Over the course of her illustrious career, the British designer Tara Bernerd has taken on an array of projects, from nightclubs and department stores to the interior of a 150-foot private yacht. In 2012, she completed Belgraves–A Thompson Hotel. Located in London, it was the hospitality company’s first property outside of the United States. Now, Bernerd has produced another edgy, boutique hotel for the Thompson portfolio, this one on American turf.
Thompson Chicago, which debuted in October, occupies the former Sutton Place Hotel, built in the 1980s in the city’s exclusive Gold Coast district. Following an extensive interior makeover guided by Bernerd’s firm, Tara Bernerd & Partners, the 23-story building now contains 247 guest rooms, six two-level penthouse suites, a fashionable restaurant, and more than 12,000 square feet of meeting and catering space. The overall goal, said Bernerd, was to create a comfortable, “rough luxury” atmosphere. “We wanted it to feel aspirational but not intimidating,” she said.
Visitors enter a lobby that promptly reveals Bernerd’s knack for crafting environments that are sophisticated yet cozy. A timber-beam ceiling, wood paneling, weighty bookshelves, and seating upholstered in tweed encourage guests to linger with a cup of coffee and their favorite novel. Just off the lobby, a staircase constructed of black iron and brass mesh lends a subtle, industrial vibe. Throughout the hotel, raw materials such as concrete, metal, and brick are used in a ways that Bernerd describes as “seductive and soft” while still conveying a sense of refinement.
The lobby leads to a double-height atrium housing Nico Lounge, where a verdant, living wall measuring 36 feet wide by 22 feet tall serves as a striking centerpiece. Adjacent to the atrium is Nico Osteria, an Italian seafood restaurant led by the celebrated chef Paul Kahan. Its design includes a large open kitchen and Scandinavian-style tables and chairs.
For the guest rooms, Bernerd set out to create a residential vibe. “We wanted to keep it warm and not go too modern,” she said. The bedframes and headboards are crafted of wood and connect to side tables and a velvet sofa. Lacquered cabinetry is accented with leather, and eclectic artwork adorns the walls. In most rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows provide sweeping views of the cityscape and Lake Michigan.
Bernerd said she loved working in Chicago, particularly given its rich architectural heritage. “There’s such a serene elegance to the place, with its marvelous buildings and sense of scale,” she said, adding that she’d love to continue working in the city. “I hope we are embraced.”