It’s a long way from Feng Shui that interiors guru Clodagh was born. Indeed, it’s a long way from anywhere, apart from the Galway border. Born and raised in the tiny town of Cong, Co. Mayo – in a house where Oscar Wilde once lived – Clodagh has traveled a long way to arrive where she is today, in more ways than one.
Since arriving in New York almost 25 years ago, Clodagh has worked to become a powerhouse in the fields of architecture, interiors and furniture design. Her Greenwich Village studio has been the birthplace of some of the most innovative trends in home designs today.
On the telephone, her accent is slightly muddled, without a trace of the West of Ireland dialect she grew up with.
“It’s an accent of someone who has abroad for many years,” she laughed.
Indeed Clodagh, who goes by her first name only, left Cong at an early age, attending boarding school at Alexandra College in Dublin. When she was 15, a horse-riding accident left her in a hospital bed with a broken back for almost a year.
Whilst recuperating, she came across an article in the Irish Times newspaper about becoming a dress designer.
“I thought, ‘Why not?'” she writes on her Web site, www.clodagh.com. It has been her motto ever since. Six months after leaving hospital and aged 17, Clodagh opened her own fashion house on Dublin’s South Anne Street. Her couture and boutique clothing quickly gained a reputation, and before long, Clodagh had moved to larger premises on Baggot Street, from where she began exporting her designs internationally.
Throughout that time, Clodagh married and gave birth to three sons, before she “changed husbands, changed careers and moved to Spain.”
Working in property devolvement with her second and current husband, a French photographer named Daniel Aubry, Clodagh discovered an untapped interest in architecture.
“I was helping him to develop a townhouse he had bought,” she recalled.
“We hired an architect, and I wasn’t satisfied with what he was doing. I found myself drawing over his drawings and getting angrier and angrier. So I took on the job myself. While I was doing that, I decided to change careers again. I started out in architectural design, interior design and furniture design. I opened a shop on the ground floor of that building in Spain.”
In 1983, Clodagh and her husband moved to the U.S., where she founded Clodagh design, a studio for architecture, interiors and furniture design.
“I didn’t want to move at the time, but I’m very grateful that I did,” she said.
“New York is an amazing place – you can get things done here in a way like no other place.”
Clodagh’s interior concepts, influenced by her own love of nature, balance and harmony, were markedly different from what other designers were doing. She was one of the first designers to use the concept of Feng Shui, the Chinese art of positioning objects, furniture and buildings based on a belief in patterns of yin and yang and that the flow of chi can have positive and negative effects. Based on her beliefs, Clodagh has developed a design concept that she calls “Total Design.”
“We work with color therapy, aromatherapy, bio geometry,” she explained.
“We’re about using the elements in our design to enhance people’s lives, wellness and joy. We’re about incorporating nature into our designs, buildings; we’re about building communities. Total design means total living.
Clodagh considers respecting and protecting the environment as being central to her company’s ethos.
“We have a very strong environmental stance,” she said.
“I mean that in terms of our materials, our systems and our landscaping. We’re very respectful of the landscape we are working in. For example, at the moment we’re preparing to do a project in a desert environment, so were all studying away like mad about desert landscapes and climates and habitats.”
Clodagh’s unique perspective on interior design has earned her numerous accolades and awards. Most recently, her company won the Platinum index award for Design Excellence.
She is a member of Interior Design Magazine’s Hall of Fame and is amongst New York magazine’s “top 100 architects and decorators in New York City.” She has published a book about her concept, called “Total Design.”
And clients seem to like what she’s doing: to date, her portfolio has included everything from designing Robert Redford’s penthouse apartment in Manhattan to creating the concept for Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door salons and spas throughout the U.S.
Clodagh’s company has just finished designing a luxury spa in Dunbeg, Co. Clare. Her current U.S.-based projects include developing the W Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, a million-square-foot complex, and Highline, a luxury development of 420 condominiums in the Meatpacking District in New York. Future projects include Landmarc, a restaurant in the Time Warner Building.
Does she ever stop to reflect on her success? “You’re only as good as your current project,” she said.
“My job as a clothes designer was to design low maintenance, comfortable pieces that made people look better. Now, I design low maintenance furniture that makes people look and feel better. It’s about listening carefully to people and putting yourself in your client’s shoes. And we’ve built up a really good brand here, because everyone on our team is about the same things. It’s like good truffles – they’re chocolate through and through.”
Clodagh enjoys working in Ireland, plus it gives her the opportunity to visit her son, Peter O’Kennedy, who works as a lighting designer and fine artist in Dublin.
“He’s way ahead of me,” she said proudly. “I’m there at least twice a year, but it’s not nearly enough.”
Her second son, Tim O’Kennedy, lives and works in Amsterdam as the head of an advertising agency. Her third son, who died when he was 23 “is still very much part of my life and family,” she has said.
Her husband’s projects in recent years have included doing the photography for her book.
“I’m surrounded by amazing, multi-talented people,” she said.
“I’ve got a great support network over here.”