When you walk into a luxury hotel, you should feel the personal character of the host city or country, but you should also feel a little bit like you’ve come home—at least, that’s how Tara Bernerd sees it, and she’s been tapped to design lavish hotels by some of the most trusted brands around the world.
“I had always traveled,” she says, “and I love the notion of these lifestyle premises that were almost homes from homes, or [how] one hoped to arrive in a place they could call their own. It was certainly, for me, something I’d always hoped to be involved with.”
Since she started Tara Bernerd & Partners 18 years ago, she’s worked with Belmond, Rosewood, Starwood Capital, Sixty Hotels and more. From her office in London, she’s crafted divine destinations all over Europe, Asia and North America. Currently, she’s working with the Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale and Thompson Hotels in Hollywood.
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When her business was just getting started, her offices were actually across from London’s Sheraton Belgravia.
“Every day I’d stare at this hotel on the corner and ‘I really hope one day I can go and redo that whole hotel,’” she says. “I’m fascinated by creating that lifestyle, that DNA. It has to be so much more than a home, because it has to offer that sense of place for everyone.”
She made that dream a reality, turning it into a Thompson hotel with Jason Pomeranc. Today, Tara Bernerd & Partners is totally global. Osaka, Vienna, Munich and Hong Kong have all been touched by her style. She prides herself on treating each project differently and exploring the area where the hotel will be, making sure to create the most authentic space possible.
“We treat each job as its own personality, its own character,” she says. “We’re very removed from that sort of cut-and-paste society, or in a sense, having a stamp of our own.”
Four Seasons Downtown New York
When taking on a new project, her team researches everything from local design elements to who exactly will stay in this hotel, and what the city or location represents.
“We really dive into a place,” she says, “Every project starts very individually, and each one represents a challenge of creating what I refer to as ‘DNA,’ because in a sense, we tell the story. We’re the storytellers, so we have to give the narrative of what the hotel will be.”
She considers the motives of hotel guests, whether they would want to get a drink at the hotel bar or read a book in a secluded library area. Then, she designs the most nuanced hotel possible.
“In Mexico, it’s a great example of really learning the local culture, trying to work with local artisans, and really choosing whether it’s flooring or carpets,” she says. “Sometimes it’s art, sometimes it’s less obvious. Sometimes it’s the joinery that might make the opening of your rather marvelous mini bar with all these beautiful local stones. I think each project is just like opening up a new storybook.”
The Hari Hong Kong, premium corner room
It’s also about the design choices that guests won’t notice. Navigation and efficiency of a space is incredibly important to Bernerd and her clients, but to the guest, these things should be invisible.
“There’s a real consideration of creating an atmosphere that can be aspirational, but still have a sense of residence and home,” she says. “There’s a huge amount that goes into even checking [things] we take for granted. In the bar, are we going to be serving food there? You might have a little club sandwich with your glass of wine, so seat height [is important].”
Even something as seemingly background as bright lights in the morning and dim lights in the evening can change everything about a guest’s mood and experience. The drink menus change with the sunset, the music changes tone. It all becomes part of the art.
“I feel huge excitement, as if each new project we’re awarded is my first hotel,” she says. “I haven’t lost the enthusiasm, but … beyond all the layouts, the choice of finishes, the textures and the detail, is the responsibility and the sense of scale of these buildings; the responsibility of cost to clients, but also that you can inject some occasional joy or feeling through your design to people living and breathing in these spaces. That’s a great privilege and something I love doing.”
The Hari Hong Kong
It’s a tough job, and it wouldn’t be possible without her team, for which Bernerd is extremely grateful.
“It doesn’t finish or start with us as the lead architects or the lead interior designers,” she says. “We’re part of a bigger picture … I want to say a huge thank you to my team, because we’ve all morphed onto what we’re doing now, Zooms, and we’ve actually done really well.”
Currently, Bernerd and her team are working with Fort Capital to build the next Four Seasons in Fort Lauderdale, and with Frank Gehry and Related on a hotel in Los Angeles.
“The hotel is confident, bold, energetic,” she says. “I’m really into a lot of different areas of that, from the lobby and arrival to some of the guests’ suites, [which] are incredible. When I can travel, I’m excited to get there. I believe in it. We put everything into making sure it’s truly authentic, and that is the story of all of our projects.”
Thompson Hollywood rooftop pool terrace