The history of a little drinks trolley, given to the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1997, links it to the great theme of emigration at the end of the Second World War. In 1947 both its owner and its designer left war-torn Hungary.
The 1930s were a time of great change in society, art and design, nowhere more so than in central Europe. Functionalist modernism, inspired by the teachings of the Bauhaus founded in Wiemar in 1919, had become an international fashion in design and architecture. This drinks trolley came from a flat in Budapest, Hungary, and was added to the V&A collection to represent Hungarian modernism, and the work of a woman designer.
The flat was the home of Eugene (Jenö) and Elizabeth Schreiber who commissioned a young woman to re-design their living room in about 1938. She was Zsuzsa Kozma, the daughter of a leading Hungarian architect, designer and writer Lajoz Kozma. Zsuzsa had trained in furniture design and graphic arts at the Schools of Applied Art in Budapest, Stuttgart and Vienna. At this time, aged only 26, she worked in the office of her father.
Eugene Schreiber was a timber merchant whose niece was married to Szegi Pal, the art critic of a major Hungarian newspaper Pesti Hirlap. Under Pal’s influence the Schreibers encountered modern trends in art and design. Pal may even have introduced them to the young Zsuzsa Kozma.
The living room she designed for the Schreibers comprised of a divan, chairs, this trolley and a number of fitted units. In keeping with modernist principles what was not built-in was easily moved so the room was open and flexible.
The Second World War began shortly after the completion of the living room, and left the political and social climate of Hungary in tumult at its close. In 1947 the Schreiber’s son Peter left Budapest to attend school in England, to be joined by his parents a few months later. Like many émigrés at this time, they took some possessions but left many others. Most of the built-in contents of their flat were abandoned but the drinks trolley came with them. And, like other émigrés, they changed their family name, from Schreiber to Simor.
Peter Simor later founded his own furniture company, Isoplan, which he sold to Gordon Russell, one of the leading names in mid 20th-century British design. Mr Simor said he was inspired to pursue a career in furniture by his memory of Zsuzsa Kozma’s design of his childhood home in Budapest. Just as the Schreibers had left Hungary in 1947, so too did Zsuzsa Kozma. She emigrated further, settling in Australia with her husband, where she anglicised her name to Susan Orlay and continued to design interiors.
With the aid of a colleague at the Applied Arts Museum in Budapest we discovered Susan Orlay, now in her eighties, living in a Sydney suburb. She confirmed the piece was her design from almost 60 years previous. She wrote to the Museum:
'Selecting the same profession as my father (interior decorating) I was very much under his influence and whatever I achieved I can only thank him. To be in such illustrious company makes me feel humble, but through my fathers’ spirit I accept the great honour to be exhibited in the V&A.'