Tara Bernerd Designs for Rough Luxury

London-based designer Tara Bernerd describes her firm’s work on the Thompson Chicago hotel as rough luxury.

Once known as Hotel 21, later as Le Meridien and then as Sutton Place, the Thompson has been reinvented for a new generation, with a younger, hipper touch.

“We understood what they stood for: four stars plus, and for business travelers and kids with Instagram,” she says.

That understanding is how her 17-person firm came out on top with the hotel’s design commission.

“One of reasons we won this job was the work we did on architectural language, and then the schematic treatment of the first and second floors,” she says. “That was the kick-start of the attitude for that space.”

After demolishing those two floors, she did her homework in Chicago, researching materials and influences across the city.

“Once we got the space flowing and I got to know Chicago better – there’s something that screams architecture there – that’s where we picked up the use of brick and put the staircase in the lobby,” she says. “Plus, there was Mr. Wright.”

As in Frank Lloyd.

Now, one cocooned space melts into another – she’s placed an atrium martini bar behind the staircase, a balcony above it and a dining area beside it, with a two-story, living garden wall behind it all.

“We’ve used it before as an internal/external space,” she says. “It’s inspired by Jean Nouvel’s Musée du quai Branly in Paris.”

For warmth, she added a fireplace in the lobby, and raw materials like tan brick, polished concrete and blackened steel, with fabrics like black velvet layered atop. “It brings character, but warmth too,” she says.

This is a hotel lobby with a sense of home and of elegance, all at once. “It’s rough luxury, and somehow that’s a little seductive,” she says.

There’s more of her work to come to come, in New York. She’s currently working on a penthouse in Manhattan and a boutique hotel in Soho.

And she’s contemplating opening an office there as well.

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