Knowing from the start that a building is destined to become a landmark can be thrilling, yet high-pressure, for those creating it. When it came to Conrad Los Angeles, which debuted in July 2022 as the first of the Hilton luxury brand in California, the Miami-based developer Related Group entrusted London’s Tara Bernerd and Partners to design interiors worthy of the structure by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry.
Contributed by Alicia Sheber
Located in the city’s cultural epicenter, Bunker Hill, amongst design icons like the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Broad Museum and the adjacent Gehry-conceived Walt Disney Concert Hall, the 305-key hotel is part of The Grand LA, a mixed-use complex with residences and shopping, dining and entertainment venues also by Los-Angeles-based architecture studio, Gehry Partners.
“I felt a huge responsibility,” said Tara Bernerd, founder of Tara Bernerd and Partners, “but I couldn’t let that overshadow the great joy of working on such a building. We made decisions that would feel sincere and appropriate for Gehry’s design and speak to the local community. It means so much that he feels it is a success.”
With their staccato rhythm, The Grand LA’s two skyscrapers create a jazzy dialogue with the curvaceous fluidity of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Bernerd’s interiors reflect and enhance this conversation. Staggered dropped ceilings and features with varying heights bring intimacy to spaces that could potentially feel cavernous, subtly zoning them and directing guests’ attention toward desired views.
The five restaurants helmed by award-winning chef and humanitarian José Andrés illustrate the effect, including the 10th-floor venues San Laurel, which overlooks the concert hall, and Agua Viva, which enjoys panoramic city scenes, along with The Beaudry Room, where Bernerd’s favorite seat at the cognac-colored banquette provides great views of the bar and the vista. Rather than focusing on one style, the hotel’s varied strands of interior design concepts echo downtown LA’s diverse cultural heritage and spirit, resulting in an eclectic, residential vibe with warm, textural layers.
For Adam Heffron, Conrad Los Angeles’ GM, weaving the hotel into the fabric of the surrounding neighborhood has been integral to sustaining his nearly 400-strong team. Faced with labor shortages further worsened by pandemic constraints, Heffron flipped the conventional recruitment strategy. Rather than luring employees from west-side Beverly Hills hotels, which would have made training easier, his team proved Conrad Los Angeles’ commitment to community investment by recruiting downtown residents through non-profits such as Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program.
“We threw out the window the idea that they needed experience with hotels, luxury or customer service,” Heffron said. “So long as we recruited people who wanted to be part of this special project, we could help them learn the luxury elements. I’m proud to say we have team members from Homeboy Industries in every department who are thriving in this hotel. It’s a testament to being willing to take a chance and show that with the right opportunity, you can make a real difference.”