image: Arkitekturmuseet Stockholm
The Swedish-American designer and architect Greta Magnusson Grossman (1906-1999), who retired in the late 1960s, is enjoying something of a revival. In 2008, the Drawing Center in New York put on an exhibition of her technical drawings and architectural sketches, and last year the Arkitekturmuseet in Stockholm staged the first major retrospective of her work (set to tour the USA in 2012). And now three of her iconic designs from the 1940s are being reissued by Danish design company Gubi.
Grossman brought sleek Swedish modernism to the USA, where she emigrated with her husband, the jazz bandleader Billy Grossman (the “Benny Goodman of Sweden”) just before the Second World War broke out. The first woman to receive a Swedish Design Award, she opened a design shop – Magnusson-Grossman Studio – on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to sell “Swedish modern furniture, rugs, lamps and other home furnishings”. Her celebrity clients included fellow Swedes Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman. America soon claimed her as one of their own. In 1952 the US Department of State distributed an article about the designer in 75 different countries to present “a true picture… of the American way of life”.
Grossman believed in a totally designed environment. In the 1950s she built 14 hilltop homes in California, several of which are still standing. They were propped up on stilts on difficult sloping sites with curtain walls of glass overlooking canyon views. Between 1946 and 1960 John Entenza’s influential Arts & Architecture magazine (the sponsor of the Case Study House Program) featured Grossman’s work in nearly every issue, and her buildings were immortalised by the legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman.
The Grasshopper floor lamp is perhaps Grossman’s best known piece of industrial design. First produced in 1947 for the Ralph O Smith lighting company, it has a tripod stand and tilts back to an aluminium bullet-shaped shade mounted on a flexible arm. The Cobra floor and table lamps, created the following year, are named because their shades mounted on bendy tubular stands resemble snakes’ hoods (some had double shades). The lights won a Good Design Award in 1950 and were exhibited at the Good Design Show at the Museum of Modern Art.