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Publication Date: 2014-02-06

House Tours

Up in the Air

Jetsetting designer Tara Bernerd touches down at the sleek London aerie she calls home.

Airport lounges, customs agents, passport stamps– these have been the constants in Tara Bernerd’s life. “I’ve been a bit of a nomad,” says the founder of London-based architectural firm Tara Bernerd & Partners, who has crisscrossed the continents over the years designing commercial developments, privately owned hotels, and condos for the likes of Jason Pomeranc (of Thompson Hotels) from Shanghai to Chicago and beyond. “If I’m being honest, I’ve spent more time with British Airways than anyone else.” So the moment seemed right to pause for a more personal project: her own airy two-bedroom in a Norman Foster-designed building in central London, overlooking the Thames. “It’s wonderful to have a home again,” says Bernerd. “I like the quietness. I like the feeling of retreat. I’m not a solitary person, but there are moments when we all need to be, and I can here.”

It’s the last thing you’d expect from a woman who once called Philippe Starck her boss, and has sported colored streaks that range from pink to orange in her hair for the better part of 12 years. (British GQ famously termed her “the Pussy Galore of the London design scene.”) But it isn’t difficult to understand why Bernerd feels at peace in the space. First there’s the light, which spills in from floor-to-ceiling glass sliding doors, and whose slightest gradation is visible throughout the day. Then there’s the view, which sweeps from the Albert Bridge to the neighborhoods of Belgravia and Chelsea beyond. “There’s something about being on the river– even if it’s a bit cold, I sit out on the terrace and have a coffee and watch the boats go by,” Bernerd says. Maritime scenery notwithstanding, the mood inside the apartment is pure urban chic, flavored with the warm industrialism that has become Bernerd’s signature. As she explains dryly, “I have issues making boundaries between work and pleasure. I design everything as if it’s for me, so my work is completely married to my home.”

To make the apartment her own, Bernerd organized the rooms along an open plan– extending the master bedroom and bathroom, opening up a hallway to maximize river views, and building out a closet that rivals any fashionista’s. Square slabs of utilitarian concrete (a fitting choice given her affinity for the work of architect Tadao Ando) line the walls in the entry hall; smoked-oak flooring adds atmosphere in many of the rooms; and iron-and-glass doors by the English window company Crittall allow light to penetrate even the deepest corners. In the living room, the focal point is an iron-and-wood bookcase, an artful piece of traditional joinery stocked with tomes Bernerd inherited from her grandfather, and anchored by a minimalist concrete fireplace that’s straight out of Blade Runner. “The hybrid between modern and vintage is the ultimate for me,” says Bernerd. “The craftsmanship here brings another layer– a whole life of its own.”

The sense of understated conviviality continues in the kitchen. Rather than cabinetry, she’s employed open shelving that is partially concealed by sliding fluted-glass panels that roll on a visible track. A bar counter lined by velvet-covered stools by Erik Buch and an adjacent dining table make an ideal destination for intimate entertaining. “The kitchen is adaptable and practical,” says Bernerd. “I don’t want to have big parties here, but I do like to cook and have friends over for dinner.” Despite the home’s subdued palette of soft grays and browns, colorful flourishes emerge at every turn– blue-and-green glassware on the shelves, hummingbird-themed silk pillows by Alexander McQueen strewn on the sofa, and powder-room walls upholstered in blue leather.

Attitude bursts forth in unconventional artwork, an eye-popping mix of digital prints and oil on canvas. “I like the bold strike and punch and flavor that photography brings,” Bernerd says. Among her prized possessions: a photographic painting of the Louvre by Welsh artist Ben Johnson; a moody work entitled A Decisive Blow Against If, by friend Harland Miller, behind the dining table; and a piece by James Nares, depicting a deep fuchsia brushstroke, that hangs above her bed. The highly curated collection of furniture also exudes a strong point of view, from the modish bespoke seating by David Linley to Sebastian Herkner’s elegant brass-and-smoked-glass side table. The effect is a graceful haven with pockets of swagger throughout. “The space has huge character, but it’s subtle,” says Bernerd. “It’s sophisticated, but it also has a great warmth that embraces you.”

That cocooning quality is bound to come in handy once Bernerd’s travel schedule picks up again. With projects debuting throughout the year– including the Thompson Chicago this month and the rebranded and redesigned 60 (formerly, the Thompson New York) in the spring– it’s unclear just how much downtime awaits the designer in the near term. One thing is for certain: the boats and the river will be there, waiting to welcome her when she next drops anchor.

Written by Jennifer Fernandez | Photographed by James Merrell

This story first appeared in the Dec/Jan 2014 issue of Lonny Magazine.

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