Friday, May 19, 2017

Clodagh

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Clodagh was included in first batch of interviews and she was as fascinating then as she is this second time around. With that background straight out of an Edna O’Brien novel, “downwardly mobile aristocrats” as she describes her family, growing up in Oscar Wilde’s summer home and having a near-death experience after breaking her back when she was teenager, how could she fail to be? She started out as a fashion designer “a thousand, maybe two thousand years ago” and is now known throughout the world as a designer of tranquil spaces, although that is not quite how she sees herself. She says she designs for the appropriate space be it a nightclub or a spa—for her, it is “a question of putting your ego out of the way.”

I’m interested to pick up where we left off—what’s changed?

In my life, you mean? Well, we moved our studio because the building was sold to Equinox, so we had to get out very sharp and fast. We found this very beautiful skylit studio on 23rd and Park with three massive skylights. We’re still in construction  because we’re putting in a full kitchen so that we can give cooking and nutrition classes.  You know that nutrition has always been part of our thing.

How did that come about, the nutrition being part of your thing? Were you doing that the last time? I don’t remember.

My life’s like an accordion … it does this and it does that. Well we had always had that in the old studio too … we had two raw cooks … we weren’t allowed to cook in the old place but we were allowed to do prep and raw food.
Clodagh's uncluttered, restful design permeates her entire Nolita apartment.
"Seconda" armchairs by Mario Botto surround a table Clodagh designed in 1986. The sculpture standing near the front is from the Dogon region in West Africa.
Looking across the dining table toward Clodagh's comfy "T-shirt" sectional sofa from Montauk. The area rug is from Clodagh's "Strata" collection by Tufenkian.
Carved African stools surround a coffee table also designed by Clodagh in 1986.
Who was that for—the staff, the clients?

It was kind of for everybody. And we had a class. In this new studio we’re going to have a proper cooking class. We’ve been advocates of wellness in the workplace since I was a fashion designer in Ireland a thousand years ago, maybe two thousand years ago. The whole place is very carefully monitored—all non-toxic cleaning agents, and now we’re putting in a massage program so that every member of staff gets a massage a month.

How many employees do you have?

Twenty-five—it’s very big on payday but not enough at all when you’re trying to rush out a project. And we have a lot of projects on our boards right now.
Light fills the living room space through a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.
A detail of Clodagh's concrete-and-steel "Rolling Coffee Table".
Favorites books are stacked in a pair of cubes by Tucker Robbins.
A potted orchid as well as ceramic sculptures are arranged atop a custom cabinet that was designed by Clodagh.
Fascinated by lighting, Clodagh often finds candlelight a relaxing alternative during the evening.
What types of projects are you doing?

We just opened a very big wonderful hotel called EAST for the Swire Group in Miami. It’s like a business-glamorous resort hotel. And we did a hotel for Six Senses in the Douro valley. We’re going back there next week to do the villas.

What’s the ratio of spa hotels to the residential work like the rental buildings you’ve done, would you say?

(Laughs) I’ve never thought like that!

The last time we interviewed you, the rental buildings with all these amenities hadn’t quite caught on—what do you think of them?

There’s a kind of “amenities war” going on with developers, which I think is fantastic because it means people living in the building can have more fun.
Jade plants run across the sill of the front windows, bringing a bit of nature indoors. A close-up of a favorite sculpture from the Dogon region of West Africa.
Prefab cubes are being lifted into the concrete core of yet-another downtown building under construction.
In the front entryway, a large photograph is by Angelika Rhinehoffer. The artist lives in Beacon, New York, near Clodagh's weekend home.
Clodagh, a longtime vegan, put out an amazing spread of healthy goodies for our visit.
You’ve mentioned that since we last talked you’ve taken up art photography, and there’s the cooking and the art consultancy… the travel … not to mention the actual design work … my head is spinning already – I don’t know where to go with my questions. How do you organize your time?

With difficulty. I have four plane flights to take in the next two weeks. I’m not so much overwhelmed in my head but sometimes I have wardrobe moments when I think what the hell am I going to wear? I don’t like to check my bag—everything has to be very minimal.

So how do you do that? Everyone would love to know.

I write down the events that I’m going to be at. I choose the clothes for the events. I roll up stuff and I onion it. Uniqlo … Norma Kamali.

So you seem to like this way of living without too many hindrances—almost as if you are designing people out of their spaces, to be free of their spaces and go and do something else.
 
