I am especially delighted to share our latest On The Spot Designer Q&A. We have the pleasure of featuring the inestimable Clodagh. Putting aside my proclivities for all things Irish, I remain perpetually in awe of my friend and client whose talent, energy, and success are legendary and a constant source of inspiration. I hope you enjoy hearing from her in her own words! – Sabrina
My mother, Barbara Roche Fierman, the founder of New York’s Little Elves, remembers your design store in the East Village. From your childhood in the green countryside of Ireland to a career in fashion to becoming one of the more recognizable and respected names in design, was your career path planned or an organic journey?
Sabrina, It is good that your lovely mother Barbara remembers Clodagh, Ross, Williams. The small store off Tompkins Square Park in the East village housed a medley of artists and designers including myself showing their wares, from exotic jewelry to fountains to furniture. It was the joyful birthplace of my relationships with U.S.A.‘s makers and creators who continue working on my project’s decades later. Barbara Plum of Vogue called it “The design store of the decade.” With two brilliant partners, Ivy Ross, and Sherry Williams, it opened a new world for me.
As a child I roamed the countryside in Ireland either on horseback or on long walks with our multiple dogs. I knew where and when the first violet would appear, and I loved to see cloud shadows scudding over our mountains. Moss groves, Yeats’ poetry, especially the “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” inspired me. Poetry has a lyricism that evokes music. Our Victorian house, Moytura House, country home of Oscar Wilde, was built on the shores of Lough Corrib, home to that island. We spent time on the lake as children and often we would have a few dogs swimming behind our boat on our way to an island picnic because my father bred dogs. We are known for our rain and often ephemeral sunshine. The fragrance of the Irish countryside is indelible. I carry it in my soul.
And then there is the cooking, the laughter, and the puns. I was fascinated by the way people expressed themselves through their clothing, so it was no accident that I started out at seventeen as a fashion designer. I opened my own small couture house and was soon consulting with the Irish Linen Guild, and the Irish Tweed association, giving major fashion shows. I designed clothing that was comfortable first and then glamorous, because the wearer just felt good in it. Some of my pieces were acquired last year by The National Museum of Ireland. I exported all over the world and dressed people from film stars to the then Irish President’s wife, for whom I designed an entire wardrobe for a tour of African countries with her husband.
Great designers shape people’s lives. How do you see what you do?
Now as a designer for indoor and outdoor spaces to live in, I see myself as a travel guide, enabling people to go where they feel they want to go with their projects. Then, as a seasoned travel guide, I lead them to places they had never heard of or ever thought about. My goal is to enhance and create experiences where people feel safe: ease of self.
We create a detailed program for each project and thoroughly research the location and the opportunities for indoors and for landscape. For residential projects, we note the health of the family members and devise ways to support wellbeing physically and emotionally.
In corporate or hospitality and healthcare, I challenge the clients on their brand signatures and expand their reach by introducing them to contextual and environmental experiences. Thus, we enhance their lives and the lives of their guests, tenants, patients, and work teams.
As a trend setting advocate for both wellness and sustainability, what are the biggest challenges affecting the future of design as an earth friendly endeavor? What’s the biggest challenge you’ve personally encountered?
The biggest challenge facing designers is the same challenge that is facing the inhabitants of this planet. How can we all, including designers, help to balance the environment and make it healthy so that it can support everything we do. It is hard to raise global awareness and individual awareness. We are all responsible.
Name something eco-friendly that you can’t live without that helps you stay clean and organized in your own home.
Among many items in my home that are ecofriendly is a cloth called BUFF. It is brilliant because it cleans without using product. Moisten it with water and wipe down your counters, sink or whatever.
Another item I cannot live without because I have a small puppy Chipin called Rosie, who is in training, is Dog Urine Destroyer…..spray on right after the accident on upholstery or rugs or floor and, miraculously, it works!
