Podcast: Don’t compromise on design in later life

At Audley, we are proud to have worked with Bernard Interiors for many years. Based in Northumberland, Jen Bernard and her team specialise in high end interiors across the luxury hotel and retirement living sectors.

Talking on a recent House Guest by Country and Town House podcast, with Carole Annett, Jen explained how she started working with Audley Villages and why she feels that the retirement living sector deserves uncompromised design.

Jen always had an eye for design. Featured in House Beautiful at the age of 15, Jen went on to study architecture in Edinburgh then moved back to Newcastle where she now leads a team of 21 from a beautiful 10,000sqft open plan studio, previously a church. The team is a real eclectic mix of talent from across the country, of which Jen is the creative driving force.

Although initially forced into the senior living market during the recession, when care was one of the only sectors still building, Bernard Interiors has since led the way in interior design in the retirement living sector. Here’s what Jen had to say...

“There are preconceived ideas about designing for senior living and the choice of fabrics and furniture used is sadly very limited.”

Luxury reception with chandelier

Working for one of the market leaders in senior living, whose audience are affluent buyers often downsizing from million pound houses, have very cultured tastes, are used to travelling and staying in lovely places, and have an appreciation for art…

Why should they then have to move to somewhere where their home design is compromised simply because that is all that’s available?

“We shouldn’t patronise people of an older age by making assumptions on the environment they want to live in. We should celebrate choice in design, irrespective of age.”

At Bernard Interiors we design our own furniture with all the ergonomics suited to senior living, but with our own furniture design which is akin to a luxury hotel or a beautiful home. No one would know this is a different product tailored to the needs of someone as they age.

“This is how we have managed to reach the top of the market. There are lots of ways we adapt our designs to have flexibility and longevity in the market.“

Exterior of Cooper's Hill house

Audley Cooper's Hill

Englefield Green

Audley Cooper’s Hill retirement village in Englefield Green is a striking retirement village, inside and out, the design of which Bernard Interiors and Audley Villages are extremely proud of.

My personal style is quite flamboyant, with a passion for colour, vibrancy and antiques, although I adapt the style for each individual client, to facilitate their design aspirations. I pride myself on being able to understand what the client wants even if they can’t articulate it.

“It’s essential to listen and understand what the client or property buyer is looking for. How do you like to live? Where do you spend your time? How often do family visit? I’ll then incorporate all their aspirations into the design.”

We work on a variety of new buildings (like Nightingale Place) and heritage projects (like Cooper’s Hill) and we consider all the historical uniqueness to that building. We’re sympathetic to that and we add a new layer to that history.

Restaurant interior with designer chairs

Audley Nightingale Place

Clapham, London

Audley Nightingale Place retirement village in Clapham was completed during lockdown in 2020. It comprises 94 one, two and three bedroom apartments and penthouses and the interior design of the main house included £1 million worth of stock to fit.

For that project we drew a lot of inspiration from London and it’s surrounding history. The chairs in the entrance are reminiscent of Enid Marks who designed the fabrics for the Tube.

In each design there are subtle nods to the research we’d done at the start of the project.

“We have made a name for ourselves and secured an expertise in changing the face of design for retirement and for the elderly, moving away from the stigma of institutionalised design.”

House Guest by Country & Town House | Interior Designer Interviews: Episode 153: Jen Bernard of Bernard Interiors on Apple Podcasts

Read more interior design tips from Jen and her team.