The product designer, furniture-maker and architect fused Scandinavian and Californian modernism to devastating effect
Modernism got its name because it applied a forward-thinking approach to everyday objects – cups, chairs, even buildings. In the process, a style was created that endures to this day. Our appetite for open-plan living in light-filled multipurpose spaces, for example, is nothing new; you only have to look back to the middle of the 20th century to see these principles in play, in their purest and most perfect form.
The forward-thinking approach of the modernists, needless to say, did not exactly extend to gender equality, and the designers who achieved lasting fame for their work in this period are nearly all men. It took a mix of colossal talent and colossal endeavour for a woman to break through their ranks. Greta Magnusson Grossman was one of the few who succeeded.
Greta Magnusson (the Grossman was added later, when she married) was born in 1906 in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden, the only child in a middle-class, fairly affluent family.
Her father came from a line of furniture-makers and carpenters, and the young Greta developed her talent for art and flair for drawing from an early age. She won a scholarship to university and combined this with a woodwork apprenticeship by day and the studying of technical drawing in the evenings.
By the time her apprenticeship came to an end, she had won a travel grant to further her studies. She toured Austria and Germany, immersing herself in the work of Le Corbusier, Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. Charged with enthusiasm for what she had seen, she returned to Sweden, ready to begin work on her own creations.
Her initial approaches were rebuffed – when she enquired at one Swedish department store about a position making furniture for its design department, she was told bluntly that it had ‘no facilities for women’. Undeterred, she found work elsewhere, for a short time producing designs for Stockholm furniture store AB Harald Westerberg before setting up her own studio space in 1933 with a classmate from university.
The place was an instant success and attracted a young set of designers and artists. Grossman was savvy; what she lacked in business experience she made up for in marketing prowess. She was courted by the press and lauded as the country’s ‘first female furniture architect in action’.
This is just a taster, you can browse the full article with more stunning photography on pages 184-186, issue 109.
Words by Catherine Coyle