December 16, 2012


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Lot 177: Greta Grossman

Lot 177: Greta Grossman

Rare occasional table

Designed 1952
Walnut, plated stainless steel
Model no. 6401
Glenn of California
13.5" x 59.5" x 35.25"
Literature: Hennesey, William J. Modern Furnishings for the Home. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1956. p 118.
Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000
Price Realized: $12,500
Inventory Id: 4084

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Swedish designer and architect Greta Grossman (1906-1999) achieved success on two continents, and remains one of the most influential female designers of the 20th century. She began her career in Sweden, blossomed in Los Angeles, and left her mark on an international scale. After a yearlong woodworking apprentice at a furniture workshop in her hometown of Helsingborg, Sweden, Grossman moved to Stockholm to enroll as a furniture design major at Konstfack, Stockholm’s university for artists, designers, and craftsmen. There she was awarded a travel grant to Europe where she encountered the architecture of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, as well as machine-made furniture. Upon her return to Sweden, she married the English bandleader Billy Grossman, who encouraged her to start her own furniture business. With the help of classmate Erik Ullrich, Grossman opened Studio, a store and workshop that became a meeting place for Stockholm’s young artists. The city’s newspapers loved Grossman due to her second-place award in the “combination furniture” category in a competition sponsored by the Stockholm Craft Association – the first time a woman earned this distinction. Throughout the 1930s, Grossman produced custom furniture for clients in France, Poland, Panama, and Finland, as well as pieces for Swedish elites, including Ingrid Bergman. Her gracefully simple and practical pieces earned her praise from critics, and in 1938, Grossman turned heads with one of her greatest achievements, a one-woman show at Stockholm’s Galerie Moderne.

Greta and Billy had always planned on moving to New York, but a harrowing journey across Russia and Japan during the outbreak of World War II dropped the couple in San Francisco, and then eventually in Los Angeles. The American response to Swedish modern design was overwhelmingly positive, and once Grossman established her shop on North Rodeo drive in Beverly Hills, the Los Angeles press featured her in a flurry of articles. The space was expensive and the country was at war, so Grossman was forced to establish herself at a more modest location on North Highland in Hollywood. Once again Grossman’s space became a hub for the city’s urban planners, designers, and architects, including Richard Neutra. A newspaper article at the time announced that Grossman’s greatest ambition was “to work out designs for simple, inexpensive but esthetically high-class furniture for lower income homes.” She began designing furniture for the Los Angeles based manufacturer, Barker Brothers. So positive was the public’s reception that Barker Brothers transformed their fifth floor into a Modern Shop, complete with furnishings by Grossman and Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. The first of many collaborations with furniture and lighting manufacturers, the opening of the Modern Shop brought over 6,000 spectators, and solidified Grossman as one of the exclusive interior designers in Los Angeles. She went on to design dozens of homes throughout the second half of the century, filling mid-century modern homes with custom furniture as well as her most iconic designs.

In the late 1940s and 50s, Grossman conceived a variety of designs for the lighting manufacturer Ralph O. Smith and the furniture manufacturer Glenn of California. She was keenly aware of the American design aesthetic that was becoming popular, and she blended it with the understated prominence of Scandinavian design to create distinctly Southern Californian furniture. She explored new materials, introduced a playful nature to her pieces, and responded to the changing lifestyle of the modern California household. An extremely rare piece, the bookshelf (designed c. 1950) incorporates characteristic Grossman features: black laminate contrasted with natural walnut, atomic balls for feet, and form-follows-function adjustable shelves. Light and elegant, her Tripod floor lamp (designed 1947-48) was designed to easily move from room to room for the open floor plan home. Another exceedingly rare piece, reminiscent of an ironing board, the rare occasional table (designed 1952) achieves a serene symmetry, both in the wood grain and plated stainless steel base. The Tripod floor lamp, the occasional table, and the bookshelf are on display at the Pasadena Museum of California Art’s exhibition, “Greta Grossman: A Car and Some Shorts,” as well as the Gene Autry Museum’s exhibition, “California's Designing Women, 1896-1986.”

Snyderman, Evan, and Karin Åberg Wærn. Greta Grossman – A Car and Some Shorts. Stockholm: Arkitekturmuseet, 2010.