Clodagh, the internationally acclaimed head of New York-based Clodagh Designs, began exploring how design supports well-being and can transform peoples’ lives long before the field was considered a field, much less given a name. Her third book, “Life-Enhancing Design,” published last year, focuses on the value of and the need for designs that appeal to every sense.
A believer in the tenets of integrative medicine, which address the entire body and psyche, Clodagh has embraced both ancient and cutting-edge methods to energize and balance space since launching her eponymous design firm in Spain more than three decades ago.
Synonymous with prestigious hospitality projects like The Miraval Resort and Spa and Six Senses Hotel and Spa in the Douro Valley of Portugal (named one of the world’s top hotels in 2017), Clodagh credits much of the growing awareness about how design impacts health and wellness to The Global Wellness Summit, an invitation-only event that draws 600 to 1,000 international leaders in the $3.7 trillion global wellness economy each year. “It’s really very interesting with speakers on every attitude and aspect of wellness,” she says. “Last year, they asked me to deliver the keynote: Wellness By Design … from the Cradle to the Departure Lounge,” because I think good design supports you throughout your entire mortal life.”
As Susie Ellis, Chairman and Chief Executive of the summit noted at the time, “As new movements like wellness architecture take hold, I’ve often found myself thinking that the design world is finally catching up with Clodagh’s original vision. And she continues to raise the bar with her one-of-a-kind spaces.”
In fact, long before wellness was a burgeoning global trend, Clodagh was among the earliest adopters of feng shui in her practice and she continues to incorporate it along with related ancient modalities in groundbreaking projects today. (Think chromotherapy, Biogeometry, biophilia and more).
“In the early days, some 36 years ago, I had residential work for a banker,” she recounts. “He was a real money guy and my husband said, ‘For heaven’s sake, don’t mention feng shui to him, because he’ll think you’re totally woo-woo. So, I snuck my feng shui master in when my client was out, and we worked everything through, and the client moved in and was very happy. About a month later, a local newspaper featured an article on feng shui that was basically about me and how I used it. So, doesn’t the phone ring? He says, ‘Clodagh! Why didn’t you use feng shui on me?’ And I said, ‘Well, I did, but I didn’t dare tell you,’” she recounts with a laugh.
Today, the proponent of “life-enhancing minimalism — everything that you need, but nothing more than what you need,” doesn’t hide her methods. In fact, with award-winning work that spans more than 30 countries and a wide range of eco-conscious projects from million-square-foot hotels to restaurants, retail stores and even product, she notes that “our biggest developers are using Biogeometry, feng shui and all these things because they make our projects so much better,” Clodagh relates.
Not a Trend, a Movement
“Wellness is a key factor in all of our designs. We just finished a very large project called Jackson Park in Long Island City where our job was to create two extraordinary lobbies for three towers encompassing 1,875 people, where that number of people could feel well and joyful and connected, because you know loneliness is making an enormous amount of people ill. I think a lot of that has to do with our devices. People are not communicating and there’s a lack of human touch. We hug everybody that comes into the studio and it’s very nice. Seriously, I have friends tell me that nobody touches them. They go for a massage and that’s about it. And when people are lonely, their energy drops.”
Born in the west of Ireland and raised in Oscar Wilde’s country home as a child, Clodagh, who launched her couture fashion house at the age of 17 in Dublin, relates that she was not formally trained. “I probably had a few classes in lighting at Parsons and a couple of things, you know, but I never had a degree in anything. A couple of honorary degrees, but never ones I feel I truly earned. But before I came to the States, I ran into a woman who was an environmental architect from the University of Liverpool, and I said, ‘I need somebody like you.’ We worked quite a bit on working with solar energy and how to aerate a house through cross-ventilation and where the bedroom should be facing and all those things. So, I got a deep amount of interesting information from her, which of course, I applied when I came to the States.”
Not long after arriving, she was walking down Madison Avenue and ran into somebody who had photographed the door of her fashion store in Dublin. “He asked what I was doing, and immediately without taking a breath, he asked if I would design his apartment. I said, ‘Bob, you haven’t seen what I do,’ and he said, ‘I did see what you do; I went to your house in Dublin and it felt so good there.’ That was kind of an important moment for me, because people always say, ‘Oh, your home looks great.’ But how does it feel? That’s the thing. When he said that I had a flash of consciousness and thought, ‘This is where I have to go. I have to develop this. I hate the word trend. I believe that I am part of a movement, and the movement is by no means complete, and it is continuing. All these years later, I still try to keep my brain open enough to take it all in.”