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The Fejers

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I identify in the tradition of the outsider artist, but I was brought up in a house of colour and design, and have always thought in pictures. My father was a designer in post-war Britain, and my grandfather, was a Hungarian watercolourist.

I credit my father and grandfather as my teachers as I grew up with the paintings around me.  My father came to London fleeing from the Nazis, and his family were murdered in the Holocaust before I was born.

In this section of my website you will find information about the Fejer family.  Click to jump straight to Alex Fejer or to Yvonne Fejer

A romantic encounter

George Fejer was a designer in the post-war era who had come to the UK during World War II, fleeing the Nazis. He made a contribution to interior design which is recognised in the literature of that time, and in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Among other achievements, he worked on the Festival of Britain, and brought flat pack kitchens to the UK.  

 

As well as being a designer he was a consultant on design, and educator, writer and an accomplished watercolourist. Despite being a creative thinker and a great communicator, my father never made much money .  He continued to work until the day he died.

In 1960, George Fejer met Yvonne, a young journalist working on House & Garden magazine.  My mother liked to tell the story of their first encounter. She was sent to interview him, and told her assistant, in the lift after the interview, that's the man I'm going to marry. 

There was a 20 year age difference between the couple, and many of my father's friends disapproved of Yvonne, and thought that she was a flighty young thing who would break my father's heart.  Nothing could have been further from the truth. My father owned a plot of land in Wimbledon village on which they built a modern bungalow from glass and wood. 

In 1961, I came along, followed shortly by a sister, brother and menagerie of pets.  It was an idyllic childhood. It was only years later that I realised how strange it was that we had no relatives on either side of the family.

George Fejer 1912 – 1996

Overview of his career

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While in Zürich, during the Second World War, George Fejer invented a new translucent material called 'Iso-lumen' . He visited England and showed the material to the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He was allowed to stay in the UK.  In 1940 Iso-lumen was manufactured by Pharoah-Gane & Co. Ltd. who employed him as a consultant. The material was used for repairing bomb damage. But then the factory at which Iso-lumen was manufactured was destroyed by bombing, and production ceased.

 

Between 1943-47 George Fejer worked for the Selection Engineering Company on the design of huts for the armed forces and prefabricated buildings (the Uni-Seco prefabs).

 

He designed  furniture for the 'Britain Can Make It' at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 1946, and worked for Venesta, a manufacturer of plywood products, from 1946-49.

 

For the Festival of Britain, in 1951, he designed the Plastics, Rubber and Commerce sections for the Power and Production pavilion.  

 

From the 1950s onwards Fejer was a designer and design consultant for several companies including the kitchen manufacturers, Hygena Ltd. (1954-72);  Crown Merton (1955-72); the white goods manufacturers AEI Hotpoint (1959-61); the bedroom and kitchen furniture manufacturers Boulton & Paul (1987-89); and for the manufacturers of bathroom fittings Ideal Standard (1989-92). 

attributions 

https://collections.vam.ac.uk

Early Life

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George Fejér was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1912.

In 1931 George entered the prestigious Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zürich where he trained as architect.  Having completed his architectural studies, he pursued a postgraduate course and submitted a thesis on constructions using translucent materials. 

In 1937, George suddenly had to give a hand in running his father’s antique shop in the heart of Budapest.  The first thing he did was to redesign the stationery.  This card is part of the project.  The text reads Antique Furniture and Objects D’Art.

In 1939, George returned to Switzerland as a stepping stone to emigration, due to the political situation in Hungary.  He continued his research into translucent materials and created a new material which he called Iso-lumen.

 

He came to the UK because he had met a teacher called Ena, who he married.  He showed his new material to The Ministry of Aircraft Production and was allowed to stay in the UK. 

 

In 1940 Iso-lumen was manufactured by Pharoah-Gane & Co. Ltd. who employed him as a consultant. The material was used for repairing bomb damage.  After the factory at which Iso-lumen was made, was destroyed by bombing, production ceased .

In 1943 George became a consultant to the Selection Engineering Co and UNI-SECO and he was involved with creating prefabs for people who needed housing during and after the war.

The bombing of towns and cities resulted in a desperate need for housing. A speedy and economical solution was the manufacture and installation of prefabricated homes. Planned to be a temporary fix, many prefabricated homes lasted longer than originally intended. In 1942 the Government set up the Burt Committee to 'consider materials and methods of construction suitable for the building of houses and flats, having regard to efficiency, economy and speed of erection'. It led to the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944 and the Emergency Factory Made Housing Programme, and which became known as the Temporary Housing Programme. The Act set out to construct at least 300,000 homes during a two-year period and provided for the construction of temporary, prefabricated housing. Made by the Selection Engineering Company, the Uni-Seco prefab was constructed using a timber frame and asbestos cement. The Uni-Seco was a highly versatile prefab. Designed in a kit, it could be assembled in a variety of combinations to suit its location.

The Uni-Seco's makers, the Selection Engineering Company Ltd, employed the Hungarian émigré architect and designer George Fejér who brought with him ideas about streamlined kitchen design and appliances.

