the market for the first time

Grossman’s creativity and brilliance were also evident in at least fourteen homes she designed between 1949 and 1959. Often building them on spec and then living in them until she found a buyer, her residences were defined by their diminutive scale and lightness of form, frequently balanced perfectly on the edge of a hillside. Crafted of classic modern materials like steel and stone, Grossman also incorporated rich woods and natural light to create warmth. Unfortunately, many of these homes have since been demolished, though several do remain.

Rare occasional table by Greta Magnusson Grossman
Rare occasional table by Greta Magnusson Grossman

In 2013 the Pasadena Museum of California Art (PMCA) arranged an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Greta Grossman Exhibit, followed by a tour of homes by this talented designer.

Grossman was highly influenced by European Modernism, which had been imported to the US by influential architects, such as Walter Gropius (founder of the Bauhaus) and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Grossman, in turn, played a significant role in defining the aesthetic of mid-century Californian Modernism.

The Backus House by Greta Magnusson Grossman
The Backus House by Greta Magnusson Grossman

In 1951, Grossman is quoted as saying that California design “is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions. It has developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way.”

In the late 1960s she dropped out of site in moving to Leucadia. She ended up largely unknown and almost forgotten. Recently, renewed interest in this pioneering modernist has resulted in some of her pieces being brought back into production.

Interior design (Sweden) by Greta Magnusson Grossman
Interior design (Sweden) by Greta Magnusson Grossman

Today, Grossman’s product designs are highly collectible and are sold at auctions all around the world. Grossman’s products are unique, modern classic designs.

A Forgotten Swedish Star, written by Tor Kjolberg