Given Clodagh’s portfolio, chock-full of luxury hospitality and residential projects around the world, one may be surprised to learn that she considers a far more modest one among her best. “One of my favorite projects ever was a 450-square-foot studio for a woman who wanted everything, and we managed to give her everything,” the Interior Design Hall of Fame member says. “Even an exercise bike.” But whether it’s a tiny apartment or a glamorous high-rise hotel—she just completed the East in Miami, featured in our July issue—Clodagh applies the same approach. All of her designs incorporate sustainable materials, biophilic design principles, feng shui, and more. She’s been a pioneer of green and healthy design since starting her practice in 1983, and it just so happens that in 2017, wellness has never been more in vogue.
Interior Design: The East, Miami, hotel is both serene and urban. What are some ways that you created that balance?
Clodagh: It's all about bringing the outside in, incorporating the elements, and addressing the senses. For the arrivals experience, we created a hedge enclosure under an awning with a teak ceiling to give the sensation of a quiet front porch on a highly trafficked road.
In the lobby, the sound of water trickles from a grand burnished copper-pipe water sculpture, called Water Music. It “plays” the sound of water as it delivers it into a reflecting pool below. Corridors designed by our design director Nancie Min invite guests along a gently lit pathway to the rooms, where each bed wall features an image of water. On the outside deck, serenity explodes into joyful color and laughter with cushioned bleachers overlooking the pool.
ID: What’s one design detail that you think makes a hotel project great?
C: Every chair in our projects goes through a sit test by our staff for approval. They must be as comfortable as they are beautiful.
Another design factor that isn’t always taken into consideration is sound. Acoustics are important, not only in what you hear, but also what you don’t hear. In the function and meeting spaces, we use materials for optimal sound absorption in order to combat auditory fatigue.
ID: What are some ways that you promote green and healthy design in your practice?
C: We have been committed to sustainable design for over 30 years, so it is rewarding to work with clients that have the same commitment. Materials need to be luxe but low maintenance to stand the test of time. All materials, in addition to being green, must be maintenance friendly to make its way into our studio's materials library.
Our design M.O. is to go beyond the physical. In addition to the usual engineers and lighting consultants, the project directory for East included consultants to incorporate feng shui, resonance symbols, biophilia, radiesthesia, and crystal healing throughout the hotel. This helps balance and harmonize the flow of energy. Judging by the feedback from staff and guests, we think it worked pretty well.
ID: Where did you grow up, and how did it influence your work?
C: I grew up in Ireland, where I roamed the wild countryside, often on horseback. I’m sure that this influenced my existence as a creative being and my innate need to express myself through design, starting as a fashion designer in the ’60s.
ID: What are a few recent projects?
C: This has been a huge year for our licensing division, Clodagh Signature. Since successfully launching our latest outdoor collection with Restoration Hardware earlier this year, as well as a fabric collection called Nomad with Brooklyn-based Fil Doux Textiles, we have introduced the Kaya collection with AKDO tiles and just announced a faucet collection with Speakman that will be distributed by Rejuvenation.
ID: Which projects are you most proud of and why?
C: The Thorn Tree Project in Kenya, where founder Jane Newman and I laid out the plan for a school library using string and sticks, is a significant one. The heat was probably in the high 90s, and there was no electricity or running water. When I returned to Africa a year or so later, I read books to the children and found that our cross-ventilation worked perfectly. It was deeply satisfying.
ID: Which person, place, or thing—inside the industry or out—inspires you?
C: I gather inspiration with every step. I'm inspired by the urban grit and graffiti of New York City, the canopies of trees, animals, wonderful graphics from Milton Glaser, and profound architecture from Tadao Ando. Sculptor Colin Okashimo and the Noguchi Museum in New York City. Food trucks, old cafes, music, literature, and theater. Water. Paley Park. Airplanes, the sky. The back rooms in thrift shops. Dedicated artisans.
ID: What materials interest you at the moment?
C: Clear glass with solar collection cells, which I plan to use for my own house in Beacon, New York (when I get time to build it!). Siding from Architectural Systems, which is made from used coffee grounds. Outdoor fabrics and rugs from Perennials and my own fabrics from C.F. Stinson, which are made from Sunbrella. I use outdoor fabrics often for interiors as they withstand stains, parties, dogs, and children.
ID: A secret source you’re willing to share?
C: Kalustyan’s, where I can buy all of the exotic ingredients I find on my travels.
ID: An item you couldn’t live without?
C: My husband Daniel—technically not an item, but we have been an “item” for many years, and that fact is something I could not live without!