Iconic designer Clodagh on how to bring joy to your space

Clodagh is an Irish-born, New York-based designer who is widely recognized as a pioneer of green and wellness design.

The designer behind such elegant and lovely spaces as Miraval Life in Balance Spa in Tucson, Equinox Gym New York, and Six Senses Douro Valley, Clodagh passionately believes that good design supports well-being and that can transform lives. Clutter, she says, can undermine serenity, but minimalism should not be self denying.

“The experience of entering a Clodagh designed space is one of blissful serenity.”

The Women’s Spa Firepit at Miraval. Photo by Ken Hayden.

Like integrative medicine, Clodagh’s design methods embrace both ancient and cutting edge elements to create a holistic experience that comforts body and mind.

One of the earliest adopters of Feng Shui in her practice, Clodagh is once again ahead of the curve by now incorporating such cutting edge modalities as chromatherapy and biophilia.

Trees growing from the deck at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island, for which Clodagh was awarded the 2004 Gold Key Hospitality award. Photo by Daniel Aubry.

Spa Executive asked Clodagh about how she came to be doing what she does today, why wellbeing is a crucial element of design, and how to bring joy to a space. Read on and see if you don’t find inspiration, not only for design, but for life.

How did you wind up doing what you are today? What road did you follow?

I opened a fashion design business in Dublin when I was seventeen with the courage born of ignorance. I did a six- week pattern-cutting course. Somehow by hiring the best people and being selected by the BBC for a documentary, I soon was exporting as far as the USA and Australia. Then I changed husbands, countries and careers and came to the States via a sojourn in Spain where I opened an interior architecture and design business. With no experience, I designed and built houses there with an environmental architect. I consulted on hotels, designed bars and restaurants and opened a retail store full of artifacts and crafts. In the States I did the same thing- I opened a studio and worked on everything from residential to corporate to hospitality. I opened a store called Clodagh Ross Williams with two brilliant partners to capture and showcase the energy of American artists and designers.

Infinity pool at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island, photo by Daniel Aubry.

Why does wellbeing/wellness matter in design? Why is it a crucial element?

We designers have a responsibility to create clutter-free environments where people of all ages have space to think and grow. Even when I was in fashion, my perception was that people could have greater ease of self if they were wearing low-maintenance clothes that supported their personality. Wellness has always been at the core of my design philosophy and approach. Thankfully, people are becoming more responsible for their own health and vitality.

If, through design, we can create environments where people feel self-supported, we have done our job.

Exterior and palms at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island. Photo by Daniel Aubry.

What are some of the most important aspects you consider when designing a spa space or similar?

Our senses anchor us in the present, and are important to all design because awareness of our physical senses makes us more vital and more conscious of the sixth sense- the spirit. Good design addresses all five senses — touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste- to make the invisible tangible.

Treatment room at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island. Photo by Daniel Aubry.

How does one bring happiness and joy to a space?

It’s all about bringing the outside in, incorporating all the elements and addressing all the senses to enable total wellness, whether conscious or subconscious. Everywhere you walk and everywhere you look, you should see something beautiful.

Spa Suite Lounge at Miraval. Photo by Ken Hayden.

How can design be “life enhancing?”

We are the sum of our experiences and the spaces we inhabit. If the space makes you feel good and helps you to achieve a state of wellness, it’s enhancing your life. Great design is an experience, and makes you feel something.

Lighting in the corridor at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island. Photo by Daniel Aubry.

What are some of the ways in which spas can add wellness and life enhancing elements into our environments?

Our fundamental design M.O is to go beyond the physical. We hire internationally-acclaimed consultants to incorporate feng shui, resonance symbols, biophilia, biogeometry, radiesthesia and crystal healing throughout our projects to balance and harmonize the flow of energy and bring wellness and joy to both guests and the spa service team. A spa is a sanctuary where a guest can let go of tensions and indulge in pleasurable physical treatments.

Window at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island. Photo by Daniel Aubry.

Are there trends in design and/or wellness about which you’re particularly excited? If so, what are they?

Entrance at Sasanqua Spa Kiawah Island. Photo by Daniel Aubry.

All of a sudden there’s huge awareness around the effect of sound pollution and sound. Acoustics are important, not only in what you hear but also what you don’t hear.

What’s your favourite colour, smell, feng shui tip?

  • Color- I don’t have one, but look at any of my projects and you’ll see my love of warm hues and natural colors/materials
  • Smell- Scent is a very nostalgic sense. Aromatherapy is an important part of my daily life (from my home to our design studio)- each aromatherapy oil should be chosen depending on what you need (calmness, detoxification, invigoration). I love mixing aromatherapy oils to create my daily scent, depending on how I feel when I wake up that day.
  • Feng shui tip- try incorporating all of the Chinese elements (earth, water, fire, metal, wood) into your space, and I’m certain you’ll feel an immediate difference. But before you do that, eliminate stagnating clutter to let new energy flow happily through your space.

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