TARA BERNERD, FOUNDER of TARA BERNERD & PARTNERS

Posted in People on 17 May, 2017

Tara Bernerd dazzles with her ability to create both cutting-edge spaces and the warmest of atmospheres in any project she tackles. Can Faik finds out how she manages it…

British designer Tara Bernerd is founder of the established interior architectural practice, Tara Bernerd & Partners. Working with an executive team of highly experienced architects and designers based out of the London headquarters in Belgravia the focus for Bernerd is on the relevance of creative direction and interior design. Bernerd’s business interests continue to grow, working increasingly on a global platform with projects in New York, LA, Miami, London, Hong Kong and Switzerland. Key clients include Four Seasons, Fort Capital, Starwood Capital, Thompson Hotels, SIXTY Hotels, Belmond and Berkeley Group.

Tell me about your role at Tara Bernerd & Partners?

I founded the company 15 years ago, with a view of establishing a design business that would specialise in hospitality interiors.  Today we work globally and focus primarily on the hotel industries.  My day to day role can vary enormously, however always keeps me incredibly busy, whether I am travelling to our various properties, and therefore on-site; pitching new work; designing in the studios; writing and researching; and perhaps most relevant guiding, encouraging and leading my super team.

How and why did you get into the design industry? Where did you study, for instance?

I think interior design got into me before I was aware of it, before I got into interior design.  As a teenager, my focus was without doubt in the arts and I was fortunate enough to be blessed with an unconventional CV, which was predominantly based around an essential amount of work experience and apprenticeships.  A pivotal point for me was certainly at twenty years old, when I embarked upon organising and building my first loft space on my own, which was without doubt a catalyst for what I am doing today.  This lead me into a period of working in both property and design and then ultimately with Philippe Starck.

What do you love about being a designer?

I think it is a mixture between the freedom to create and the responsibility to deliver.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I tend to find inspiration in all manner of things, but I’ve always been drawn to architecture and this translates in the use of raw materials and traditionally exterior finishes that I often incorporate within our projects. Richard Rogers, Luis Barragan, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando…the list goes on, but their work always continues to inspire.

Have you noticed any particular trends in hotel design?

Successful hotel design is not just a numbers game; it’s about understanding the demands of the modern guest and moving with the times. The continuing success of boutique hotels means that some of the larger brands have to, and indeed want to, evolve. Brands like Rosewood and Four Seasons have flourished because they understand that a brand name is not enough; instead it is about the DNA of that brand. What are your philosophies? What are your core values? Once you are able to establish this, it is a holistic process of oxygenating these principles across everything you do – from the design intent to service and operations.

How important are public spaces in hotels?

Public spaces are incredibly important in hotels. They are where a guest’s first impression is created, or where he or she may hide away for a quiet meeting, perhaps sip cocktails with friends. They are the social hub, the heart and core, whether these are small discreet areas, or buzzy signature attractions.

With so many hospitality designers in the industry, how does Tara Bernerd & Partners stand out from the rest?

We live in a very design-savvy world, which on one hand means that intelligent design and what we bring to the table is now essential.  Yet on the other hand it means that we are not the only ones doing this.  From my perspective I believe our 15 years of experience in this industry, combined with an incredibly talented team, has lead us to perhaps join the ‘premiership’.

How is the current economic climate affecting the hotel design market? And has Tara Bernerd & Partners felt the effects?

We have been working for some time on a global basis, with hotel projects currently ranging from Hong Kong to London, to Miami, Mexico, New York and LA.  The relevance of this being that we are still seeing the demand for design in hospitality by key brands. Of course there have some testing moments last year, to say the least.  Brexit certainly impacted some of our property developments in the UK and the lead up to the US election created pauses for some US clients, which has swung since the results.

Being based in London, what hotel projects are you currently working on?

Being based in London does not play a part in dictating where we work.  We are London-centric in terms that our head office is there, however I am currently talking to you from a flight to New York, where we are in the final stages of setting up a New York satellite office. All said, we are terribly proud to be working with Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital on The Principal, London at Russell Square. In addition to that we have two individual hotel projects in LA, working again with both Thompson Hotels and SIXTY.  A relatively new project started last month in Mexico too. Plus we still have a presence in Hong Kong, working on The Hari Hotel Wanchai.

