The excitement generated by the current trend of re-editing classic designs from the 20th century is not just because it makes available again some of the greatest lights ever designed. It also allows us to develop a far deeper understanding of 20th century design, and of lighting design in particular. This is partly because we can can use the pieces as they were meant to be used, in our own homes, as opposed only to seeing them in books or in museums (where they are inevitably showing off-putting signs of age). Just as all Chinese meals, football matches or Haydn symphonies may seem the same to someone who has scant knowledge of them, so eating more, watching more or listening more will reveal the variety within, and the experience of them will be so much richer and satisfying.
By the same token, greater experience of classic light designs reveals further layers of interest and differentiation.
One of the most significant is the rôle played by women designers in the development of 20th century design. And of these, one of the most important is being promoted by Gubi within their Design Icons collection: Greta Grossman.
Although Swedish (she was the first woman ever to receive a furniture design award from the Stockholm Craft Association), she emigrated with her husband to Los Angeles in 1940 and immediately became one of the most significant designers and architects in California from the 1940s to the 1960s. She opened a showroom on Rodeo Drive selling furniture and home accessories to the Los Angeles glitterati (particularly single, professional women who who felt that Grossman designed with their needs and sensibilities in mind) and to celebrities:
"Are you Swedish?"
"Yes, " said Grossman.
"So am I," said the stranger. "My name is Garbo. Greta Garbo."
Greta Grossman also practiced as an architect during the 1950s, designing at least fourteen houses in Los Angeles. The photos taken at the time allow us to see a complete Grossman moderrnist world: building, location, interior.
This was her house:
and here is an interior shot taken in 1948:
You can see her best-known design -- the Grasshopper (Grässhoppa) floor-standing reading light -- by the chair. Gubi has sold this design for a while now in five colours (anthracite grey, warm grey, blue-grey, jet black and vintage red):
They are now introducing a matt white version which will be available from October (RRP €665). You will be able to see it on their stand at designjunction during London Design week.
Grasshopper is uncompromisingly modernist (originals go for mega-prices at auction) and as such is a demonstration of Greta Grossman's own comment on her style: "It is not a superimposed style, but an answer to present conditions...developed out of our own preference for living in a modern way. It expresses our habits and our tastes."
Here is another interior shot taken at her house a few years later which shows further modernist designs of hers, the Grasshopper by a chair again (and Greta grossman herself at her desk).
By the way, she also said that, "The only advantage a man has in furniture designing is his greater physical strength."