Described as “today’s rough luxury” by lead designer Tara Bernerd, Belgraves is a stylish new addition to London’s burgeoning boutique hotel scene. Thomson Carpenter speaks with the hip designer and unravels her thought process behind the revamp of the property, bringing a bit of edgy New York attitude to the heart of the traditional British capital.
A joint venture with The Harilela Group, Belgraves is the first UK opening from Thompson Hotels, an elite portfolio of design-driven hotels in major urban cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. Boasting 85 exquisite rooms and suites, bedrooms are handsomely decorated with palettes of natural grey, hues of aubergine and deep-pile carpets – think the elegance of Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” combined with the urban grunginess of an NYC bachelor pad. Slick marble bathrooms, finished with smoked glass and brass beaded curtains, add a luxurious finishing touch.
On entering the property through an imposing pair of heavy wooden doors, guests are welcomed by an enormous fireplace. The open lobby houses avant-garde art installations, over-stuffed sofas (in inviting fabrics like velvet) and piles of the very latest Taschen coffee table books. Up on the mezzanine level is The Bar which offers the best cocktails east of Manhattan and is home to one of central London’s best kept secrets, an intimate roof terrace, perfect for an early evening rendezvous…
What is your earliest memory of ‘design’?
I was always visually led and allegedly from a young age, I was often caught rearranging rooms in our home. However, it was a little later on that I sensed I had an “eye” which started with a focus on film and led to an ambition and taste for working in the interior design field.
How did this progress and develop into a career?
Over time, as design evolves fundamentally through experience, practice, and skill; and I was fortunate to work on a number of projects that were recognised. In addition, I spent time working for the design legend Philippe Starck, which proved invaluable.
How would you describe your signature look? Has it changed over the years?
I think my style has matured, much like myself! However, my look is often referred to as bold yet warm and this has always been affected by the many layers of a project, i.e. the detail. As ever, I have always focused first and foremost on the interior layouts and efficient space planning in advance of any finishes and I believe this combination of practicality and style still reflects my values.
If you had one piece of advice for someone about to decorate a property, regardless of budget, what would it be?
What has been your greatest achievement in terms of design? A particular project for example?
Belgraves has been an exceptional project to play a part in. The building has been known to me for sometime (it was originally constructed in the 1970s and operated by a different hotel group) and was the perfect London challenge. It demanded intelligent space planning in the reconfiguration of the building, yet leant itself to a warmer, more boutique feel. It was my aim to find the hybrid between modern and vintage and create an atmosphere that people could feel was a home-away-from-home in an informal yet luxurious setting.
What was your brief from the client (Thompson Hotels)? Did they give you a particular look that they wanted to achieve?
The mood of Thompson Hotels in the USA certainly married well with our style and allowed for us to create a warm, yet moody look. In many aspects, we were embracing a New York feel within Belgravia and providing a rich and tactile design that was not trying to be overly grand.
And what has been the result with Belgraves?
From the moment you arrive, the clear double-height facade and green walls have effectively given the building a completely new identity. The introduction of brick walls, combined with grey stone, smoked wood flooring, and vintage furniture has an informal, edgy, yet welcoming style that gives a taste of New York with the fabrics, books, and art of eclectic London.
Finally, what has been your greatest source of inspiration over the years?
Travel, without a doubt the hotels I have stayed in over the years and cities I have visited. Plus my continuous admiration for architects and designers from Tadao Ando to Pierre Chareau and Alberto Pinto to name but a few; and of course my team.