(Laughs) People are so nomadic now that in these buildings [with amenities] it does give people a chance to build a community, I think, but yes, [these kinds of buildings] free people up. Also maintenance is a bitch.
Family photos including many of Clodagh's sons, Peter and Tim O'Kennedy and their families both in the U.S. and Ireland; Clodagh and her husband Daniel Aubry, as well as childhood photos from her native country, Ireland.
Clodagh's father, John Peddar-Phipps is in uniform here; her mother Anna Claire De Sillery Phipps is on horseback (below).
Both photos were taken in Ireland. Clodagh grew up in the former summer home of Oscar Wilde in County Mayo.
I was interested in something you said that people think of you as a “Zen” designer but actually you like designing things like clubs and places where people are going to dance and drink.

I like to be appropriate. I mean we designed Whiskey Blue in Florida for the W Hotel with two thousand oxidized brass rods with an LED in the end of each because that’s what you do. You go there and you have a couple of cocktails and you hang out and you don’t want to be in a Zen place when you’re partying. You don’t want a place wagging its finger at you and saying, “Quiet down” when you want to be noisy.

I’m not sure that I have this right but you seem to like things that are unadorned and yet you grew up in Irish country houses with lots of antiques and silver …

Oh please … I have absolutely no nostalgia for the antiques I grew up with.
Clodagh's bedroom epitomizes her design philosophy that focuses on mindfulness, minimalism and sustainability. The bed is outfitted in linens made out of eucalyptus from the " Living Fresh" division of Valley Forge fabrics. The throw, made in Chile, is by Fil Doux (for which Clodagh designs a collection) and is in an Irish knit pattern in the color of Irish turf.
The mango wood bedside stools are from Tucker Robbins and the lamps are by Berenice.
Concrete 'Bougies' line the bedroom windowsill.
A winter scene from the bedroom window.
Daniel's yellow folding bike finds a home on the back balcony.
Daniel's photos from his "Projections" collection fill the walls of the main bath.
Photographs taken by Clodagh in Amsterdam, part of her "Reflections," collection, hang on the walls of her bath.
Clodagh's closet, a study in "mostly black" is painted in "Salsa Dancing" from Benjamin Moore.
Daniel's closet is painted in a bright "California Blue" from Benjamin Moore.
I do wonder though about the way we might be losing all that embellishment and adornment—no one seems to want it anymore. [Note: Sian does not agree with this]

I don’t think so. I think it’s always there. I’ve noticed too that people are going for more sequins and more embroidery. But I call [what I do] life-enhancing minimalism—it comes along with me because it’s working and because it’s comfortable. And you’re talking about embellishing, I love light and shadow …

But you say you have no nostalgia for Georgian silver.

If you were brought up as I was brought up with rapidly downwardly mobile aristocrats being told to behave ourselves in every way but with no money but we had to polish the silver and we had to change the lamps and we had to polish the mahogany sideboards, believe you me, you would have no interest at all in any of that anymore. And then the mover would come and we’d go to a smaller house and the antique dealer would come and buy the antiques so that we could all go to boarding school … we were encumbered … we moved five times before I was seventeen. You’re not defined by your antiques.
"Not Quite Yet."
In the study/guest room a work by self-taught artist, Purvis Young hangs above a bed outfitted in pillows from Jim Thompson Silks.
Chairs found at a yard sale are tucked under a desk designed by Clodagh in 1983.
A Buddha is placed near a shell holding prayer beads and other objects.
On the windowsill a statue from Zimbabwe stands next to a Buddhist prayer mantra bowl from Tibet.
An amulet from Turkey wards off evil spirits.
Reflections of the Purvis Young painting from a steel-framed mirror.
I’m struck by how much you see as encumbrance.

Well I’m a free spirit. I’m a Libra.

Do you ever raise your voice?

Not now. I was a skinny bad-tempered child and I was still bad-tempered when I started my fashion business—I thought I had a license to be bad tempered. But I had started to study Buddhism when I was fifteen or sixteen, when I had had a back accident—I broke my back, a near-death experience—that changes your life.

Well what I really liked was your description of yourself as “a sensitive army tank”.

Well, yes. Because I have to get things done.
Outdoor dining waits for warmer weather.
Views uptown of the Empire State building from the terrace.
Views of the Bowery from the living room.
Clodagh with her friends Gloria Saavedra and Ellen Sweeney.