19 Interiors Questions With Tara Bernerd

19 Interiors Questions With Tara Bernerd

You’ve most likely been in a Tara Bernerd building... One of Britain’s leading interior designers, she’s transformed some of London’s most talked-about spaces – from the coolest five-star hotels to high-rise towers like Heron and One Blackfriars. We spoke to the woman herself to find out more about her eponymous interiors agency, which works on projects the world over, and learn some truly expert tips for updating a space…

How would you describe the Tara Bernerd look?

Our approach to design is a layered process and we try to ensure that each project we undertake is indigenous to the environment in which it is set. However, there’s a definite thread that runs through our work that links them all on an aesthetic level. Perhaps it’s a slightly more handsome feel with an industrial edge, or the fact that all our spaces possess a timeless elegance.

What have your standout projects been?

Our projects are all so different: from the people involved to the places themselves, each one has been a meaningful relationship. That said, The Principal London, which has recently launched, is a project we were terribly proud to be a part of. The building has quite a legacy presiding over Russell Square, so we’ve 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 334 bedrooms and suites, so it’s been a mammoth task over the last few years. It’s wonderful to now see it open and full of life again.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m fortunate enough to travel with my job, and this is the source of most of my inspiration. Being exposed to new places, cultures and architecture ensures we’re always challenged and taking a fresh approach to design.

You’ve worked everywhere from Hong Kong to Hollywood – do people’s tastes differ from city to city?

For me, the most important aspect of design is being true to the space and seeking components that are authentic and will stand true in time. Drawing upon the local culture, the history, the climate, and the purpose of a space, we seek to create a design DNA that’s indigenous to its environment and thus completely embraces the character and identity of the space in which it is set. A resort in Mexico, for example, will have different demands and ultimately a different feel to a restaurant in Belgravia.

What’s your advice for people starting a redecorating project?

When looking to re-imagine a space it’s helpful to first establish how it will be used, the different demands this might present and how you’d like the space to feel. By analysing these requirements, you can then make informed decisions on a new layout and the types of fabrics and furniture that will contribute to achieving this.

Inspiration can be drawn from so many places, but having a fundamental understanding of your space will help you successfully apply any ideas you have.

When it’s a bigger project, like a whole house, which room should you start with?

A bigger project can sometimes seem a little overwhelming, so rather than focusing on one room I would suggest taking a methodical and layered approach. For example, when working on a hotel project we always start with the layouts – it’s an essential part of the process and ultimately determines the success of the finished space.

This methodology can be applied in the home too. Before doing anything, look at the layout of each room and the connecting areas to ensure it’s functional and flows seamlessly. Once that’s complete, you can assess what aspects of the design will be carried through the entire space, such as floors, wall colours and ceilings, and then finally each room can be given its own identity through furniture, fabrics, and art.

How often should you redecorate? How long does it take a room to look dated?

For me, there are no hard and fast rules with interior design. We don’t tend to follow trends and timeless elegance is something we always strive for, so it might be less about redecorating and more about refreshing a space with new art, accessories and fabrics.

A good layout and classic pieces of furniture will ensure a room doesn’t date. And with art, a piece that you’re truly attracted to is something that will ultimately stand the test of time.

Any more tips for using art in the home?

Art is a great way to elevate a space and should be considered carefully. The artwork doesn’t have to match your room, you can be eclectic. Traditional rooms can take modern art, and modern rooms can take older style paintings – often it’s better to mix it up.

What about accessories?

In my own home, the accessories are things I’ve collected over the years – so, although they contribute to the overall design, they also have meaning. A home is an incredibly personal space, and I think the pieces you surround yourself with should reflect this.

Plants are also key in terms of bringing another energy to a space. Beyond the plants themselves, it’s the ceramic pots and vases that add that final layer and can become somewhat of a statement piece; creating attitude and impact.

How do you make a small home or room look bigger?

It’s all about utilising the space intelligently and having a refined approach to furniture. I think decluttering is also important and should be done frequently to ensure the items you live with have meaning and purpose.

What’s your advice for people needing more storage?

Storage is an important part of creating a functional home that’s both comfortable and practical, but it can often be overlooked. Assessing the demands of a space and then changing the layout and furniture in accordance should provide a solution.

You work a lot with Crittall doors, which we love – are they a big commitment?

They are an investment piece, but they do look very chic. They’re ideal if you want to maintain an open-plan effect, but also have the option of creating more intimate, closed off areas. They’re also a great way to incorporate a modern edge in heritage properties. We installed them at The Principal and it brings another dimension to what is, architecturally, a very traditional building.

Any fabric rules you swear by?

I often layer different fabrics to create a textured, luxury feel but this should be done carefully. Excessive use of contrasting colours and prints is something I tend to stay away from – sometimes less is more.

How can lighting transform a room?

Lighting has so many functions within a space and its importance shouldn’t be underestimated. As well as contributing to setting a mood, lighting can also support the layout of a room by indicating the different functions of certain areas. For example, we introduced a dramatic modern chandelier to the lobby in Thompson Chicago which not only anchors the space but creates a warm and inviting glow.

How do you make a room feel cosy?

This is something I’ve seen an increasing demand for in the hospitality industry – people want hotels to feel like a home from home. The same principles we use in hotels can be applied anywhere – to create a warm and inviting feel, we use a layering process, in which we start first with fabrics and furniture and consider everything right up to the final details such as books or vases, which give the space a soul.

What would you never do in a project, even if the client asked for it?

We’re very fortunate with our clients in that they tend to look to us for creative direction. We always start by providing the client with a clear brief and vision. From there, we go on to establish a strong design DNA which will inform the rest of the project.

What are the most common mistakes people make in their homes?

Following the latest design fads and trends can be an error. If you’re clever with your design, it won’t end up looking dated and you won’t need to redecorate every few years. It’s also important to be sympathetic to the property and embrace its language – too often the building and it’s setting can be overlooked.

What should you invest in?

Invest in hard finishes such as flooring, iron-mongery and wall treatments. These are the elements that need to stand the test of time. I also think a great piece of art adds character and ultimately punctuates a space with your own personality.

And where can you save?

Upcycling is become increasingly popular and is a really easy way to save. Furniture can often look different depending on its setting, so it’s always worth trying to re-use what you have before looking for something new. There’s also great charm in things looking as though they’ve been collected over a number of years, rather than being bought purposefully for a space.

Tara's little black book of interiors...
Best high street store: The Conran Shop
For fabric: Tibor
For tiles: Domus
For flooring: Schotten & Hansen
For paint: Paint & Paper Library
For affordable artwork: Lumas
For kitchens: B&B Italia
For bathrooms: Hansgrohe
For soft furnishings: Pierre Frey
For eclectic finds: Alfie’s antiques
Visit TaraBernerd.com

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