Serge Chermayeff was born in the city of Grozny, in what is now known as Chechnya, on October 8th 1900. His family moved to Britain and Chermyaeff attended Harrow School, before completing his further education in various European countries. After working as a journalist and a designer, he trained as an architect and went into partnership with German architect Erich Mendelsohn, who had left Germany for Britain to escape the Nazis. Like Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry, Chermayeff and Mendelsohn had a brief but interesting working relationship. Together they designed the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea (1935), the Cohen House, Chelsea (1936) and Shrubs Wood, Chalfont St Giles (1934).
The De La Warr Pavilion was one of the first prominent modernist public buildings in Britain. Chermayeff and Mendelsohn had won a competition to design it, promoted by Herbrand Scakville, the 9th Earl of De La Warr, looking to regenerate the town of Bexhill-on-Sea. The finished building uses reinforced concrete around a steel frame, designed by engineer Felix Samuley. The long horizontal shape is punctuated by a glass stair tower at one end, containing a steel spiral staircase. The building is now Grade I listed, having been refurbished by John McAslan in the early 2000s.
The Cohen house at 64 Old Church Street, Chelsea, also has a long low appearance like the De La Warr pavilion. It was designed for the publisher Dennis Cohen, and despite its appearance is not built of concrete but rendered brick. It was designed to be in harmony with its neighbour No,66, designed by Walter Gropius and Maxwell Fry for Cohen’s cousin, playwright and MP, Benn Levy. The Cohen house now features a conservatory by Norman Foster, added in the 1970s.
Their partnership was dissolved in 1938 with Chermayeff moving to the United States in 1940 (Mendelsohn would move a year later). Apart from his works with Mendelsohn. Chermayeff left behind a number of other buildings in Britain; a house in Rugby (1934), the Gilbey Office and Factory in Camden (1937) and his own house in Halland, Sussex (1938), all now listed. The offices for the Gilbey Wine and Gine company are situated at the junction of Jamestown Road and Oval Road in Camden, and Chermayeff and Samuley designed the foundations with cork insulation to protect the wine from road and rail vibrations. His own house, Bentley Wood in Halland, was designed with a timber frame of jarrah wood, with the grounds landscaped by Christopher Tunnard.
He spent the next 35 years teaching at various institutes, including Havard, Yale, MIT and the California School of Fine Arts. He designed and built his own house in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and spent time there painting. He had two sons, Peter who also became an architect and Ivan, a prominent graphic designer. Chermayeff died in Cape Cod in 1996.