Despite never receiving any formal training, Serge Chermayeff was one of Britain’s most admired inter-war architects and designers. He was born into luxury as the son of a wealthy Jewish family on the outskirts of the Russian empire and was sent to Harrow to receive a British education. However, the Russian Revolution of 1917 deprived the family of their riches, and Chermayeff moved across Britain, Europe and even Latin America looking for work.
In 1924 he took a job in London as an interior designer and over the next few years established himself as one of the industry’s leading figures. By the early 1930s he was able to branch out into product design and even architecture. With his international connections, Chermayeff was receptive to new ideas about modern design and was a member of organisations such as MARS and the Twentieth Century Group, which promoted the new style.
In 1933 he formed a partnership with the German architect Erich Mendelsohn. Between them they constructed one of Britain’s most iconic Modernist buildings, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea.
In 1940 war and bankruptcy forced Chermayeff to emigrate to America, where he reinvented himself as a teacher and academic. He ended his working life as Professor of Architecture at Yale University.