Three years ago, I was fortunate enough to be a guest at the Thompson Chicago Hotel, which had just opened at that time. I stayed in a corner room that had been designed by Tara Bernerd, its pinstripe walls and tweedy throws a tongue-in-cheek aside on the nature of business of travel. Now the British-born Bernerd has a monograph called “Place” out from Rizzoli, and she kindly emailed us a few answers to questions this afternoon – from Asia:
What’s your background in design?
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 organizing 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.
Your design philosophy?
To approach each project on an individual basis, starting with location and therefore respecting the surroundings. In addition, our emphasis is always on layout and the two combined form the DNA that is born from each project.
The intent of your designs?
Firstly, to communicate the design to the client effectively and to respect and build to budgets and timings, which is fundamental in the hotel industry especially. And, of course, to create something visually seductive that also always pays careful consideration to comfort.
Where do you find your inspiration?
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 interiors. 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 of what inspires and seeing the world and the never-ending sensations we discover, clearly impacts our work also.
What materials do you favor and why?
As said, I am drawn to contemporary architecture; you can see a lot of its influence within my designs and their tendency towards raw materials traditionally used for a building’s exterior. The hotel lobby at Thompson Chicago is a great example of this with its mixture of exposed brick, iron framework and timber beams. However, it is important when using industrial elements to combine these with softer, warmer tones and textures to create an inviting environment. For Chicago, the raw components were balanced out with rich, smoky velvets, fantastic grey flannels and soft leathers to create an overall sensation of rough luxury. However, brick walls, wooden floors and Crittall windows all stand the test of time.
The biggest challenges?
Today’s biggest challenge is always timing. Design in an evolution, thus we must take time to establish a design DNA so that our projects last the test of time, whilst also being savvy enough to pick up the pace when we have to.
Your favorite designers and projects?
Today I can list a number of key incredible designers. Thomas Heatherwick is a current benchmark and yet, I am also increasingly conscious of my own Partners’ skillsets. As for our projects, they all have their own absolute character, however I am mad about hotels and that is a real soft spot for me.
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