Greta Magnusson-Grossman (July 21, 1906 – August 1999) was a Swedish furniture designer, interior designer, and architect. She was one of the few female designers to gain prominence during the mid-20th century architectural scene in Los Angeles. Her early exposure to European Modernism deeply influenced her later architectural work, seen as a synthesis of European ideals and the culture and lifestyle of Southern California.
Early life and educationEdit
Magnusson descended from a family of Swedish cabinetmakers, and was a woodworking apprentice at furniture manufacturer, Kärnans in Helsingborg after she graduated from Ebba Lundbergs Högre. During her apprenticeship in Helsingborg, she was the only female in the workshop. Grossman recognized the drawbacks of being a female artist and stated that she felt she had, "to be a step ahead or else". In 1928, Magnusson went on to study Furniture Design at Konstfack in Stockholm. She later studied architecture at the Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm.
In 1933, she won the Furniture Design award from the Swedish Society of Industrial Design, becoming the first woman to win the award. That same year, she married the British jazz musician and band leader Billy Grossman in 1933. They had no children.
In 1933, Grossman was awarded second prize in the "Combination Furniture" category of a furniture competition sponsored by the Stockholm Craft Association and become the first woman ever to win in the competition.
Los Angeles ModernismEdit
In 1940, in the midst of World War II, she left Sweden and moved with her husband to Los Angeles where they opened the Magnussen-Grossman Studio on Rodeo Drive. The studio focused on furniture and lighting design and sold to several well-known furniture companies such as Sherman Bertram, Martin Brattrud, Cal-Mode and Barker Brothers' Modern Shop. Her furniture is characterized by its unique mixture of materials and slender proportions. Her work attracted Hollywood clientele, and she designed interiors for stars such as Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman.
Through the 1960s, she was a prominent figure in the experimental architecture world, and was influenced by European Modernists and the Bauhaus, including Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In 1943, her split-level house in Beverly Hills was the first project that allowed Grossman to act as both interior designer and architect. The house was a major breakthrough for her as an architect and was featured in John Entenza's influential magazine Arts & Architecture. Her houses were on the smaller side, around 1,500 square feet, and were carefully crafted using materials like wood and glass. Her work reflected both the International Style of fellow European emigres such as Rudolph Schindler and Richard Neutra, with the airy, open-plan housing of the Case Study program architects, such as Craig Ellwood, the Eameses, and Pierre Koenig. Between 1949 and 1959 she designed fourteen houses in Los Angeles. Grossman became known for building homes on "difficult plots", lots under 1,500 square feet with difficult landscapes on hillsides. She later worked with influential Southern California designers such as Garrett Eckbo.
Of her sixteen built projects, fourteen of the houses were located in Los Angeles, one was in San Francisco and one was in her native Sweden.
In 1966, Grossman retired from the architectural scene in Los Angeles and moved with her husband to a house she designed in Encinitas, just north of San Diego. She spent the last 30 years of her life living in relative obscurity and painting landscapes. In 2010, an exhibition of her work appeared in Stockholm and a 2012 exhibition in Pasadena was the first career retrospective of her work. Many of the homes she designed have been demolished, although approximately ten still remain, including the Hurley House, the Frances Nelson houses and the Jim Backus House. In 2012, one of Grossman's aluminum and brass lamps sold for $37,500 at an auction, a record for her furniture pieces.
In 1999, the R 20th Century company was working on a catalogue of Grossman's work. The Los Angeles architect Pierre Koenig learned of the company's interest and sent the number of the famed architectural photographer Julius Shulman, who had taken photographs of Grossman's work during the height of her fame in the 1940s and 1950s. The company tracked and recorded much of Grossman's work following the discovery of this collection.
She died in August 1999.
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