Serge Ivan Chermayeff (1900 – 1996) – Russian architect and designer

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Plan furniture - Serge Chermayeff
Plan furniture – Serge Chermayeff

Serge Ivan Chermayeff (1900 – 1996) was a Russian architect and designer. He was born in Grosny now Azerbaijan and professionally active in Britain and the United States.

Biography

1920s

In 1910, he moved to London, where he worked on the editorial staff of Amalgamated Press from 1918 to 23.

Worked in Argentina from 1922 to 1924.

From 1924 to 1927, he worked as the chief designer for the London-based decorating firm E. Williams.

From 1928 to 1931, he was co-director of Waring and Gillow’s ‘Modern Art Studio’ department of French furniture in London. He attempted to reorganise in the image of a great department store of the kind for which Paris had become famous.

In 1928, at Waring’s, he held a landmark exhibition of French and English furniture. He became an architect in 1929 and was a pioneer in accepting tubular steel furniture in England.

1930s

Early geometric Art Déco decorations, some painted and silver-leafed, with incised wood or contrasting veneers, were designed by Waring and Gillow in 1930.

Interior and product design in the new style of the late 1920s led him to Modern architecture. An all-metal and mirror bathroom in The Studio Yearbook (1930) with ‘plymax’ dado, ‘plymax’ and rubber base, and polished and lacquered aluminium plumbing fixtures are typical of his interior designs.

In 1932, he founded the furniture retailer Plan. He worked closely with manufacturers Walter Knoll and Franz Schuster, both from Germany, from whom much of Plan’s designs were derived. He sold Plan in 1936. Chermayeff collaborated on lighting with Best and Lloyd on R.D. Best’s Bestlite, producing similar Bestplan lighting. In 1933, he began an architecture practice, with a house in Rugby as his first structure. By 1935, his architecture work included extensive use of his furnishings, including clocks, rugs, textiles, radios, and furniture. 

A Pair of Plan chairs by Serge Chermayeff
A Pair of Plan chairs by Serge Chermayeff. (Bonhams)

He commissioned the 1938 Recumbent Figure sculpture by Henry Moore for his own 1935—38 house overlooking the South Downs, Bentley Wood, near Halland, East Sussex. 

1937— 39, was a member of MARS (Modern Architectural Research Group). I n the mid-1930s, he pioneered Modern industrial design in Britain with his bakelite radio housings for Ekco and designed bent-metal tubular furniture for Pel. 

He gave Erich Mendelsohn a base in England when Mendelsohn was forced to leave Germany, resulting in their being partners in an uneasy relationship 1933— 36, producing some of the most notable buildings. 

Chermeyeff’s use of Samuely’s structural engineering began a period coinciding with the British Modern movement in architecture. 

1937-39, Chermayeff was again independent; moving to the USA in 1939, he first worked as an architect and town planner. 

1940s

'Sitting room designed by Sege Chermayeff', c1941.
‘Sitting room designed by Sege Chermayeff’, c1941. Serge Ivan Chermayeff was a Russian born, British architect, industrial designer and writer. From The Studio Volume 121.

He succeeded Laszlo Moholy-Nagy in 1940, became head of the department of design, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago. 

1942— 46, was director of the department of art, Brooklyn College, New York. 

1946—51, succeeded Laszlo Moholy-Nagy as president, Institute of Design, Chicago, which became a department of Armour Institute of Technology (renamed Illinois Institute of Technology). 

1952—62, was professor of architecture, Harvard University, and, 1962—69, professor, Yale University.

1952—57, was a partner of Heywood Cutting, who had taught at the Chicago Institute of Design; while at Harvard, collaborated with Christopher Alexander and at Yale with Alexander Tzonis. During his time in the USA, he designed textiles, interiors, and exhibitions and painted; (with Alexander) published the book Community and Privacy: Toward a New Architecture of Humanism (1963) and (with Tzonis) The Shape of Community: Realisation of Human Potential (1971). 

Serge Chermayeff Radio (model AC74) 1933
Serge Chermayeff Radio (model AC74) 1933

British Works

In Britain, work included a 1930 remodelled apartment, London, for himself. 

  • 1929—30 Cambridge Theatre, London;
  • 1931—32 studios and fittings, BBC, London and 1934, Birmingham;
  • 1933—34 (with Mendelsohn) Shrubs Wood;
  • 1933—35 (with Mendelsohn) Earl De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea;
  • 1936 (with Mendelsohn) house, Chalfont St. Giles;
  • 1936 (with Mendelsohn) house, Chelsea;
  • Ciro’s shop, London; 1935—38 own house, Bentley Wood, near Halland; house, Rugby;
  • furniture designs for Pel and Plan; radio cabinet designs for Ekco;
  • 1936—38 research laboratories for ICI, Manchester;
  • designs for ARP;
  • From 1929, carpets woven in England by Wilton Royal Carpet, near Salisbury.

American works

In the USA, his work included 1942 Mayhew House, Oakland, California; 

  • 1942 Horn house, Redwood (Marin County), California;
  • 1945—72 extension to own home, Truro, Massachusetts;
  • 1954 and 1956 houses, Truro;
  • 1962—63 residence, New Haven, Connecticut.

Exhibitions

Came into prominence with furnishings for 1928—29′ Exhibition of Modern Furnishings,’ London. His Plan furniture was shown in his ‘Weekend House’ installation, 1933 ‘British Industrial Art in Relationship to the Home’ exhibition, London.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Tilson, B. (1990). Plan Furniture 1932-1938: The German Connection. Journal of Design History, 3(2/3), 145-155. Retrieved April 6, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1315683

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