On certain days and from a certain angle, Sam Chermayeff can be seen relaxing in the buff—in the comfort of a Bertoia side chair—on his East Berlin rooftop. The architect, who co-founded with fellow SANAA alum Johanna Meyer-Grohbrügge, built a sauna up there, boxed in by four walls of clear acrylic.
Chermayeff is equally transparent when divulging the backstories behind the continuously changing showcase of pieces layering his 1,300-square-foot Mitte district loft. There’s the lab coat he took from a silent party thrown by Marina Abramovic, the toy crane he hung a light bulb on, and an oversized photo of an Italian beach that he repurposed into a trifold screen. “I’m into trying things, and I rearrange all the time,” says the native New Yorker (he spends one week a month there).
Chermayeff’s experimentation perfectly offsets the emptiness of the Brutalist-inspired surroundings. His home occupies the fourth floor of a five-story concrete structure built—on the derelict foundation of a failed 1990’s investment—by friend, neighbor, and mentor Arno Brandlhuber, the architect behind cavernous art spaces throughout Berlin. The interior is stripped to the barest essentials, with exposed plumbing, double-height windows (essential for a city short on winter light), and walls of concrete and painted plywood. Chermayeff describes the uninsulated floor—raw concrete speckled with holes and veins—as “so special in its non-specialness.”
The living area is more gallery than lounge. Seating consists of two transparent acrylic benches, their colorful, blobular cushions inspired by a friend’s sketches of back pain. “To be honest, nobody ever sits in my living room,” Chermayeff admits. Instead, people linger in the kitchen, with furnishings designed to rove. The vintage porcelain sink and the toaster, dramatically elevated on steel pedestals, become sculpture, while Tue Greenfort’s glass dining table is illuminated by the moody glow of a Berlin street lamp (complete with gas tank).
The bed, a triangle that fits four, is an experimental piece made for an exhibition. “It is incredibly inviting, you have a lot of room,” Chermayeff says mischievously.