Inside Tara Bernerd’s latest project

The queen of urban cool has restored a Grade II-listed iconic landmark to its former glory, blending modern elements with Victorian heritage.

The 120-year-old former Hotel Russell has emerged from a £85m refurbishment as the new Principal London, with a slick new look courtesy of Tara Bernerd.

Spanning an entire block in Bloomsbury’s leafy Russell Square, the imposing purpose-built hotel was originally designed by Charles Fitzroy Doll in 1898. When it first opened, its grand silhouette caused such a stir that not only did its Bloomsbury neighbours try to copy its distinctive light terracotta façade, but the owners of the RMS Titanic also tapped up hotel designer, Charles Fitzroy Doll, to create their ship’s dining room.

However, in recent decades its grandeur and scale has best been described as ‘faded glamour’.

Now, more than two years of building works and an £85m facelift later, the Grade II-listed hotel has been completely restored to its original glory, emerging as the Principal London.

Tara Bernerd and her team worked on the design for the entire hotel including the lobbies, 334 bedrooms, and Palm Court courtyard.

Being careful not to touch the building’s illustrious history or its listed features, Tara Bernerd & Partners successfully transformed the interiors into a contemporary and modern space.

Picture ceramic and marble bathrooms, custom-made beds and furniture and most of all, specially commissioned artwork to fill its previously empty walls.

A dose of creamy drapery, tufted fabric, and artwork help evoke the Bloomsbury neighbourhood’s artistic and literary heritage, while a combination of antiques and contemporary designs breathe life back into the historic Bloomsbury hotel.

The new design is still in keeping with the structure’s rich past; there is a 200-kilo custom-designed chandelier in the hotel’s entrance, rich velvets echoed in sage and deep blue were used to recreate the feeling of an old clubhouse, while antique brass chandeliers pair  with mid-century furnishings in a nod to the hotel’s history.

The restoration was overseen by EPR Architects, who restored the marble entrance by taking out the modern mezzanine offices to create a light-filled double-height space. The original listed marble flooring was repaired with bespoke tiles from Italy, while some 6km of plaster moulding replicates the original – and apparently, you could tile four tennis courts with the Royal Doulton thé-au-lait terracotta stone needed to repair the exterior.

Working with EPR Architects, Bernerd’s team reconfigured the existing floorplan to open and optimise the space, and reinstated some of the building’s original ceiling design with glass laylight to create an open-air feel.

A neutral palette sets the overall tone with limestone flooring and muted walls, spiced up through bursts of color like eggplant, prune, and dark blue.

In the bedrooms, floors were covered with soft carpets and customized textures, while four-post beds are embellished with draping natural fabrics in subdued colours.

Bathrooms also received a modern update with cool, Crittall shower screens.

Bernerd’s team also undertook unexpected projects during the two-year renovation, such as turning what was initially sidelined as a conference room space into the hotel’s restored Palm Court, now a buzzy new restaurant.

The building’s layout was reconfigured to bring back the Palm Court, and Bernerd managed to avoid an olde worlde style, yet still pay homage to the past with wicker chairs and a double-sided fireplace, limestone flagstones, bolster cushions and custom-made iron tables to give a courtyard feeling.

Texture and colour are also introduced through an eclectic mix of furniture and fabrics.

Banquet seating with piped bolster cushions, large L-shaped sofas and natural rattan armchairs are combined with timber folding screens, Amalfi lanterns and antique terracotta pots to create a vibrant yet intimate atmosphere, reminiscent of a grand stately home.

Bernerd paired this with striking bronze Crittall doors, statement lighting and bespoke furniture.

Meanwhile, Russell Sage Studio was responsible for the hotel’s eclectic Neptune restaurant, Fitz’s cocktail bar and the Burr & Co café and bar. Fitz’s is all about glamour; a stylish, Gatsby-esque cocktail bar that’s named after the hotel’s designer, it features dark wood panelling, velvet banquettes and sofas, stained-glass windows and a hard-to-miss glitter ball hanging from its ceiling.

An all-day dining restaurant Neptune is vibrant and cool with apricot, salmon-coloured walls offset by green velvet banquettes and burnt orange chairs, while Burr & Co is an informal cafe-come-workspace.

Room rates start from £225 for a double. 

Open from 10am to 6pm for afternoon tea, Palm Court will extend its opening hours into the evening from late September, when the drinks list will include a gin trolley and botanically-infused cocktails.

To find out more visit theprincipalhotel.com.

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