I am buying eco-friendly cleaning products in refillable bottles. I buy Kombucha in refillable bottles. I bring my own reusable bags to the farmers market, and I have a special box in my house for donations of unused clothing, shoes, toys or whatever is in good enough shape to be of use to someone needy. Skin is the largest organ in the body and not impermeable. I feel safer filling my tub, showering and of course cooking with filtered water so I have installed filters throughout our home and recommend to our clients that they do the same thing.
I place glass screw topped jars in refrigerators to hold prepared ingredients to speed the cooking process. So many chefs have prep kitchens, so I have my own mini prep kitchen. When my housekeeper comes in, she chops and slices and dices raw ingredients so I can prepare a healthy meal in a very short time.
And in clients’ homes?
I am troubled by disorder and always try to include invisible storage and accessible off-season storage. I believe that storage, garbage, and stuff are huge challenges for all in this age of packaging and plastics. I am a cook, so the kitchen is a key element as the heart of a house where people gather to chat and assist, eat, and drink. In many houses now, there is no separate dining room.
You are renowned for your dedicated work ethic, and rumor has it that some of your younger staff has a hard time keeping up with you. First, what’s your secret?!? Haha! And second, how do you inspire them to work hard while feeding their creativity?
My family calls me the Energizer Bunny. I sometimes refer to myself as a sensitive army tank. “Not always that sensitive,” says my husband.
My unstoppable work ethic allows me to do away with such human frailties as jet lag. Each year I adopt a new motto: this year it is: “Do what you can’t do.” I breathe in the energy I need. I do take cold showers in the morning after a hot shower as a great “kick starter.” It’s all there for us. I am also fueled by laughter and wit. In our studio we laugh a lot. We travel constantly locally and to remote areas of the world. I collect quotes both funny and inspirational.
If things get really difficult, I fall back on transcendental meditation. I learned it when I lived in Spain. I work on being a flow through system so that my brain does not become a musty cabinet of old hurts and resentments.
You have been a vegan for decades. Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue a vegan lifestyle?
I had been a vegetarian for fifteen years when I switched to being a vegan and my latest change is to add gluten free. It is easy to be a vegan. Read the labels and make sure that you are getting enough protein. You do have to have a lot of conversations with the waitstaff when you are dining out as restaurants have not yet learned to mark dishes clearly vegetarian, vegan or gluten free. (Get two of Clodagh’s own favorite recipes here.)
Looking forward, do you have any exciting plans or projects in the future that you can share with us?
Currently we are working on some very exciting projects – a hotel in Bariloche, Argentina, situated with its glamorous spa on the shores of a glacier fed lake. We are working on some residential towers in Miami, residences scattered here and there, and opening new villas for Six Senses.
BIGGEST INFLUENCES IN DESIGN
The inner videos of all the hundred or so countries I have visited. Travel restores my boundless curiosity. I travel like a curious child. I leave my home as a “dry sponge, “ and return as a “wet one“ soaked with culture and music and all the beauty of faraway places with strange sounding names. I love to travel where I don’t speak the language.
To design an art museum and park where you don’t always stare at the work but physically interact with it as loungers and play places. I would love to design a fantastic vegan restaurant.
I want to finish a book I have started which links my episodic life and shares the series of coincidences which have brought me to where I am without any formal education.
I’d love to design a multigenerational residential tower with a spa as an amenity. It would have water circuits. but also dance rooms, cooking kitchens and places where kids can let loose their effervescent joy, making as much noise as they want. People should not be warehoused by age and occupation. I would hire a music designer to create a unique sound for the building; also, a branded fragrance and dominant color, so that residents would experience a nostalgia for all the senses.
I banished guilt a long time ago, but I do enjoy a shot of good tequila and a bite of dark chocolate Shhhhh….
BIGGEST HOME CLEANING / ORGANIZATION PET PEEVE
Storage. The lack of shallow storage. We create full height vertical pantries- cabinets one or two cans deep so that everything is on easy display.
TWO LIFE QUOTES THAT DRIVE ME
“Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful” – Shaker Philosophy
“Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. The first question was, ‘Did you bring joy?’ The second was, ‘Did you find joy?” ― Leo Buscaglia
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