January 25, 2017
We sit down with the extraordinary designer Clodagh, to learn more about her journey into the world of design and her thoughtful approach to creating harmonious spaces and product lines for the retail market.
Clodagh, tell us how you started in the design industry.
Clodagh: My father had planned the life of each of his three children and his plan for me was a professorship in classics and mathematics…an odd combination. I excelled in both and achieved my Trinity College entry honors two years too soon to enroll. However, as fate would have it, I fell off a horse and broke three vertebrae, and as I lay in pain, I saw an advertisement in the Irish Times, exclaiming “Why not be a dress designer?” So naturally, I thought why not? As soon as I could get moving, I left school and started my own fashion business at the age of seventeen.
I loved the idea of authentic fabrics, weaves, forms, and shapes, so I designed everything: shoes, bags, ball gowns, and casual wear, and also took care of the hair and makeup for my models. I roamed around remote places all over the world for inspiration, which started my love affair with unaffected indigenous cultures. I licensed my designs to factories in Ireland and Germany, and created couture collections to show in Ireland and the USA every year. My focus was, and still is, on comfort, glamour and the celebration of life and humanity. This focus is still with me, and is a great foundation for what I do now.
I was remarried, had moved to a new country, and changed my career when I started my own business which I named, ‘Total Design’. I did exactly the same thing as before, but instead of clothing I developed a new passion for homes, offices, hotels, and spas.
What is your design philosophy?
Clodagh: I call it Life-Enhancing Minimalism. I passionately believe that good design supports well-being and that it can transform lives. Clutter can undermine serenity, but at the same time minimalism should not be self-denying. My design work is informed by tenets of integrative medicine, which address the entire body and psyche as a whole. Ancient methods and philosophies such as Feng Shui are combined with cutting-edge approaches such as chromatherapy and biophilia to inform my work. The resulting interior design spaces I create comfort not only the body but also the mind, and create environments of harmony, health and prosperity. Finally, my motto is “If you cannot find it, design it.”
How would you describe your job?
Clodagh: My role as chief designer and CEO for Clodagh Design is to be the ultimate keeper of the brand, so that everyone on our team knows whether any element of design on any project is on-brand or off-brand. A key element of our brand is authenticity, which includes a respect for the materials we use and their particular properties. I personally spend endless hours studying wellness and vitality and many leaders in the field influence me – the Dalai Lama is one, and his Wisconsin colleague Dr. Richard Davidson, who studies the healthy brain and happiness, is another.
The Clodagh brand lens can be used to provide design perspective on a wild discotheque loft space, a multi-family residential building, a spa, or a cozy restaurant… and every element must have a very good reason for being there. This tight focus makes it possible for us to further assist our clients in the development and extension of their own brands.
What projects does your firm work on?
Clodagh: We design interiors for private residences, multi-family developments, hotels, spas, retreats, and commercial spaces such as museums and restaurants.
Please tell us about your new Manhattan studio and your team, which has become quite large.
Clodagh: We keep our design staff around twenty-five, which is not really that large for the size of some of our projects we do. It is important for me to always know everyone in the studio – even the newest intern – by name. I think that if your firm grows beyond that, something gets lost. The work stays much more personal at this size.
We create wellness in our workplace by providing healthy snacks, large tables throughout to encourage group meetings and open discussion, supportive music and even think about environmentally sound cleaning agents. I have given up formality. Clients are treated to delicious vegan meals, we have a chocolate happy hour, and we curate our teas, coffees and wines. And of course dogs are allowed and welcomed.
How do you work with your team and your clients most effectively?
Clodagh: We embrace a wholeness-centric collaborative workspace. We believe in an open house environment and sharing. Clients are welcome to hang out at the studio, and the library is available to any visitor. My theory is that there is no competition between designers; you can put the same ingredients in front of fifty chefs and you will get fifty different dishes.
Tell us why you love to design hotels.
Clodagh: I am a nomad and I have travelled in over a hundred countries. When I arrive somewhere after a long flight, I want no visual clutter around me and I want to be greeted with the highest quality of service and amenities. Hotel rooms are the best design labs for the fusion of practicality, simplicity, and a compelling design aesthetic, and all should be harmoniously integrated to make one feel comfortable. With this same thought in mind, I design lobby areas with visual gifts to enhance the guest’s arrival and give a visual hug to welcome you… the result is a big “aaahhh” of relief.
I love hospitality and truly believe we are all in the hospitality business. My mother always said that if guests ask for something, you may conclude that you were not a good host – because their travel needs were not anticipated before their arrival.
To be continued…