With the Debut of the Four Seasons Fort Lauderdale, a Sister City Flexes its Glow Up

British designer Tara Bernerd peels back the layers of a spring break capital on the cusp of transformation and presents a contemporary vision of the new Fort Lauderdale.

All photos by Rich Stapleton.

When Tara Bernerd first visited Fort Lauderdale in 2014 to scope out a new project for Four Seasons, she left pleasantly surprised. “People would say Fort Lauderdale is very ‘spring break,’ but it reminded me of Cannes in the old days, that Riviera feel,” she says. “There are layers, which I love discovering. The interior canals and waterways, the huge yachting community, some very chic Scandinavians who go there over Miami Beach—you start to unravel this sort of elegance.” 

Long a second fiddle to sexier sibling Miami, Fort Lauderdale has emerged as a destination with depth in recent years. The South Florida pandemic boom notwithstanding, a slew of new tony condominiums are evidence that the city is becoming an increasingly attractive place to live among the cosmopolitan crowd. The $400 million Auberge Beach Residences & Spa development, which opened in 2019 with 171 residences designed by Meyer Davis, the upscale 105-unit Solemar’s in Pompano Beach, and ODA’s forthcoming 300 West Broward condo high rise are just a few of the splashy new arrivals.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company recently submitted a proposal for an underground tunnel, called Las Olas Loop, to alleviate traffic issues with 21st-century infrastructure. The new Brightline high-speed train has been a game changer, connecting downtown Fort Lauderdale to Miami, West Palm Beach, and soon Orlando. One thing it’s always had? Some of the region’s most idyllic beaches.  

Located on a prime swath of North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, the Four Seasons Hotel and Residences is another milestone in the makeover of “the Venice of America.” It’s the latest conquest from developer Nadim Ashi’s Fort Hospitality, which also owns Four Seasons properties in Palm Beach, Surfside, and Miami. After various delays, the property is finally ready for its close up—it was worth the wait. 

British designer Tara Bernerd was tapped for the interiors of the 189 guest rooms and residences as well as the public spaces, delivering an aspirational vision worthy of the city’s contemporary evolution. Start with a patina of quintessential Florida, add a dose of Riviera panache, sprinkle in some Gio Ponti, and the result is a world-class getaway that would garner buzz anywhere, be it Miami or the Mediterranean. “I wanted to stay true to that Floridian style, pay homage to the Bahamas with some of the furniture, but there’s something about the Riviera—the Riva boats, the highly varnished woods,” she says. “I wanted the hotel to have expressions of something like a hybrid that reminds me of the feeling of the Mediterranean, and then pulling in the threads of what I’ve been learning about Fort Lauderdale.”   

Bernerd’s beat-mixing is harmonious and makes a grand impression from the moment guests walk through the door to the reception. Lined in eye-catching geometric travertine floors inspired by Ponti’s iconic patterns, the fluid space transitions into the all-day café Honey Fitz—the name of John F. Kennedy’s presidential yacht—where specialty coffee and pastries displayed in glass-domed dishes are on offer every morning. In the evening, it transforms into an intimate champagne lounge whose low-lit brass wall sconces, midcentury-style armchairs, and custom rattan sofa set an atmospheric sundowner vibe.  

One of Bernerd’s triumphs is the execution of holistic themes with an understated yet tasteful stroke. The guest rooms are a showcase for that skill. Done up in neutral tones and an abundance of linen, small details make a big impact, be it the architectural wrap-around walnut shelf that gradually forms into a minimalist desk and references a Chris-Craft yacht or the rattan-and-wood headboards that wing out at the ends like origami. “At the end of the day, what we try to do is invisible design, which is to bring an attitude or a personality to a place without it feeling overly heavy on you,” she says.    

The synergy continues upstairs on the third floor, where designer Martin Brudnizki, a fellow Brit, lent his touch to both the pool deck experience and restaurant Evelyn’s. Known for crafting theatrical environments at renowned boîtes, such as his Garden of Eden makeover for London’s Annabel’s and his aquatic maximalism scheme at the London and Miami locations of Sexy Fish, he shows a deft restraint at Evelyn’s. The refined yacht-club aesthetic of blues, whites, and woods strikes the right balance between context and kitsch. “Materiality is key when it comes to ensuring a nautical scheme doesn’t feel pastiche or gimmicky,” he says of the high-gloss lacquer, elegant linen, marble, and velvet that subtly nod to billowing sails and sleek boat interiors. 

Add in the sweeping ocean views and the space is the perfect setting for chef Brandon Salomon’s artfully plated spins on eastern Mediterranean cuisine, including locally sourced micro vegetables perched atop skewers, olive wood–smoked octopus accompanied by vibrant dollops of vadouvan carrot puree, pomegranate-glazed salmon kababs, and a range of mezzes served with fluffy stone-fired pita. It’s an ambitious concept for a town once derided as a restaurant desert, but the food scene’s growing complexity is another sign of Fort Lauderdale’s maturation into South Florida’s goldilocks city. “In our eyes, it perfectly straddles the energies of its neighboring cities, blending the elegance and tradition of Palm Beach with the vibrancy and contemporary flair of Miami,” Brudnizki says. “We feel it’s bound to become a destination in its own right.”

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