Tara Bernard Creates Great Locations for the World’s Top Hotel Brands

The interior designer’s latest project is the new Conrad Los Angeles

When starchitect Frank Gehry broke ground in 2019 for his Grand L.A. construction project in California, it was just the beginning of a sprawling city’s appearance—a sprawling billion-dollar complex in front of its iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall, all its mirrored, In curved glory. Grand LA, which opened in July, was conceived as a self-contained city block. For years Bernard had been working with Gehry, intent on creating interiors that fulfilled the dramatic promise of the exterior. “It’s a beast of a project,” she says, pointing out with her fingers covered in articulated and highly embellished armour-like figures by her friend Lori Rodkin. “The Conrad Hotel, which is part of its core, has 305 bedrooms, incredible restaurants, three bars, and an expansive pool deck. It takes three hours to walk around completely.”

The Bar at Conrad Los Angeles / Photo: Courtesy of Tara Bernard & Partners

Bringing a sense of intimacy and emotion to a project like this is an enigma. Any talented interior designer can create a boutique hotel with a few sketches and a whimsical backstory. But as chief interior architect and designer for the entire Grand L.A., Bernard had to step back to see the bigger picture: “We created staggered ceilings with graded curves, and on every single column before we started thinking about the walls.” Considered and floors. We had to think about a lot of things, because it is residential as well as a hotel, plus all the other destination elements of it. We inject a lot of warmth and a sense of fascination into the spaces are able to, and before we dine at any restaurant, we had a lot of emails from chefs and industry people saying how excited they were, just from a preview.” Bernard’s has been creating interiors for nearly 20 years, and while she still does the occasional private home, it’s the hotel world where she spends most of her time. When asked about what defines her style, she says she always aims for something “seductive and aspirational, but cool nonetheless.” Many point to an industrial aesthetic that runs through her projects, but always with a warmth. “I have some books in my office that I return to again and again,” she says. “There’s one on the Maison de Vere – the ‘House of Glass’ – by Pierre Chereau and Bernard Bijvoet, designed in Paris in the 1920s. It was the first time we saw what we now call loft living , and it has always impressed me: the use of steel columns and girders, and burgundy and iron-framed glasswork. I have also been greatly influenced by the modernist Mexican architect Luis Barragán, whose old home and studio in Mexico City is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. is the venue.

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The Penthouse Suite at The Hari, Hong Kong / Photo: Denise Low

Unlike many contemporary designers, there is no single clear style due to Tara Bernard Studio, despite the common denominator in their influences. Every project she has done for Belmond, The Four Seasons, Rosewood, Sixty, Starwood and Thompson has its own DNA. There’s always the wood, and the strong colors, and the comfort, and that aforementioned industrial essence, but the mix and balance is always location dependent. What it operates in London is different from Hong Kong, although it has built Hari Hotels in both cities for the same owner, Aaron Harilla. “The interesting thing about The Hari is that it’s not a huge corporate operator,” Bernard says. “Aaron is a good friend, and when we started working together, we were creating a new brand. Each hotel has urban sophistication but is also unique and its own place. When we worked in Hong Kong, we We’re paying homage to a London hotel in a way, but we swapped out a few shades of green—with darker tiles on the floor in the Luciola, restaurant—and used different sizes of furniture. But the consistent motif Men’s tailoring is the concept. I chose fabrics to reflect Savile Row, as Aaron is obsessed with his wonderfully cut English suits.”

In London, The Hari is finished with a darker color palette and warm leathers. It’s the same level of tactile luxe as the new Conrad in California, but each room in L.A. beams with tones synonymous with the golden hour at the end of a day by Pacific. She knows what works with the history of a city and the quality of its lighting.

