Door 6: Greta Magnusson-Grossman

Photography © Julius Shulman

It is interesting to see how often forgotten designers become the interest of collectors and decorators and how those change. This was the case for a lot of French mid-century designers, which are the key interest at the moment. Another long forgotten pioneer, an unsung hero, is the furniture and interior designer and architect Greta Magnusson-Grossman.

Born in 1906 in Helsingborg, she did a one-year woodworking apprenticeship in her hometown, before studying Furniture design at the Högre Konstindustriella Skolan. In 1933 she opened up Studio with her classmate Erik Ullrich and she received a second place for furniture design from the Stockholm Craft Association, making her the first woman to ever being awarded. The same year she also married the British jazz musician and band leader Billy Grossman.

Hurley Residence, Wonder View Plaza, Hollywood, 1958

In 1940, in the middle of the Second World War, she and her husband moved to California, where they opened Magnussen-Grossman Studio on Rodeo Drive. Focussing on furniture and lightning design, she stylistically blended European modernism with Californian lifestyle. Among her clients were stars like Greta Garbo, Joan Fontaine and Gracie Allen.

Technical drawing for a table lamp, for the Ralph O. Smith Company, 1948

Led to collaborations with well-known manufacturers like Barker Brothers or Ralph O. Smith for her lamps or Glenn of California for her furniture. Her unique mix of materials, such as colorful textiles, California walnut, black plastic laminate and wrought iron, and her slender proportions made her stand out. It also make her designs recognizable to this day.

Photograph © Sherry Griffin/R 20th Century.

But not only did she design furniture and lightning, she also worked as an architect. Her own split level house in Beverly Hills was her breakthrough, where she did the architecture and the interior design. The house was featured in the magazine Arts & Architecture and admired by its editor John Entenza, as it was in the vein of Case Study House project, they supported. Approximately ten of her designed houses still exist.

In 1966 she retired from the Design world and moved with her husband to Encinitas to a house she designed. In this time she mainly painted landscapes and died in 1999 in quite obscurity. In the last ten years, an interest in her designs arose and now reach high prices at auctions.