Designers at Nest: Greta Grossman
A formidable architect, interior and industrial designer with a distinctive, minimal style - Greta Magnusson Grossman was a darling of 1950s Hollywood. Then she was all but forgotten.
She may not be a household name, but Greta M. Grossman’s designs may be more familiar than you realise. An incredibly influential designer who seemed to always be in the press, it’s a bit of a mystery as to why she disappeared into obscurity for so many years. We think that’s something that deserves to change.
A woman of many talents, Grossman dabbled in sculpting, drawing, writing and architecture. However, it was her furniture and lighting designs that became the real success - the place where her understanding of form and delicate detailing really had a place to shine. Beautifully minimal and always functional, her furniture and lighting were designed with the user in mind, attuned to the nuances of daily living.
Few people have accomplished what Grossman achieved in her lifetime, especially women living in the early 20th Century. Determined that her gender shouldn’t be a barrier to her success, she competed with a world of often male designers at the highest level.
Designs for living
Breaking stereotypes from a young age, Grossman was one of the first women to graduate from the prestigious Stockholm School of Industrial Design in the early 1930s. She quickly developed a distinctive, unadorned style and began a successful career in her native Sweden. She reportedly exclaimed, “the only advantage a man has in furniture is his greater physical strength!”
Charming and with a wicked sense of humour, it wasn’t long before her designs were winning multiple awards - a recognition that didn’t come easily to a woman in the early 20th Century.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the Second World War came to Sweden. Alongside her jazz musician husband Billy (described as the “Benny Goodman of Sweden”), the Grossman’s embarked on a harrowing journey to escape the war-ridden country. In 1940, the couple made their way to California on-board the Japanese liner Nakura Maru. Never losing her sense of humour, Greta reportedly exclaimed that all she needed to start her new life in the USA was to “buy a car and some shorts”.
A Hollywood star
Eager to change American’s cluttered and complicated homes for the better, Greta wasted no time in opening a studio in her new hometown of Los Angeles. Showcasing her warm Scandinavian minimalism, her work was an instant hit - quickly finding its way into the homes of forward-thinking Angelenos, including Hollywood icons Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Joan Fontaine.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Greta Grossman designed a number of iconic furniture and lighting designs, for both private clients and large international companies. Aware of the style of American design that was quickly becoming popular, she blended this with her own understated Scandinavian aesthetic to create a distinctly California style of furniture.
From the Gräshoppa Floor Lamp to the Modern Line Sofa - her style continued to become ever more refined, combining sophisticated engineering with simple forms and a timeless appeal. By the 1960s however, Greta and her husband were becoming increasingly disillusioned with the public’s appreciation of good design, and with their life in LA. In 1966, Greta and Billy moved to Encinitas and retired from public life, spending their time enjoying music and painting.
Rediscovering a leading light
In 2011, after a retrospective of Greta Grossman’s work was exhibited in Stockholm, Gubi recognised the potential in many of Greta Grossman’s forgotten designs and decided to relaunch the collection, beginning with the iconic Gräshoppa Lamp. The Gubi Greta Grossman collection now features a number of her designs, from lighting to sofas and sideboards. Her original works are now highly sought after by design collectors around the world.