Tara Berned

Interior architect has designs on Hong Kong and China
"You feel there’s an incredible design revolution occurring,” says British designer Tara Bernerd, surveying the panoramic sweep of Hong Kong from the 45th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel’s Executive Club Lounge. She’s just arrived in the city from Los Angeles and has come straight from a three-hour meeting with property management and development firm Swire. “Although there’s still such tradition, or what I call tycoon flavour here, Hong Kong’s a design hub and is trying to reposition itself. Bring on the revolution, I say.”

Chairman and Head of Design at Target Living, interior architect Bernerd understands positioning, especially in Hong Kong where for the last two years she’s been trying to make her aesthetic presence felt. She opened “a satellite office” in January hoping to broker her entrance more fully and maximise the potential for greater regional exposure. So accelerated has progress been she mentions doing “a semester” in Hong Kong to alleviate the need to hop on a plane once a month from London.
"And when you travel and see and sense - and now Tweet - as much as the intrepid Tara does, that’s a pile of aesthetic inventory. She’s like Lara Croft’s luxury-loving sister, more Bvlgari than bungee, tote than tomb raider and more attentive to place setting than planetary alignment. Bernerd it seems has an insatiable appetite for adventure in living and work, which merge into a lifestyle of professional recreation."

Bernerd has a trophy penthouse project to her name in Hong Kong, atop the luxurious residential Westminster Terrace tower for Grosvenor Asia, a 300-year-old UK property developer owned by the Duke of Westminster in London; she’s completed and handed over a 38-metre Sunseeker Predator private yacht for Martin Lee Ka-shing, vice-chairman and managing director of Henderson Land Development, one of the city’s leading property developers; then there’s Highcliff on Stubbs Rd, the same address as Frank Gehry’s inaugural Hong Kong residential project, which completes next year. “Most projects will ambassador our interior architecture,” Bernerd says, sipping mid-afternoon green tea to combat the jet lag. “In Highcliff, we stripped it bare, revisited it; it’s about understanding space and the impact these things have on our lifestyles.”
Stacks Image 559

Understanding and creating lifestyle is what Bernerd does best. From high- end to high street, Target Living, which she set up in 2002, has become one of the most sought after design studios in the British capital. Target’s portfolio spans private residences in Spain and the UK, a mini-city in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Aspinalls casino in London and lodges at Center Parcs resorts in Switzerland to chef Marco-Pierre White’s new London restaurant. And when she’s not fashioning onyx-lit cantilevered staircases in vertiginous ivory towers, she’s on terra firma creating cushions and rugs for The Rug Company, presenting interior design shows on UK television and a contributing editor for British GQ. She is also a board director of London property firm Chelsfield Partners and a member of Dulux [household paint] Creative Board since 2009.
Tara Bernerd
Tara Bernerd
Tara Bernerd
Tara Bernerd
Last but not least, the breathless Bernerd blogs her global escapades – from the America’s Cup and St Tropez to Buenos Aires and Corsica – enlightening the less-incandescent (her hair has luminous pink and orange streaks) as to the most collectible, striking and damn-right-desirable lighting fixtures, floor tiles and carpets she’s sashayed and scented her fast-tracked way across. And when you travel and see and sense - and now Tweet - as much as the intrepid Tara does, that’s a pile of aesthetic inventory. She’s like Lara Croft’s luxury-loving sister, more Bvlgari than bungee, tote than tomb raider and more attentive to place setting than planetary alignment. Bernerd it seems has an insatiable appetite for adventure in living and work, which merge into a lifestyle of professional recreation.
“Less is more. It’s not just about saying ‘yes’ to the first thing that comes along.”

