An iconic property has been given a timeless elegance to attract the sophisticated 21st-century traveller while remaining true to its essence. Can Faik speaks to Tara Bernerd, founder of Tara Bernerd & Partners about the new look...
Kimpton Fitzroy London, the first UK hotel from boutique luxury brand, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, has opened its doors in London’s Bloomsbury neighbourhood. The hotel combines late-Victorian heritage with a quirky, modern vibe. The existing glamour of the building paired with Kimpton’s signature heartfelt service brings a new hotel offering to London that delivers exclusivity for everyone.
Set on Russell Square within an iconic Grade II listed heritage building dating back to 1898, design-led Kimpton Fitzroy London features 334 luxurious rooms and suites, a large ballroom, various restaurants and bars, modern meeting rooms and a 24-hour fitness centre.
A true homage to British history and design, the hotel is named after the original architect of the building, Charles Fitzroy Doll, a Titan of British architecture in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The interior features striking, contemporary design by lead designer Tara Bernerd & Partners that thoughtfully honours the building’s heritage. The bedrooms are decorated with Kimpton’s bold and playful edge and include unexpected touches such as unique, contemporary artwork and vibrant floral cushions, featuring a bespoke design by British textile artist Kit Miles.
The public spaces of the property feature some of Bernerd’s best work as she blends rich velvets in warm sage and deep navy to create a classic club house feel in the listed marble entrance. Antique brass light fixtures sit seamlessly with mid-century furniture to give a nod to the historic past while meeting the needs and expectations of the modern guest.
Kimpton Fitzroy London has an interior courtyard, the Palm Court, which provides a peaceful oasis away from the hustle and bustle of central London. Having reinstated some of the building’s original ceiling design with subtle backlighting used to create the illusion of a glass roof, the existing floor plan was re imagined by introducing a walled fireplace and glass crittall doors that lead onto a cocooned, open-air space perfect for intimate gatherings, while the bedroom interiors pay respect to the building’s rich past by ensuring that there is a contemporary-meets-antique aesthetic running throughout. The corridors that connect the guestrooms have tasselled bell-pulls outside each room and Victorian-style showerheads in the bathrooms act as a tribute to the hotel’s history. Maximising the space planning and using classic furniture ensures the interiors compliment their surroundings.
Tara Bernerd dazzles with her ability to create both cutting-edge spaces and the warmest of atmospheres in any project she tackles. Can Faik finds out how she manages it...
Tell me about your role at Tara Bernerd & Partners?
I founded the company 15 years ago, with a view of establishing a design business that would specialise in hospitality interiors. Today we work globally and focus primarily on the hotel industries. My day to day role can vary enormously, however always keeps me incredibly busy, whether I am travelling to our various properties, and therefore on-site; pitching new work; designing in the studios; writing and researching; and perhaps most relevant guiding, encouraging and leading my super team.
How and why did you get into the design industry? Where did you study, for instance?
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 predominantly 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 organising and building my first loft space on my own, which was without doubt a catalyst for what I am doing today. This led me into a period of working in both property and design and then ultimately with Philippe Starck.
What was the inspiration behind the design concept Kimpton Fitzroy London?
With each and every project we undertake at Tara Bernerd & Partners, we seek to create a sense of place that is indigenous to the culture and the location in which it is set. For Kimpton Fitzroy London, both the legacy of the building and its prestigious location immediately influenced our design approach. Our aim was to embrace the heritage of the space whilst evolving it to meet the needs of today’s guest. This project therefore nods to a more traditional style and sensibility but still possesses a modern edge.
How long did it take to bring this project from concept to completion?
This project really was a labour of love and it opened its doors earlier this Spring after four years of hard work. It is thrilling seeing the Grande Dame of Russell Square full of life again.
How many people did you work with on the design project?
A project of this size requires a huge amount of input from a lot of talented people. There was a core team of designers and architects that worked throughout, with many other people contributing along the way. For me it’s all about people from the start to end of a project. It starts with my office and my teams and follows through with the endless people we work with day to day on site over the years.
Were there any particular challenges? If so, what were they?
As with any project of this scale, there are so many incredible elements as well as a few hurdles to overcome. As with any historic building, one has to be sensitive to its heritage while striving to create something new and appropriate for modern life, so striking that balance is key. Thankfully I have a great team behind me and working with the team at EPR Architects we were able to create something truly special.
What was the highlight of the project for you?
Reinstating the Palm Court was one of many highlights on this project. Despite being in the heart of the hotel, the space was not being utilised and we sought to create and oasis in the middle of Bloomsbury. Using subtle backlighting to create the illusion of a glass roof and light finishes with natural materials we created the jewel in the hotel’s crown.
How important are public spaces in hotels?
Public spaces are incredibly important in hotels. They are where a guest’s first impression is created, or where he or she may hide away for a quiet meeting, perhaps sip cocktails with friends. They are the social hub, the heart and core, whether these are small discreet areas, or buzzy signature attractions.
What do you want in a hotel room?
I think what is key is to remember that most guests want everything from a hotel room! Our job is to try and keep up with that. Of course a great scheme and design from arrival would aim to be attractive, aspirational and even perhaps seductive. Then comes the bed, the size, the sheets. As soon as this has been examined we are onto plugs and wifi accessibility by the bed. Desk space, space overall. Cupboard space, then lighting, air conditioning, noise. I haven’t even reached the mini-bar. Then, if all of this is achieved, that’s only half your work as bathrooms matter more than ever.
What’s your favourite part of a hotel?
Each hotel has its own character and flavour, so it’s about creating a DNA for each one and feeling that character come to life everywhere. However, first impressions are key and it is important that the entrance lobby for a hotel establishes this DNA and creates an impact from the get-go. For the lobby at Thompson Chicago, we created a warm, seductive ambience that pays homage to its urban location and sets the tone for the rest of the building.
What’s next for you and your team?
We are fortunate enough to be working on lots of exciting projects around the globe. We have been appointed by a prestigious hotel group in Japan to create the design DNA for a new hotel brand and build the first of these hotels in Osaka. As well as this we have several hotel projects in LA, we are creating a resort in Mexico, a deluxe villa in Ibiza and we are working again with The Hari Hotels on their new development in Hong Kong’s Wan-Chai district. So, it is an exciting chapter for us and there is a lot to look forward to.