Many of the stories in Bernard’s work come from his constant travels. The eccentricity of the English heritage interiors, and the layers of color inherent in them, are part of her principle, but then again the minimalism—clean lines of Japanese homes and the sparse but functional furnishings of traditional pavilion dwellings. “Travel opens my heart and mind,” she says. “I love it when I see someone else create an exciting combination of styles. I still think that what Christian Liagre did with The Mercer in New York in the 1990s is a knockout. The energy and attitude are great — a mix of brick walls and enticing velvet seating. I love a room that feels like the Hotel Costes in Paris, and also some real old classics like the Splendido in Portofino. Even though that’s our way of life a lot I always think we can learn a lot from Grand Dame properties, like Carlyle in New York and Claridge’s in London.

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The lobby at the Four Seasons Hotel and Residence Fort Lauderdale, Florida / Photo: Rich Stapleton

When Bernard was recently in Florida working on a new Four Seasons, she did what she always did, and made abundant notes on the story she was going to tell. The property in Fort Lauderdale is on the water’s edge, so she wanted it to have the essence of a yacht club. But she also wanted it to have a depth that a lot of modern Florida properties lack. “Many people think of the part of the country you go to for spring vacation,” she says. “As a stranger to that culture, I forgot about it and essentially worked against it. Sometimes there’s a real benefit to going into something without being influenced by past meanings. Instead, I’m a We wanted a mix that brought something of the French Riviera. We wanted a brief elegance that was subtly Mediterranean. We didn’t want the generic look. We put in luxurious flooring and furniture that’s highly varnished, so it gives you those luxury yachts You can visit Lake Como by Riva. Most importantly, it feels comfortable and at home, despite being a substantial resort.”

Working internationally involves a large team and various subsidiaries who can find the best manufacturers in each country. Bernard is currently building a hotel for Belmond on Maroma Beach in Mexico that was originally a private home, and his team is busy finding the best artisans working in local stone and wood. There is no such thing as a low-budget Tara Bernard project. “I choose beautiful materials that will last forever,” she says.

While Bernard’s look is modern, it is not overburdened by technology. “Lighting is important,” she says. “One of the reasons Costes is so cool in Paris is that it’s lit to be sexy. Sometimes it feels like you really need a flashlight to get into your room, but it works. I Always collaborating with experts on what we should do- I don’t want too many downlighters, and I want the art that we have illuminated properly. And the lighting has to change according to the time of day. Technology really Tough because what is there today is out of date tomorrow. Things should be intelligent, fast and hidden. You don’t roll up a towel to cover the light that comes on along the floor in the middle of the night when you go to the bathroom And you don’t want a power socket mounted in the wall that the company then stops using on their device, so you have to replace everything.

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The lobby bar at Thompson Hollywood, California / Photo: Trevor Tondro

One thing that all Barnard hotels have in common is the feeling of bliss. It’s the warm lighting in a restaurant that makes everyone look good, and it’s the way the rooftop pool at Thompson Hollywood is arranged that makes the place feel glamorous. Her use of marble and patterned floors and scale make everything seem grand, but always pleasing to the eye. Her bathrooms are functional and bright as well as luxurious. These are all places you want to stay. While we have experienced the home sublet revolution around the world, there is nothing quite like a busy hotel lobby and bar to make you feel connected to somewhere new and exciting. When you’re at Bernard’s Four Seasons Downtown in New York, you know where you are. It’s Three-Olive Martinis, Strip Steak, and Wall Street.

It’s surprising that, despite creating bespoke pieces for nearly every project to date, Bernard has yet to launch his own line. The pieces are made by The Rug Company—textile floor coverings featuring giant monochrome butterflies—but its peers, including Yabu Pushelberg and Patricia Urciola, all have extensive collections of furniture of their own. When will we see his universe expand to include work we can do at home? “Actually, I’m going to Italy next week to talk about exactly that,” she says. “I’m nervous about doing it, because I’m forced to draw pieces from my own range for a project as well as from the work of other designers. But we’ve been designing for so long, And we have so many pieces that we can make, and there’s been a lot of feedback from people who want them, so it’s going to happen. But after 20 years, editing a capsule collection will be tough.”