How is the The Principal London project moving along?

The Principal London, I am happy to say, is really moving now and due to open this autumn. The building has quite a legacy presiding over Russell Square, so we have tried to respect that, marrying the old with the demands of the new. We’ve reinstated the Palm Court as the very heart of the hotel, as well as lobbies and reception and in addition remodelled 370 bedrooms and suites, so it’s been a mammoth task over the last few years.

How would you define your ‘hotel style’?

I think here it is more about the philosophies we uphold rather than replicating a style. It is clear that a resort, for example, in Mexico or The Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale that we are building will have a very different feel to downtown New York. Therefore, our approach is always looking at the space and the internal layouts.  I think one value I do try to uphold is to remember these today are homes from home. We will often pay homage to this with perhaps a fireplace at the entrance, creating a mood that greets you, as we work our way into the lounge bars and restaurants and up to our bedrooms.

What is the biggest thing the company has learnt over its years in the industry?

It’s all about people. It starts with my office and my teams and everyone being on board in a positive way. It follows through with my relationships with my clients and then the endless people we work with day-to-day on the various sites over what can be years. And then finally it is about the people who stay, the guests and their best interests. So I feel communication is key.

What do you want in a hotel room?

I think what is key is to remember that most guests want everything from a hotel room! Our job is to try and keep up with that. Of course a great scheme and design from arrival would aim to be attractive, aspirational and even perhaps seductive. Then comes the bed, the size, the sheets. As soon as this has been examined we are onto plugs and wifi accessibility by the bed. Desk space, space overall. Cupboard space, then lighting, air conditioning, noise. I haven’t even reached the mini-bar. Then, if all of this is achieved, that’s only half your work as bathrooms matter more than ever.

What’s your favourite part of a hotel?

Each hotel has its own character and flavour, so it’s about creating a DNA for each one and feeling that character come to life everywhere.  However, first impressions are key and it is important that the entrance lobby for a hotel establishes this DNA and creates an impact from the get-go. For the lobby at Thompson Chicago, we created a warm, seductive ambience that pays homage to its urban location and sets the tone for the rest of the building.

Tell us a bit about your new book, Tara Bernerd: Place.

The book with Rizzoli has been an incredibly cathartic experience and at times a labour of love. We struggled slightly to edit down all of the work, however Katherine Goodwin in my London office took the role of Project Manager and together with an incredible team at Rizzoli we edited the past fifteen years carefully. It’s been wonderful to hear such positive initial feedback and we are proud of the finished product.

Where currently ranks highest on your travel wish-list?

I’m very drawn to Scandinavia and I recently had an incredible trip to Stockholm, which is a great city on so many levels, from food to design and architecture, so I’d like to explore that part of the world a little more.

Where do you see hotel design in the future?

As people travel more and more, our lives are often no longer tied to one city and there is an increasing demand on hotels to be more like home. Therefore, hoteliers have to inject a sense of emotion into what they do, and that’s where we come in. The lobby that we are currently designing for Thompson Hollywood is reminiscent of the 1970s with finishes that include cantilevered grey concrete, white brick and tan leathers. However, despite having an industrial aesthetic, it will feel like somewhere one can recline and own. As well as a lobby bar it also doubles up as somewhere you might like to sit and read a newspaper, or work on your laptop.

So it’s up to us as designers and space planners to gauge how to embrace and accommodate these lifestyle changes within our schemes, to ensure that they are worthy of today and embraced by tomorrow.

In your opinion, which will be the top trends in interior design for 2017?

Personally, I tend to avoid trends and instead I tend to focus on creating a space that is both indigenous to its surroundings and able to possess a certain timeless quality. For me, the most important aspect of design is about being true to the space and seeking the components that are authentic, that will stand true in time.

What would you say are the three best places you’ve ever stayed?

There are just so many places at the top of my list. On a personal trip last year, I travelled to Ravello from Positano and stayed at The Belmond Caruso Hotel which was epic, possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world. I also feel very at home at SIXTY SoHo in New York. However, I have just returned from the newly-opened Surf Club in Miami and it sets new benchmarks in design – without a doubt it will be my hub when I’m working in Florida.

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