Greta Grossman: Iconic and Unknown

Posted on October 13, 2015 in In-House Musings Inspire

I’ve been trying to think of what to write about since I decided to have a blog on the website and how to follow up with “ Why I’m doing this…” the first blog. A paralysis of sorts set in even as my webmaster reminded me I needed to keep going weeks ago. Call it what am I doing?, a pause, a lack of confidence, a duh moment, waiting for inspiration. Call it what you will. Perhaps my stubborn nature in not being forced into another deadline took over. After all, my life revolves around business deadlines and responsibilities that take up too much time in my life, although it is an enthusiastic choice. Deep inside, I wanted the blog and the showroom to be much different and in a way expose myself and show a different side. I wanted them to reflect what I love to think about, do with free time, and visually express those things and people I find beautiful, emotional, inspiring, and not well known in the world of busy-ness.

It’s Women’s Week in Provincetown. In celebration of that here are a few words about a dynamic and quite prolific designer and architect who thrived on two continents and did her best work in a time of global upheaval and and huge social change.

Greta-GrossmanGreta Magnusson Grossman  1906-1999.

Greta Grossman was born in Sweden and became a woodworking apprentice at furniture manufacturer, Kärnan’s in Helsingborg, the town where she was born.

She started her own workshop and store called Studio with a classmate Erik Ullrich in 1933 in Stockholm. Commissions came in including a crib for Swedish Princess Birgitta. Eventually she became the first woman to be awarded a prize from the Swedish Society of Industrial Design. How she managed to shine in a male dominated business is inspiring and  astonishing. She continued to astound the world of design and architecture through the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

desk-two-greta-grossman-in-houseMoving to Los Angeles, California in 1940 with her husband jazz bandleader Billy Grossman she opened a new store on Rodeo Drive called the  Magnusson-Grossman Studio retailing modern Swedish furniture, lamps and home decor and pieces by commission.  Immediately popular with star studded clients and some famous furniture companies she could do no wrong. Intuitive and brilliant she had clients like Greta Garbo, Frank Sinatra, Gracie Allen and Joan Fontaine. Partnering with Barker Brothers, Glenn of California, Modern Line, Sherman Bertram to create  famous lines of furniture that still stand the test of time. desk-greta-grossman-in-houseHer furniture has been described as “ compact, visually lightweight and functional”.  Interestingly, an ignored segment of the population born out of the independence required during World War II , the career minded, single smart perceptive  women loved her aesthetic.

floor-lamp-greta-grossman-in-houseCommissioned by Ralph O. Smith to create a line of lamps for Barker Brothers, the Cobra lamp pictured on the right was designed in 1950.

table-lamps-greta-grossman-in-houseThe more famous Grasshopper lamp (left)  created in 1947 is iconic and has been recently put back in production along with some other Grossman lamps and furniture that have stood the test of time and are still so relevant today.

Her lamps are most sought after  by collectors and interior designers in pristine condition with the Grasshopper lamp selling for as much as $12,000-$16,000 these days.

I have always felt her designs have such personality. I would have loved to carried her bags for a length of time just to absorb her wattage and watch her in action.

black-white-photo-greta-grossmanTo top it all off, between 1949 and 1959 she designed 14 new homes, ten of which are still standing today. She spec’d the first few, building them, living in them, and finding a buyer. Then she became sought after creating her own signature style. ( Is there nothing this woman can’t do?) Her homes were usually perched on hillsides balanced on stilts with a scale and lightness not many could duplicate. Fitting into the hillsides with a sense of delicate grounded-ness, she is quoted as saying  in 1951 about California design, “ it is not a super imposed  style, but and answer to present conditions. It has developed out of our own preference for  living in a modern way.”

modern-house-greta-grossmanSo here’s to an incredibly prolific and brilliant woman so far ahead of her time and such a stand out leader in a man’s world. A woman almost forgotten. Prolific to the end.  Two Good Design Awards from MoMA. Often published and quoted in the then prestigious Arts & Architecture magazine.  Enjoying the challenge of her work and feeding the creative genius she retired in the late 60’s. If you look closely at the two photos of her here, you’ll perhaps catch a glimpse of the quiet confidence and drive this woman possessed throughout her life.