Attribution: Prefabulous

George would use a modular prefabricated approach when he created his own bungalow house in Wimbledon in 1964.

After the war, George was naturalised as a British subject, became a member of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He worked on the Britain Can Make It exhibition in 1946, at the V&A Museum, and then on the Festival of Britain which took place on the South Bank in 1951. He was involved with the plastics, rubber and commerce displays in the Power and Production Pavilion.

A sketch for the Festival of Britain

George had a view on how to improve the design of more or less everything in the home from the kitchen sink to the bedroom cupboard.  He was keenly interested in ergonomics and concerned to make using everyday objects easier for people.

Between 1955 and 1972, George worked for a manufacturer called Corfield-Sigg which produced stainless steel saucepans with plastic handles under the brand, Crown Merton. 

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One of George Fejer's most successful collaborations was with the chair manufacturer Guy Rogers, who were based in Liverpool. Working with their designer, Eric Pampillon, George created many iconic chairs of the 1960s, including the Manhattan range. Here are some cuttings from his archive.

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Yvonne Fejér 1933 – 2016

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Taken from the eulogy given by Geoff Carr at Yvonne's funeral in 2017

My memory of first meeting Yvonne is a little blurry. But what I do remember was the extraordinarily welcoming atmosphere of the place. I felt instantly at home. And the impresario of that welcome was Yvonne.

 

Yvonne Cooper-Keeble was a Suffolk girl, born in Ipswich. She was the daughter of Mary Daines, a glamorous actress. Glamour, is obviously a genetic trait, for Yvonne had it in spades. Sadly, her mother Mary’s life was cut short by illness. Yvonne, in an early manifestation of the concern for others that she showed throughout her life, nursed her mother until her death.

 

Yvonne went to art college. Art defined her life. She painted. She sculpted, as it were, in flowers – not least for the very church we are in today. She sculpted also with plants that were still growing, in the wonderful gardens of her houses . And she was mistress of one other art – cooking. If there had been a Turner prize for cookery, Yvonne would have been a contender.

 

After college, she went to London, got a job as a journalist, and lived with her sister Clare, her nephew Nick and her niece Caroline. There, and I quote Caroline, “She was so exciting. The fashionable way she dressed and the job she had with Conde Nast, with the regular articles by her on how to beautify your home, before every other paper started doing it.”

 

As a journalist myself I know that journalism is a great profession. A great way to meet new people. Which, one day in 1960, she did. She was sent by her editor at “House and Garden” to interview a certain George Fejer for a series called “Designers of the 20th Century”. During the interview she asked him how he would define good design. His reply was possibly the most elliptical proposal of marriage in history: “it would”, he said, “take the rest of our lives to explain that.” Yvonne felt likewise. As she told her secretary when they were going down in the lift from George’s office, “that’s the man I’m going to marry.”

 

Three of the consequences of that fateful interview were: Juli,  Yolanda and their brother Alex. A fourth was the house where, a couple of decades later, I arrived with my bottle of wine. George, lucky fellow, owned a plot of land in Murray Road, Wimbledon. On it, after Juli was born and the flat they were living in was beginning to feel cramped, he erected a house of his own design. Juli told me that she can remember it being built. She would have been about two at the time. It was a thing of the future, a statement of 1960s optimism – all wood and glass and clean angles and flat roofs, with one, huge living room that had a galley kitchen installed at the far end. And what a kitchen. George was, after all, one of the foremost kitchen designers of the era.

 

The result, naturally, was perfect for parties. Juli and Yolanda told me of one in particular that Yvonne had organised when they were children. Instead of just serving the goodies on a plate, she made a train out of chocolate fingers, pulling wagons loaded with Smarties.

 

That was typical of her, as was another story Juli told me, of her fierce defence of her brood. One day, on the annual Fejer vacation to the Isle of Wight, Juli was trying to feed a donkey on the beach. Yvonne did not like the look of its large, yellow teeth bearing down on her daughter’s tiny hand, and put her own hand in the way as protection – getting badly bitten in the process.

 

There were parties for grown-ups, too, of course. One was the annual dinner that Yvonne cooked for George’s Hungarian friends, including Paul Nash, whose son Jeremy is also with us. A few months after I met Juli, I had the privilege of coming to one of these dinners. This was a group who had known each other since they were youngsters, and who were now happily forgetting the fact that they were perhaps slightly older than they once had been. Wine was consumed. Violins were played. Czardas were danced. But all the while, while the guests were on stage, it was the hostess behind the scenes who was guiding events.

 

In retrospect, that was the end of an era. Juli and Yo were spreading their wings. Alex was growing up. So Yvonne and George decided to move. The question was, where?

 

Well, you can take the girl out of Suffolk, but you cannot, apparently, take Suffolk out of the girl. And back she came – this time to Bury St Edmunds – and here she and George stayed. 

 

Yvonne and George’s own house, centuries old, was in many ways the obverse of the ultra-modern one in Wimbledon. But in the ways that matter it was identical – a canvas on which Yvonne could paint her particular people-loving personality.

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