Design Icon: Greta Grossman

Greta Grossman, for a while relegated to the footnotes of design history, is finally getting the deserved recognition as one of the pioneers of mid-century modernism in both Sweden and California.
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Today mostly remembered for her elegant and playful Grasshopper Lamp, in the 1950s and '60s, Greta Grossman was a highly sought-after architect, interior and industrial designer who worked across two continents. 

Gretta Grossman's work in the interior of the Backus house in Los Angeles in 1950, the Grasshopper lamp prominent in the foreground. Plants played an integral part in Grossman's designs, often serving as room dividers in the open plans of her interiors.

Growing up in Sweden in 1920s, Grossman, as a precocious teen, defied expectations by taking up woodworking, a predominantly male profession at the time. She followed this venture by becoming one of the first women to graduate from the Stockholm School of Industrial Design. Greatly influenced by functionalism, Grossman travelled across Europe, visiting the pioneering Weissenhof settlement and joining the conversations at the Motta restaurant in Milan, a primary meeting place for Milan’s art and design world, where, among others, she befriended the famed designer Gio Ponti.

Today, the Grasshopper lamp is undoubtedly Grossman's most famous design. Introduced in 1947, the Grasshopper is both sophisticated and unobtrusive, which allows it to work well on its own and when paired with other designs.

Back in Sweden, Grossman rose to prominence in Stockholm’s design scene after opening Studio, a store and a workshop, which immediately became the most popular gathering place for young Swedish designers. Grossman herself became the poster-girl for modernism in Sweden, until in 1940, under the dark cloud of the Second World War, Greta and her husband, jazz player Billy Grossman, emigrated to the United States. Once settled in Los Angeles, Grossman opened a store in Rodeo Drive. Playing up her Swedish heritage, her business cards read simply Greta Magnusson Grossman: Swedish designer, in order to attract American customers who were awed by Swedish design after the highly-successful exhibition of Swedish Modern at the New York World’s Fair.

Organic comfort meets modern functionality in the Grasshoper Lamp. In a corner of this Brooklyn Brownstone, a black Greta Grossman Grasshopper lamp sits next to a Bertoia Diamond chair with matching ottoman.

Grossman’s personal brand of modernism was never a cold, monochrome one. But once in LA, it fully blossomed by combining a Swedish fondness for color and texture with the opportunities allowed by bright and open spaces of Southern California. With a humanist sensibility, she designed large, airy living rooms which were meant to serve as spaces for dining, entertaining and working, while keeping the bedroom a private haven, removed from the bustle of activity in the rest of the house. Always designing for comfort and practicality, she placed a great emphasis on roomy, multi-functional kitchens, saying: "no architect should be allowed to design a kitchen without running a household for a couple of months! Please, keep us from the ‘rationalized’ kitchens with all their expensive and fancy appliances but without decent cupboards for this and that."

The interior of Grossman's home.

Grossman’s furniture, too, shows a strong interest in merging functionality and comfort. However, this did little to curb her desire for experimentation, as she enjoyed combining wood with new materials, such as metal and plastic, and playing with bold colors. The most iconic products Grossman designed after moving to LA, were the Grasshopper floor lamp and the Cobra lamps. The Grasshopper, introduced in 1947, is made up of an aluminum conical shade resting on a tubular steel tripod stand and remains her most popular design, while the Cobra lamp won the 1950 Good Design award and was consequently showcased at the MoMA. The forms of Grossman’s furniture seem both organic in their curves (and nature-derived names), but also highly modern in their simplicity and functionality.

Interior of Greta Grossman's home.

Grossman remained a design star in California for the rest of her life, her pieces selling to Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo and Frank Sinatra, while today she is deservedly renowned internationally for her significant role in defining the modernist esthetic.

Grossman's 1952 collection, which included a desk and three dressers was named 62-Series because the design was thought to be ten years ahead of its time.

Grossman's Grasshopper lamp remains one of the most popular midcentury lighting designs. Here, displayed in the Conran Shop, Marylebone, it is matched with a Piano Alto modular sofa and the Prism chandelier designed by Nathalie Dewez.

Grossman made a name for herself in the male-dominated architecture scene in Los Angeles, saying working as a female architect "kept you on your toes. You had to be a step ahead or else."

Shop Greta Grossman's Designs
Gubi Cobra Table Lamp
Winner of the Good Design Award 1950. 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.
Gubi Grasshopper Floor Lamp
Upon moving to California in 1940, Swedish architect Greta Magnusson Grossman began combining her European training with a West Coast aesthetic, adding a sense of play. Her Grasshopper Floor Lamp (1948) resembles its namesake in form, with a lithe tubular steel frame and elongated conical shade.
Gubi Cobra Wall Lamp
The authentic Cobra Collection, consisting of a table lamp, a floor lamp and a wall lamp, is one of the most iconic collections by Greta M. Grossman. The Cobra Collection was originally designed in 1950 and takes its name from the shape of the oval shade, which is reminiscent of a cobra's neck.


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