Exposure: Greta Magnusson Grossman

Impacting two continents, Greta Magnusson Grossman’s career was prolific, innovative, and trailblazing. One of the few female designers to gain prominence during the mid-20th century architectural scene, she emerged with a significant legacy of modern design that still radiates today. You can find her lighting designs in Boardroom I and II in our Work Lounge along with open seating areas in Camp David’s Makerspace and Fifth Floor.

We spoke with the design aficionados at R and Company, the New York gallery that acquired the Grossman estate in 1998 about her legacy and the impact her designs continue to have on interiors.

• • •

An unsung hero of California Modernism

Emigrating to the United States in 1940 from Sweden, after studying woodworking, and technical drawing, Grossman was one of the first woman to graduate from Stockholm School of Industrial Design in 1931. She quickly garnered attention for her innovative design work on furniture, textiles and ceramics, and became the first woman to receive an award from Stockholm Craft Association in the furniture category in 1933.

With the arrival of World War II, Grossman and husband moved to Los Angeles where she opened a highly-publicized shop in Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive that sold “Swedish modern furniture, rugs, lamps, and other home furnishings” (as billed on her business card). This propelled her career in California for decades. She worked with companies like Glenn of California, Barker Brothers’ Modern Shop, and many others.

Interior of Greta Grossman’s home. The Californian environment helped Greta to find her own style as mix of Swedish modernism and Californian materials. The combination of rich, colorful textiles and woods like California walnut and black plastic laminate, as an example, set her style apart. Featured here, the Gräshoppa floor lamp [Photograph by Julius Shulman].

She played a significant role in defining the aesthetic of mid-century Californian Modern. Grossman brought a unique European approach to modernism when she moved to the United States, and quickly gained popularity with celebrity clients such as: Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergan and Frank Sinatra.

The most iconic products Grossman designed in the 40’s and 50’s were the Gräshoppa floor and table lamp (1947) and the Cobra lamp (1950). It is only natural that Grossman’s designs fit in perfectly with the industrial landscape of Industry City and bring the high-design and institutionalized aesthetic that we so deeply love from this era to Camp David’s three floors.

The design of the grasshopper table light and floor lamp are organic and modern, fulfilling a need in her time for lightness and functionality. Similar to what draws people to Camp David, her designs seamlessly assist in creating a space where you can get your real work done.

“Grossman was a fiercely independent pioneer and master navigator of many design collaborations, professional relationships, and running her own business in a milieu that has been traditionally male-dominated and fraught with gender disparity,”  Michelle Jackson-Beckett, Director of Archives and Publications at R & Company

• • •

Grossman retired from design and architecture in the late 1960’s and remained largely unknown and almost forgotten. She spent the remaining 30 years of her life painting. It’s hard to say if she distanced herself purposefully or just decided she was done. It was not until Danish design company Gubi re-discovered her and started reproducing Grossman’s iconic designs.

Her legacy lives on today and her work is still revered as groundbreaking. “We can really credit her with bringing this aesthetic to America,” R and Company Principal Evan Snyderman explains. “At the time there were no stores selling Danish or Finnish or Swedish furniture. It was a really important bridge that she started.” Before then, the only European modernism that had been brought stateside was by architect Mies van der Rohe, another influential design figure at Camp David. 

The Cobra wall sconce has a curved snake-like shade. Pictured here in Boardroom II in semi matte powder-coated black. The Cobra lamp won the 1950 Good Design award and was consequently showcased at the MoMA.

Her modern furniture has continued to inspire designers across continents ever since. “Everything is a little bit off, a little bit quirky, powerful but proportionally delicate,” Snyderman says of her work. “It’s timeless, and fun, and accessible, and that’s what people are drawn to.” At Camp David, the presence of her work is a reminder of the revolutionary impact she has on design and architecture. And the power of good lighting.

• • •

R & Company’s galleries are located in TriBeCa and represents a distinguished group of 20th and 21st century designers, whose work is among the most innovative a finely crafted of their time. Check out R and Company’s archive here.


More Bulletins

The Newsletter

Sign up for updates and events