Austrian designer-entrepreneur Julius Theodor (J.T.) Kalmar was born in 1884 in Vienna. Son to Julius August Kalmar—founder of the eponymous company specializing in chandeliers and other cast bronze objects—Kalmar gained a wealth of design expertise in his formative years. Kalmar attended the Birmingham School of Art, as well as Vienna’s University of Applied Arts under Vienna Seccession architect Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956).
Kalmar joined his father’s company in 1906, eventually taking over in 1913. As a strong advocate of the Arts & Crafts movement, Kalmar guided the company away from the eclecticism of the late 19th century. Kalmar’s design aesthetic was characterized by an integration of form and function and a blend of classical tradition with forward-facing innovation. By the mid-1920s, his designs dominated the influential, avant-garde home furnishings shop Haus & Garten, founded by prominent architects Josef Frank (1885-1967) and Oskar Wlach (1881-1963).
In the 1930s, Kalmar began collaborating with the Austrian Werkbund—an association founded by architects, artists, craftsmen, and manufacturers who were committed to modernist design principles. Kalmar created for the Werkbund a series of glass chandeliers and fixtures, which exuded meticulous construction and craftsmanship. Using traditional materials like glass, bronze, and brass, these designs lacked ornament, favoring instead a purist aesthetic.
Throughout his career, Kalmar designed light fixtures for many renowned architects—including Josef Frank and Oskar Wlach, Oskar Strnad, Clemens Holzmeister, Oswald Haerdtl, Carl Appel, Erich Boltenstern, and Ernst Plischke—as well as important institutions, such as the Vienna Opera, Burg Theater, and Vienna Stock Exchange. In the last decade of his life, Kalmar developed a number of highly popular lighting collections, including Tulipan (ca. 1960), Ice Glass (1960s), and Atomic (1969).
Kalmar passed away in 1968, but the company continued under the direction of his son-in-law, Rudols Calice. Today, fourth-generation family member Thomas Calice runs the company. Kalmar lighting can be found in prominent locales around the world, including the RMS Queen Mary 2, the Kremlin’s Presidential Palace in Moscow, and the Burj Tower in Dubai.