Lajos Kozma (June 8th, 1884 - November 26th, 1948) was one of the most authentic representatives of Hungarian Art Nouveau in the early-20th-century. He had an unprecedented influence on the European design through his drawings, buildings and furniture.
He came from Kiskorpád, a provincial village in the south-west part of Hungary. He decided to move his location to Budapest around the turn of the 20th century to study architecture at the Imperial Joseph College. Between 1909-1910 he won a scholarship to Paris he had the opportunity to learn painting from Henri Matisse. After graduating from the college, he joined “The Young Ones” a group of architects touched by the Secession. They studied Hungarian folk art and local architecture by travelling in Hungary and Transsylvania.
Kozma also apprenticed with the famous architect Béla Lajta, and worked in his office. During this period, Kozma became famous for designing the interior of Lajta's Rózsavölgyi bookstore, in which glass panels separated several sections of the shop, which was well known for its heavy, carved wood ornamentation - reminiscent as much of both Biedemeier as well as the Scotsman Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School (although pictures remain, the bookstore was demolished in 1961).
In 1913, Kozma founded the Budapest Workshop, following the Viennese model of the Wiener Werkstatte, with the aim of providing highly functional high design for homes and offices, from the structure of the buildings down to every aspect of the interiors, from furniture to floor coverings and lamps. This all was meant to appeal to Budapest’s rising middle class. Kozma’s takeoff on baroque-style furniture came to be known as Kozma-baroque and featured what today would be considered postmodern references to Hungarian folk art motifs, mixing luxurious traditional woods and materials in unexpected ways.
At the end of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire came to an end, and after the short reign of the Béla Kun communist government, Hungary became increasingly conservative under the right-wing Horthy government that followed. Kozma, for his part, designed stores including a well-known pharmacy, a department store and a movie theater, as well as a few apartment buildings and even the Kassa Synagogue.
In the 1930s, Kozma designed several villas in the hills of Buda. It was in these homes - where he designed both the structures as well as every element of the inside, from the floor coverings to the fixtures to the type of glass used in the windows - that he did some of his finest work. He partnered with the furniture company Heisler, and at Szalon can be seen a game table with chairs, a desk chair, a bar and a secretary, all of which Kozma designed, as well as his gorgeous club chairs.
Looking at Kozma’s work today, he seems postmodernist, as if he had been playing with baroque touches, even including elements of Chinoiserie, as he evolved toward a modernist aesthetic.
However, despite his fame and reputation, Kozma received no public commissions. In his later years, he claimed that it was his liberal sentiments and support of the Béla Kun government that kept him from getting such work.
More likely, however, experts believe, Kozma’s problem was that he was a Jew in an increasingly anti-Semitic country. By 1938, Hungary’s anti-Jewish laws stripped Kozma of his membership in the Chamber of Architects as well as his license to work. Kozma responded by writing a book of his architectural principles, illustrated by his work, “The New House,” which was published in Switzerland in 1941.
Once the Nazis invaded Hungary, Kozma went into hiding with false papers. Surviving the war, he was reinstated as an architect, received his first public commission for a school, joined the editorial board of a modernist architecture journal Új Épitészet (New Architecture) and was appointed both as a director of the School for Applied Arts and a professor in the School of Architecture at Budapest Technical University. Unfortunately, before the school’s new building opened in 1948, Kozma died at age 64.
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