#legendchats: Tara Bernerd, designer of The Hari Hong Kong
By: Michael Cheung
January 15, 2021
Leading interior designer Tara Bernerd has lent her expert eye to a wide range of projects from London and Gstaad to Tokyo. She talks to Michael Cheung about designing during a pandemic, drawing on decades of travel inspiration and her newly unveiled work on The Hari Hong Kong
Four years after The Hari London opened to great acclaim in the posh Belgravia district, the group’s second hotel is making a splash in the heart of Wan Chai. The Hari Hong Kong, with its 210 rooms as well as two restaurants, bars, meeting rooms and fitness centre, opened its doors in December as “a global beacon of modern luxury” with exacting attention to detail.
And just as he did for The Hari London, chairman and CEO of Harilela Hotels, Dr. Aron Harilela, turned to Tara Bernerd & Partners to translate his vision into the property’s interior architecture and design. Founded by Tara Bernerd in 2002, the London-based firm is known for timeless elegance and approachable luxury that’s based on an innate understanding of the location of each property and the people who will inhabit it.
For The Hari Hong Kong, Bernerd was inspired by its chairman’s own unique style and sensibilities. Harilela’s penchant for layered tailoring comes through in the bold choice of materials and rich colour palette, all designed to reflect the vibrant city he calls home.
In keeping with this vision, The Hari Hong Kong aims to reacquaint locals with the historic Wan Chai district and fully immerse cultured travellers in the neighbourhood’s unique charms, from its nightlife scene to its cultural venues and everything in between. Bernerd takes us behind the scenes on this exciting project and shares the impact of COVID-19 on her business as well as the future of hospitality.
Tell us about working with Aron Harilela on these two hotels.
I have to say that when it comes to clients, one shouldn’t have favourites. But Aron and I found a wonderful rhythm to our work. We’re almost telepathic when it comes to our alignment in the story and aesthetics.
Aron is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about hotels. He’s an impeccable client on that note. He has a keen eye for design and shows sensitivity towards the smallest details like the fabrics and furnishings.
Before deciding on the visual elements, we always start by establishing the customer journey based on the layout and infrastructure. The space planning becomes key, but as we build on the story through the different visual layers, finishes and materiality, it becomes a very natural evolution. The Hari Hong Kong is linked to The Hari London, but has its own distinctive and authentic character.
What about Hong Kong do you find charming?
I immediately think about the people, the energy and the motivation that really goes at 100%. I remember my first experience [visiting the city] at the age of 10. I thought Hong Kong was “it”, a majestic landscape that marries nature and modernity.
With indefinite travel restrictions in place, where do you seek out inspiration?
I’ve been travelling for a very, very long time. If I could describe my voyeurism as a bank, then my account is full. So I still have a lot to draw on. There’s no doubt the interaction and anticipation of a travel destination can never be fully replicated. This is also why injecting authenticity is crucial to our practice and to keep it culturally relevant. How we design a loft in New York would be totally different from how we actualise a resort in Sardinia.
How has the pandemic impacted the way you design?
[Our business is very much about] interaction, the use of office space and the creative energy of coming together. We’ve had to stay agile and implement digital tools to communicate effectively across teams regarding the day-to-day business. I feel energised knowing that all of our teams have embraced these changes.
Before COVID-19, my life was all about travelling. In some ways, because I’m on screen and engaging with my team on every single project we’ve signed across the globe, I can have more face time with everyone. This new means of remote working has helped streamline our communication flow and address the excessive travelling that’s rather unsustainable.
With staycations becoming the new normal, how do you address the element of comfort in your practice, especially with residential and commercial properties?
Before I answer your question, I’d like to note that comfort has always been an integral part of our practice. We wish to project a warm, seductive, residential feel to each space through layers of curated interiors. We’ve always been injecting hope into our projects, and it’s a design trait that we hope clients come to us for.
Now, a staycation is very different. Hotels have become a sweet escape, a “lifestyle palace” of today. When we’re collectively suffering in isolation, a night’s stay at a hotel becomes more than a treat. Especially when a state lockdown is in place, the experience of a staycation is alluring.
Could you share your thoughts on the future of hospitality?
The hospitality industry has taken a massive hit, as with many other sectors, due to COVID-19. Earlier in our conversation I spoke about what we’ve learned and the main takeaway is to stay adaptive. The leading players in hospitality have learned to adapt. It’s about crafting a place that brings a sense of safety, which currently involves social distancing and planning the shared spaces accordingly.
I think there will be a place for hotels and resorts, as people will be eager to find safety in isolation while still being able to journey and experience something new, or they’ll be returning to find a sense of familiarity