If Bernerd seems at home on the Four Season’s Hotel’s 45th floor, it’s not just because it’s her regular haunt on visits to the city, but explained by her revelation that she lived in Hong Kong as a teenager: “I remember when I first went to Hong Kong, and the very first impression I had arriving at the old airport, we went over all the old boats and high rises and the harbour and I think I’ve always left a part of my heart there. It’s a very natural place to want to spend more time. I also went up the Yangtze and the Three Gorges. I was about 13.” 
“I’ve always left a part of my heart in Hong Kong. It’s a very natural place to want to spend time.”
Such familiarity has allowed her to observe the city’s evolution from the distance of London, all the while thriving on the tangible dynamism of its evolving design scene. “I’ve witnessed a stage that is incredible in Hong Kong. It has been awesome to stand back and be privy to such change. From Lane Crawford [upscale retailer], to restaurants and hotels, the energy is extraordinary in the design world, and the surge of attitude to embrace a more contemporary design makes me really feel privileged to be working in Hong Kong. People are so enthused and there is so much energy and goodwill to build and design.” China’s mighty shadow looms large, tantalising too: “I really would hope and aspire to work in Beijing and Shanghai and I’ll go one step at a time. China will be important.” Whatever the outcome, she’ll need the likes of Grosvenor to make it happen: “Clearly our relationship with Grosvenor Asia is one we hope to nurture.”
Tara Bernerd
Tara Bernerd
Bernerd nurtured her own career in high style for one with no formal design or architectural training. Daughter of multi-millionaire property tycoon and Chelsfield CEO Elliott Bernerd, she developed her business savvy at property company Nelson Bakewell, then consolidated her experience by joining Yoo Ltd, Philippe Starck’s international property and design company, where she worked on international projects, became a partner, and launched the boutique arm of the agency, Yoo Too with German architect Thomas Griem. She then launched Target with Griem, whom she calls her “right hand”, and her father’s backing.

Despite the gilted upbringing, Bernerd’s not averse to getting her nose dirty and there’s a ton of grit underlying the glamour. She prides her practice on delivery and achieves it by limiting the number of projects she accepts and striking the right relationships in those that she does. “There are a number we’ve been asked to look at in the hotel and leisure world. There are opportunities, yet I’m always very cautious. One of the most important things I do is make sure I believe in the relationships. Less is more. I want to make sure when we do take those jobs on we’re confident we can deliver a unique product. It’s not about just saying ‘yes’ to the first thing that comes along.”

She’s ballsy on the bottom line too. “We really have grown in the UK and set ourselves apart from some really famous names because I never took private clients; as a rule of thumb, we’re entirely commercially oriented. The word commercial almost immediately wipes out any sense of design and glamour, but the truth is, commercial does mean restaurant, bar, casino, it does
mean residential development and by that it means that we are institutions working with institutions that understand the bottom line. We totally work with budgets and we’re renowned for not only achieving budgets but also challenging them.”

Ironically, Target Living’s success has created a problem of the brand name kind. “When I set up Target Living it never occurred to me that we’d get to such a scale, and that there’s a major supermarket chain growing in the States with the same name. [Minneapolis-based Target]. It’s not like we can send out a press release in New York with the name Target.”

So Bernerd, inimitably, has the fast- tracked solution already. “Because most of my clients want that personal touch they’ve increasingly said, ‘look, we’re so proud to be working with Target Living, the team are amazing, put your stamp on it.’ So now we’ll be Tara Bernerd & Partners, and the same in Hong Kong. It’s a very natural, obvious move. Tara Bernerd is Target Living. So in Hong Kong, Tara Bernerd & Partners is a subsidiary company, not a new company. It’s just something that’s naturally grown out of what we’ve been doing.”

America is topical given the nature of Bernerd’s latest hotel project, Belgraves, opening in summer 2011, a be- spoke blending of British hospitality with American bohemian which promises to become a second home to the British capital’s glitterati. Jason Pomeranc’s Thompson Hotels is taking a first step across the Atlantic in alliance with Hong Kong’s Harilela Group, to Chesham Place, London. The 85-room hotel in the heart of the capital will feature Bernerd’s bold interior architecture and design with architectural design by EPR Architects. Bernerd’s remit includes an 80-seat restaurant, an intimate library bar and fitness centre and she’s hyper- tracked at landing such a “seductive” project. “My treasured client Jason is certainly one who gets sex appeal with attitude, the same way Tom Ford does. His Thompson Hotels are great examples and in Belgravia he’s as central as you can be. We’re designing the entire hotel so it’s challenging, incredibly stimulating. I’m fortunate to work with Arun [Harilela] too, who I have the utmost respect for. I look forward to working more with him.”

Which seems inevitable given her growing links with Hong Kong. She’s in planning stages of a project for Martin Lee’s Henderson – elite serviced apartments – in the rapidly gentrifying Wanchai district of Hong Kong. “It’s a very edgy, very current product,” she says without going into too much detail but acknowledging a tight relationship with Mr Lee. “He’s a great man. I have grown very fond of him. He has a lot of vision.”

As does she. And hers turns regional again: “I’m very interested in Japan too. But I’m very cautious and I don’t want to run before I can walk. Growing as we are, with projects all over Europe and the US beckoning, I’m not in a rush. But if I am in Hong Kong more, it opens the door to looking at other locations more seriously.” If doors are revolving in the aesthetic heights of Hong Kong anytime soon, you can be sure that it’s Tara Bernerd & Partners both opening and designing them. Bring on the revolution. - Stephen Short