Celebrate International Women's Day (a little late) with a look at pioneering California Modernist Greta Magnusson Grossman.
A version of this post was originally published on August 23, 2017.
You love her Grasshopper lamp, but did you know that Greta Grossman spent a prolific (but short) career in architecture creating some of L.A.'s most defining modernist homes? Well, you do now.
Here are 10 other things you should know about the groundbreaking, unsung hero of California Modernism.
1. Grew up in Sweden in the 1920s. Born in Helsingborg in 1906, Grossman took an early interest in design, pursuing woodworking (a predominately male discipline) when she was just a teenager.
2. One of the first women to graduate from the Stockholm School of Industrial Design. Grossman graduated in 1931. Just two years later, she was the first woman to receive an award in the furniture category from the Stockholm Craft Association.
3. Rose to prominence after opening her own store and workshop, Studio. Selling housewares, lighting, and furnishings, Studio quickly became Stockholm’s most popular meeting place for the young design set, making Grossman the “poster-girl” for Swedish Modernism. (She even designed a well-publicized crib for Princess Birgitta).
4. Emigrated to the United States with her husband, jazz bandleader Billy Grossman, in 1940. According to a newspaper article announcing the couple's California arrival, Greta Grossman's first priorities were “buying a car and some shorts.” One can only surmise that the third priority was opening a store, which the couple soon did- on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
5. Her American business cards simply read- Greta Magnusson Grossman: Swedish Designer. No slouch at branding, Grossman wanted to attract American clients still in awe of the highly successful Swedish Modern exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.
6. Color, texture, and wide-open spaces characterized her unique brand of modernism. Synthesizing old and new, Scandinavia and Southern California, Grossman's designs balanced familiar forms with a concern for modern living. Her masterful engineering of a lightweight, airy, and balanced aesthetic perfectly blended her European training with the sunny California lifestyle, making her version of modernism appealing to a wide range of tastes (including the ever-growing demographic-. single, career-oriented women).
7. Her most iconic design is the 1947 Grasshopper. Composed of an aluminum conical shade resting on tubular steel legs, the elegant Grasshopper lamp remains her most popular design and is still produced by Danish manufacturer Gubi. Her Cobra lamp (another well-known work) was part of the inaugural Good Design exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1950.
8. Hollywood loved her work. A design star on the West Coast, Grossman sold pieces to celebrities like Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Gracie Allen, and Frank Sinatra.
9. Designed fourteen houses in the Los Angeles area. In just a decade (1949-1959), the talented Ms. Grossman left an indelible mark on the L.A. landscape, creating inventive residential designs. Aligning with the principles of the concurrent Case Study Houses, many of her homes appeared in John Entenza’s Arts & Architecture. See her Backus House, Hurley House, and Nelson Houses.
10. Taught furniture design at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for several years before (mysteriously) retreating from architecture in the late 1960s. Leaving her flourishing career behind, Grossman moved south to Encinitas, devoting herself to painting landscapes until her death in 1999.
A design icon indeed. Happy International Women's Day!
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.