AHL Insider:

Tara Bernerd

Interior Designer & Founder of Tara Bernerd & Partners

  • In the world of hospitality, the ability to utilize modern design while still retaining the comfort guests expect has become the definition of luxury. For Tara Bernerd, it's been the definition of her whole career. Working across residences, restaurants, and of course, hotels, Bernerd has developed a deft touch in creating inviting spaces that still exude elegance.

  • This year Bernerd was tasked with compiling her life's work into a single tome for Rizzoli, simply titled Tara Bernerd: Place. In it she details her many global hotel projects - The Hari in Hong Kong, The Thompson in Chicago, The Principal London, and our favorite, The SIXTY Soho. But more importantly, she showcases her perspective, giving the reader both insight and edification into designing for the modern era. Nonetheless, we spoke to Bernerd to learn more about the philosophy that drives her passion for travel, hospitality, and design.

  • What do you do and how did you get here?

    I founded my 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. 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 predominately 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 of what I am doing today.  This lead me into a period of working in both property and design and then ultimately with Philippe Starck and John Hitchcox at Yoo, before setting up my own studio in 2002. Without doubt there have been a number of pivotal people throughout my journey, including clients who I now consider dear friends, and who have opened up new paths to me and been mentors. No matter how technologically driven the world becomes, people and relationships are always key.

  • Can you tell me about some of your recent projects?

    We are very fortunate to currently have a number of great projects in the pipeline. As well as several hotel projects in LA, we are creating a resort in Mexico, a deluxe villa in Ibiza and we are working again with The Hari Hotel Group on their new development in Hong Kong’s Wan-Chai district. We have also been appointed by a prestigious hotel group in Japan to create the design DNA for a new hotel brand and build the first of these hotels in Osaka. So it is an exciting chapter for us and there is a lot to look forward to.

  • What are you inspired by right now?

    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.  Without question, my travel also plays an enormous part in my design ethos.

  • How do you think luxury has changed since you began your career?

    Ideas of luxury are constantly evolving, however regardless of style I believe that well-designed environments make people feel better. So whether it’s the old-school glamour of Claridge’s and the Savoy, or a more intimate vibe of some of the new boutiques, luxury is about an overall experience that elevates one’s mood. In addition, 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.

  • Where do you think hotel design is headed next?

    The world has become increasingly nomadic and travel is now an essential part of many people’s lives. However, people still crave a rooted feeling, a sense of place. Hoteliers therefore have to inject a sense of emotion into what they do, and that’s where we come in. Technology of course is another factor; from lighting down to the USB chargers. We like instant gratification today and hotels have to keep up with the demands of the modern traveller. However, despite all the technological advances, people are still key and it’s interesting to note that whilst one can now work remotely on a laptop or tablet, often when travelling people will choose to work in friendly open-plan spaces or casual lobbies rather than their room. So it’s up to us as designers and space planners to gauge how to embrace and accommodate all of this within our schemes, ensuring that they are worthy of today and embraced by tomorrow.

  • Do you approach design differently for different cities (e.g., NYC vs London)?

    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. It is clear therefore that a resort, for example, that we are designing in Mexico or The Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale will have a very different feel to the Hari Hotel we are working on in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district. Drawing upon the local culture, the history, the climate and the atmosphere of a place, we seek to create a design DNA that is indigenous to its environment and thus completely embraces the character and identity of the space in which it is set.

  • Young people are more design conscious than ever before - what advice would you give someone about designing for themselves?

    My approach to design is always to create a sense of place that is true to both the location and people who will inhabit it. This is the guiding philosophy behind everything we do at Tara Bernerd & Partners and therefore space planning and internal layouts are key. Indeed, it isn’t until these are fully established that we can begin to look at spec and palette. So when designing your own space, it should be a layered process in this way, with details such as books and vases serving as the very final element and finishing touch. More important than anything however is taking time in planning before diving in and giving any project, large or small, due consideration.

  • Can you describe your dream project? 

    I’m working on it! We’ve been incredibly fortunate to work on so many great projects with some of the world’s most incredible hotel brands. The dream is to just keep doing what we’re doing and staying in the game.

  • Who in the hospitality industry do you admire?

    Building and designing hotels has always been the ultimate dream and today the hotels we have worked on, and therefore the clients we are working with, are beyond anything I could have imagined when we first set out on this journey. We’re very fortunate to have built such great relationships over the years; from Jason Pomeranc and the SIXTY Group to Aron Harilela at Harilela Hotels. Barry Sternlicht at Starwood Capital is of course a total visionary, whilst Nadim Ashi of Fort Partners, who we are working with at Four Seasons Fort Lauderdale, is another giant in his field. I hugely admire all of the clients we work with and hope that we can continue to do great things together. I have a lot of respect for Belmond as a leading luxury brand an am constantly surprised by newcomers.

  • What is your favorite hotel in the world?

    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. It was an amazing experience and has a very special meaning to me, so I hope to return there year- after-year in the future. I also feel very at home at SIXTY SoHo in New York. It was my third hotel project working with Jason Pomeranc and he was therefore open to my instincts for the space. The overall vision for the hotel was perhaps “less is more” and to embrace the building’s heritage and the historic neighbourhood in which it resides, so there is very much a home-from- home vibe there and it is always my base whilst in NYC.

  • How do you plan on spending your next day off?

    Days off for me are often in short supply and my schedule for the next few months is quickly filling. As we speak, I’m on my way back to London from a full-on couple of days in Tokyo. Then it’s LA, NYC and Mexico over the next few weeks - as well as fitting in some studio time in London! So the perfect day off for me is at my apartment in Battersea. Perhaps I’ll go for a run in Battersea park and head out for lunch somewhere nearby with my fiancé, before heading back home for an early night with my latest boxset addiction. However, if I have the whole weekend I often take the Eurostar and never tire of Paris and roaming around the city.