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Lajos Kozma, Hungarian Modernist

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Hungarian architect and designer Lajos Kozma (1884–1948) made an indelible mark on early-20th-century European design with his drawings, buildings and furniture that drew upon traditional Hungarian motifs yet showed an unprecedented bent toward modernism. Born in the small village of Kiskorpad, Kozma traveled to Budapest around the turn of the 20th century to study architecture at Budapest Imperial Joseph College. After graduating, he joined the “Young Ones,” a group of designers who studied Hungarian folk art and architecture and created furniture. “But they couldn’t get commissions,” notes Judith Hoffman, a Kozma collector and owner of Szalon in Los Angeles. “Kozma was young, he was Jewish, and he had these new ideas in very conservative times.” Following the model set by the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop), formed in 1903 to promote Austrian art and craftsmanship, in 1913 Kozma formed the Budapest Muhely, or Budapest Workshop. Click through the slideshow below to see Kozma’s designs, as well as a selection of his drawings and buildings.

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  A high-back, neo-Baroque chair by Kozma, most likely from the 1920s. Original images of this chair show a fanciful upholstery pattern depicting traditional Hungarian motifs; Hoffman replaced the shredded fabric found on this chair with red velvet, as she says it reminds her of a throne. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A high-back, neo-Baroque chair by Kozma, most likely from the 1920s. Original images of this chair show a fanciful upholstery pattern depicting traditional Hungarian motifs; Hoffman replaced the shredded fabric found on this chair with red velvet, as she says it reminds her of a throne. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  A circa 1920s neo-Baroque (or “Kozma-Baroque,” says Hoffman) stool, in silver-leaf over wood with new green velvet. 18 in. x 19 in. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A circa 1920s neo-Baroque (or “Kozma-Baroque,” says Hoffman) stool, in silver-leaf over wood with new green velvet. 18 in. x 19 in. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  A rare, five-foot-tall walnut secretary that Kozma designed around the 1930s. The cabinet bears an intricate starburst inlay, and the piece has its original hardware. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A rare, five-foot-tall walnut secretary that Kozma designed around the 1930s. The cabinet bears an intricate starburst inlay, and the piece has its original hardware. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  A detail of the secretary’s starburst inlay. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A detail of the secretary’s starburst inlay. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  A 1930s armchair manufactured by the Heisler factory. Hoffman matched the back panel’s original linoleum with a rust-colored material. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A 1930s armchair manufactured by the Heisler factory. Hoffman matched the back panel’s original linoleum with a rust-colored material. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  The armchair’s back is suspended by a modern bent-chrome bar. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    The armchair’s back is suspended by a modern bent-chrome bar. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  Kozma’s cane-back armchair, circa 1930s, in French-polished beechwood. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    Kozma’s cane-back armchair, circa 1930s, in French-polished beechwood. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  A circa 1930s zebrawood table, which folds out to double in size with a white-linoleum surface. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A circa 1930s zebrawood table, which folds out to double in size with a white-linoleum surface. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  A 1930s side chair reveals Kozma’s occasional leanings toward Chinoiserie and Orientalism in his designs. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A 1930s side chair reveals Kozma’s occasional leanings toward Chinoiserie and Orientalism in his designs. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  Buried within the intricacies of this piece are modernized tulips, a common motif in Hungarian art and design.
    Buried within the intricacies of this piece are modernized tulips, a common motif in Hungarian art and design.
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  A particularly geometric work representing the city of Budapest.
    A particularly geometric work representing the city of Budapest.
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  Kozma’s weekend home on Lupa Island in the Danube, 1935. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    Kozma’s weekend home on Lupa Island in the Danube, 1935. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  Kozma designed this semidetached Budapest house in 1931. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    Kozma designed this semidetached Budapest house in 1931. Photo courtesy Szalon.
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  Kozma’s rendering for a house in Budapest, 1932. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    Kozma’s rendering for a house in Budapest, 1932. Photo courtesy Szalon.
  • 
  Kozma, at right, with clients at the home he designed for them in the Hungarian village of Pókaszepetk–Taszilópusztai in 1935. Subjected to new “Jewish laws,” the family was forced to give up their home in 1947 and was relocated to Budapest. After the war the property was nationalized and later destroyed. Photo courtesy Szalon.
    Kozma, at right, with clients at the home he designed for them in the Hungarian village of Pókaszepetk–Taszilópusztai in 1935. Subjected to new “Jewish laws,” the family was forced to give up their home in 1947 and was relocated to Budapest. After the war the property was nationalized and later destroyed. Photo courtesy Szalon.
  • 
  A 1947 portrait of Lajos Kozma. “Hungarian tradition does not mean doing what our predecessors have already done,” he wrote in 1926. “What it means is doing what our predecessors did: standing on the bridge between East and West, welding our oriental flavour, provincial freshness, pride of peasants and flare for decoration with the refined erudition of the west…. New can only be created along the boundaries of the spirit of the times.” Photo courtesy Szalon.
    A 1947 portrait of Lajos Kozma. “Hungarian tradition does not mean doing what our predecessors have already done,” he wrote in 1926. “What it means is doing what our predecessors did: standing on the bridge between East and West, welding our oriental flavour, provincial freshness, pride of peasants and flare for decoration with the refined erudition of the west…. New can only be created along the boundaries of the spirit of the times.” Photo courtesy Szalon.

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