Words by Kerstin Zumstein
Tara Bernerd injects offices with a fashion feel that takes the work out of workplace design. Kerstin Zumstein meets the co-founder of Target Living to take a look at her brand-new, self-designed office
Famous for her courageous use of bold colours and fabrics, interior designer Tara Bernerd’s work is instantly recognisable: there’s always an eye-catching cushion placed prominently in the room that acts as her signature. Currently it’s likely to be a cushion with a Union Jack on it. “I love the British flag because it’s such a remarkably bold design; I also like the Turkish flag, for that matter.” So it’s not about nationality but about identity, and her identity is –whether intentional or not – always part of her designs.
In 2002, together with German architect Thomas Griem, Bernerd founded Target Living, a company they label as an interior architecture design consultancy. The two met while working for Philippe Starck’s international property and design consultancy Yoo, where Bernerd became partner and later launched Yoo Too. The Starckian confidence to always go for a wow factor can still be felt in her work today. And, incidentally, The Wow Factor was the name of Bernerd’s ten series television show on UKTV Style, where she advised homeowners on inspirational resources and design rules.
“I left school early,” says Bernerd. “Like many 16 years olds I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But I always understood the property market.” That is probably down to her father being an active player in the property scene, but she never aimed to follow in his footsteps. She did, however, feel there was a void in the market and found her prime ambition at Yoo: to bring design to the forefront of property development.
Over the years Bernerd has made a name for herself as a luxury designer and has now injected her glamour into the workplace. Traditionally, Target Living cover 50 per cent residential and 50 per cent hospitality and work with big property companies as well as some boutique developers. “Then occasionally clients would ask us, ‘Can you do my office too?’ and that’s how we got into workplace design.” she says. “We rarely get a brief though. We present moodboards and go.” Essentially her team is let loose to stylishly decorate the given office space, which explains how her trademark cushions are found in each project. Not that any of her projects ever look the same. Each shine in a different light, bursting with personality through an individual mix of old and new, heavy materials and burgundy colours plus large samples of modern art.
Target Living is currently working on the entire design of all UK Center Parcs and previous office designs include Allied Commercial, Aspinall’s Casino, Chelsfield, Chelsea Football Club, Jay Jopling’s White Cube gallery and office, Sky TV’s concept home and Global Brands, which represents FIFA licensing. And then there is Guy Dellal’s office (son of “Black Jack” Dellal, one of Britain’s richest men) and Robert Tchenguiz’s offices (property tycoon and allegedly the man who introduced Princess Diana to Dodi Al Fayed). We’re talking big money and celebrity status. But Bernerd denies having an elitist client base. “Good design is not about a budget, it’s about making the right decision and taste.” Target Living has proved its potential in other fields and now profits from connections that want this confident glamorous style in their own offices. “We don’t aspire to do new build. We know our skill set and that is to provide a contemporary design concept, flair and, where requested, the wow factor.”
Today’s office design is also about understanding a lifestyle. Bernerd says, “The common attitude towards design has changed. A general awareness for style developed when we saw home interiors spread onto the high streets with Habitat etc. Now that market has been saturated, it will shift and people will focus their design ambitions on workspaces. After all, it says something that clients come to us to decorate their offices, not to practices that are known as office fit-out specialists.”
Of course this theory leans on the fact that people actually get to be the decision makers when it comes to designing their workplaces, and that is really only the case if you’re the executive of some swanky enterprise. But as proven by the above list of client contacts, that’s exactly where Target Living sits. And Bernerd looks the part, with her pink, orange and beige extensions, immaculate Beverly Hills make-up and stylists attending to her prior to the shoot. She’s wearing a beige fitted suit and high heels, sparkling Diamond Cartier rings and a black and gold Rolex rattles on her wrist. This may all sound pretty full on but she carries it off like an A-list celebrity. And, it needs to be said, the lady is a natural beauty as it is.
