Susan Kozma-Orlay (nee Zsuzsa Kozma) (1913-2008) studied graphic and furniture design at the School of Applied Arts in Stuttgart and the Kunstgewerbeschule (School for Applied Arts) Vienna. She then worked in the Budapest office of her father, renowned modernist architect and designer Lajos Kozma. Despite a high profile career, as a Jewish architect Lajos Kozma was restricted from practicing by 1939 and the Kozma family were lucky to survive the occupation of Budapest by Germany in 1944, during which over 500,000 of the country’s Jews were killed.

In 1947 Kozma-Orlay, newly married, emigrated to Australia. In a letter written before her arrival, she noted: ‘The notion of furniture designer – my main craft – is unknown there’.* Adapting her skills to what was available, she initially worked as a textile designer for Silk & Textile Printers, designing fabric and illustrating the Sydney Ure Smith publication; A New Approach to Textile Designing, 1947, that recorded the innovative Modernage fabric range designed by contemporary artists.

Kozma then worked for David Jones, designing store displays and graphics for the department store. In the 1960s Kozma-Orlay returned to furniture and interior design, working at one time for Berryman Furniture and then independently. For more than three decades she designed for her many contacts in the émigré community centred in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Her projects included collaborating with Stephen Gergely on the interiors of Alex Gemes’s Bellevue Hill home (1963), the shop interior for GLO International (Glomesh) handbag company and the interior of the Nina Ricci store Double Bay (dates unknown).

A drinks trolley Kozma-Orlay designed while working in her father’s studio, in Budapest in 1938-9 is now held in the 20th-century design collection of London’s Victoria & Albert Museum alongside works by some of the century’s most influential figures, including Marcel Breuer, Alvar Aalto and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

*Letter from Susan Kozma, Budapest, to family friend ‘Pista’ in England, 1 January 1947.

Further Reading: ‘Zsuzsa Kozma and the Drinks Trolley’, in The Other Moderns, Rebecca Hawcroft, NewSouth Press, 2017

Susan Kozma design for David Jones, c.1950
Modernage fabrics 1947
Modernage range design ‘Cross section’ by Shelia Gray, Women’s Weekly, August 1947
Berryman Furniture advertisement Women’s Weekly 1965
Posted by:Rebecca Hawcroft

Researcher of architecture and design history, Rebecca curated the 2017 Museum of Sydney exhibition The Moderns: European designers in Sydney and edited the book The Other Moderns (New South Press, 2017)

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