The Seer

Clodagh shares the sources that inform her vision of interior well-being
Woman smiling for camera.

Above Image: Clodagh. Photo by Eric Laignel.

By Linda O’Keeffe

When it comes to equating design with energetic balance, harmony, and holism, Clodagh was always forward-thinking. Early on in her illustrious 40-year career, she integrated feng shui, biophilia, and chroma- and aromatherapy into her interiors, long before the concepts had reached mass acceptance. It was always intuitive for her to address all five senses when she furnished a room or laid out its architecture, and from the earliest age growing up in Ireland, she tuned in to nature’s healing powers.

Clodagh’s recent projects include the Six Senses Kaplankaya Resort and Spa—including its moon garden and meditation labyrinth—in Turkey; the Crossing, luxury riverfront apartments in Washington, D.C., with a focus on intentional living; and the public and residential spaces for architect Rem Koolhaas’s Avery Condominiums in San Francisco. Last year her Life in Balance Spa at Miraval Austin was named North America’s Best Resort Spa by the World Spa Awards. Also an avid product designer, Clodagh has created carpets, bedding, fixtures, hardware, lighting, and outdoor furniture, and has an eponymous collection of indoor/outdoor fabrics with Perennials.

The holistically-minded designer is currently considering whether to create an essential oil from gorse, a sweetly aromatic, bee-loving plant that thrives in her native country, where it symbolizes love and fertility. As she notes, “I was born in Ireland, in a country house that once belonged to Oscar Wilde in County Mayo, and mystics often called on my mother there, particularly when someone was ill. An indelible memory from my teenage years is of one of these old men telling me that I would grow up to be a healer, but not in the medicinal sense. I guess I took him at his word.”

How, ideally, would you like people to react when they walk into a space you’ve created?
I’d like them to feel embraced. By that I mean I’d like them to experience a sense of contentment. I’d also like them to clue into the stillness and the movement inherent in all our work, even if they receive it on a subliminal level. To use a musical analogy, to appreciate the notes as well as the silence between them.

Modern living room with wall of small collectibles displayed.

The Life in Balance Spa lobby at the Miraval Austin. Photo by James Baigrie.

A sense of calm is truly a signature of your work.
In part that’s attributable to my belief in the power of editing. One of my favorite quotations is from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote The Little Prince. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Clutter undermines serenity; excess baggage and stale possessions carry an emotional weight. 

Your designs also show a lot of respect for order.
The old cliché “a place for everything and everything in its place” is absolutely true. If you look inside my kitchen cabinets and wardrobes, you’ll see that I practice what I preach. It strikes me as symphonic and theatrical to let most of your belongings live behind sliding doors.

Monotone modern room with row of lounge chairs along a curved wall and small seating areas to the right.

You were one of the first interior designers to use aromatherapy.
And after all these years, I still believe its effects to be very profound. I have bottles of essential oils that I mix every day. Frankincense for grounding; oil of rose if I want to get romantic with my husband. I inhale lavender if ever I’m upset. Plain and simple, our senses are at one with our emotions. I regularly suggest burning Palo Santo sticks and bunches of sage to clear energy in a home or office. I recommend scented candles to be used sparingly—I like Le Labo—and never in the kitchen or dining room, where food, herbs, and spices should provide the aromatherapy.

“The aim is focus and contentment: We all need a quiet space, whether it’s a silent room or an area that’s designated for meditation.”

– Clodagh

The labyrinth garden as seen from the air.

The labyrinth at the Kaplankaya Six Senses Resort. Photo by John Athimaritis.

You always emphasize the importance of ritual.  
Life’s minutiae take up an inordinate amount of time, and rituals enhance and transform the daily grind. I refer to the rituals I create for clients as a “necklace of experiences,” because I prefer to assign one task per room or space. The aim is focus and contentment: We all need a quiet space, whether it’s a silent room or an area that’s designated for meditation.

Wide open reception area with concierge in right background. Room has many reflective surfaces.

A lobby at The Avery in San Francisco. Photo by Scott Frances.

You design spas, hotels, offices, and residences in several countries. Are you constantly switching gears in an effort to accommodate the needs of your different clients?  
Not really, because I take a universal approach. I design for the human condition. I apply the same principles to every project, from the seemingly superficial—as in, everywhere you walk the eye should rest on something beautiful—to the core of things, when we analyze and cure the energy of our properties, inside and out. We all have the same set of organs, the same bucketful of needs and passions, so I focus on delivering comfort, well-being, and joy. 

Two images showing a set of fabrics. On left scraps of the fabric and image on right shows each of those fabrics as pillow covers.

Textiles from Clodagh’s fabric collection for Perennials: Kuba in Pelican, Raffia in Fresco, and Amazed in Basalt.

Two Henry Adams Street, Suite 2M-33
San Francisco, CA 94103