Bernerd has luxury and fashion stamped all over her, and if you don’t like Chelsea bling, it’s not for you. But the woman knows her stuff. Initially she welcomes us, appearing quite hyper and super charged. But when we sit down in her boardroom – the green room they call it, all calm and sleek with B&B Italia soft seating, a beautiful oak table and daylight warming the room – Bernerd’s aura transforms into that of a clear-minded business woman, superior, confident and very ambitious. She is evidently at ease in her new office, which was only completed three weeks ago and still gives off a slight hint of paint. “It’s made all the difference in the world,” she exclaims. Natural daylight seeps through skylights and large windows, giving the space a grand lofty feel. “I can already say productivity has gone up by 30 per cent.”
After three weeks that’s an ambitious observation, but Bernerd says her 16 staff members now arrive a lot earlier in the morning to have breakfast together and stay later because time just flies. “A kitchen is key to a good workspace,” Bernerd assesses. “We’re located just off the Kings Road but still prefer eating here, using the space for crash meetings and brainstorming while keeping ideas fresh. It ties in with the current trend of investing more in the extra areas of an office and less in the actual workstations.”
The workplace is on the second floor of a typical West London house, on a stunning Chelsea side street lined with trees and flashy cars. Bernerd reclaimed the brick wall in the boardroom and opposed this raw look with the warmth of a huge linen wall on the other side. Traditional textiles, modern soft seating and loud contemporary art prints fill the space. “There are two things about me that are vital when I design a space: I’m attracted to very bold and extremely handsome things and I love to feel warm,” she says. This explains her choice of cosy colours, soft fabrics and her love of modern art. “I love working with art,” she adds. “Of course you can’t compare art to a cushion but likewise I feel it’s about making a statement.” Her famous placement of cushions with Union Jacks or the Queen’s head on them, which we also find on the sofa in the reception area of her new workspace, is linked to Fake London, a design company with an ironic take on all things English, run by a friend of Bernerd’s. The extravagant baroque style mixed with postmodern punk is a fashion Bernerd adores. “But I have a new cushion now,” she exclaims, dragging out sacks of prototype cushions, more rock ’n’ roll with leather and studs. “They’re by Patrick Cox, shoe designer-cum-cushion stylist. I really support British design. Take Paul Smith, for example. I think he is brilliant and really respect what he has done for England.”
Ultimately, Bernerd merges fashion with accessories, style statements and classic interiors and ends up with an office. “Every piece of furniture or decorative object in this office can also sit in a home,” she says, “except the Aeron chairs that the other designers requested to sit on.” Thomas Griem sits on some kneeling-healing back contraption, Bernerd on a white leather Eames chair.
“There’s also a nice story to this office,” she says, her eyes lighting up. She takes me to a picture hanging in the corridor that shows a painting of a large yacht. “This picture was given to my dad by John Bannenburg, an elegant, handsome man who designed the first super yacht. It turns out this used to be his office and, I’m telling you, his spirit is still here. Sorry for getting all deep on you but I hope we do him proud.”
Bernerd seems very close to her parents. As we leave, her mother comes to take her to lunch, equally as beautiful as her daughter. “My dad used to say, ‘You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.’ That’s why I don’t understand why people have their office so low on their list of priorities. Impressions are so important in the business world,” she says.
And one thing is for sure, you either love or loathe Bernerd’s style, but it makes an impression you won’t forget. She makes it look easy and fun, but is keen to point out that there’s more to it than that. “There’s a huge amount of work that goes into a project before you get to talk about cushions, but I really enjoy that journey. The cushion is simply the icing on the cake!”
TARA’S TOP TALENTS
Incredible bespoke metal work – Ian Abel, founder of Based Upon
Leather leather leather – door handles, cladding etc – Keji and Tundee Eroju, founders of House
The best rugs – The Rug Company
Chunky green glasses – Habitat
True wow-factor floors – Michael Hansen of Schott and Hansen
ESC knockout handles – John Bryan
Stainless steel kitchens – Aselle