25 Years Strong
Clodagh celebrates a quarter century of design with a spate of new projects including the Caledonia, a Chelsea condominium
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 9/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
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Her Irish eyes smiling devilishly, Clodagh confesses her greatest transgression, sneaking onto the Great Wall of China. “It had just closed for the day, and the guards were turning everybody away,” she recalls. “But it was my only day in Beijing. I went to them, clasped my hands together in prayer, and let a few tears trickle down. We ended up having it all to ourselves for a half hour.” That’s Clodagh in a nutshell: determined, spiritual, ballsy, a bit of a prankster—all qualities that have contributed to her professional success. “Behaving is not part of my DNA,” she admits. Longevity, however, is. The Interior Design Hall of Fame member is currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of Clodagh Design.
Her career is a byproduct of teenage rebellion. The Irish classics and math whiz was on a rigorous academic track at age 15 when a riding accident left her with a broken back—and uncertain about her patience for a bookish future. “While convalescing, I saw an advertisement in the Irish Times that said, ‘Do you want to be a fashion designer?’ I thought, Why not? I loved the cadences of Latin, but a professor’s life seemed dry.” After high school, she attended the six-week program at the fashion-design school in the ad and opened a Dublin boutique at age 17. At that time, she recalls, she also started to go by her first name alone: “When all my names were called out at graduation, I was so mortified! From then on, I was just Clodagh.”
Her progressive clothing was a hit, selling in stores around the globe, including New York’s Henri Bendel and Lord & Taylor. “I come from a downwardly mobile aristocratic family, and my parents did not approve,” she says. “They wanted me to go to university.” Instead, she produced her clothing line for a decade, in between bearing three children. (There was even, she admits, “a phase when I was ironing my hair straight!”) But then, as she puts it, she decided to switch “countries, husbands, and careers.” The self-taught talent launched Clodagh Design in Manhattan in 1983, with a residence in East Hampton, New York, as her first commission.
A quarter century in the interior design profession—and the limelight—is a major accomplishment, but Clodagh isn’t inclined to coast on her reputation. She continues to diversify her portfolio and her business, which now encompasses a monthly seminar series and a gallery. An ever expanding licensing division produces tile for Ann Sacks, broadloom forBentley Prince Street, textiles for Perennials Outdoor Fabrics, and organic linens for Bed Bath & Beyond. She’s designed soothingly sybaritic residences, offices, restaurants, and spas worldwide. This year also marks several firsts: a U.S. hotel (W Fort Lauderdale), an apartment building (Caledonia), and its in-house gym (Equinox).
The Caledonia, a 24-story Chelsea condominium that encapsulates her philosophy of living well, offers front-row views of the High Line, the elevated train track in the process of being converted into a levitating park. (In case you’re wondering, Clodagh has not snuck onto the High Line. . .yet.) The condo project, her biggest to date, comprises all public spaces, among them the lobby, two party rooms, and a sundeck. She also selected kitchen and bathroom appliances, fixtures, fittings, and finishes for the 434 units; furnished the four model apartments; and designed the Equinox gym and spa downstairs. The challenge, she explains, was to reconcile a cohesive aesthetic with Chelsea’s scruffy-luxe schizophrenic personality: “The neighborhood has a rawness. We tried to echo that but also make it sexy, serene, and sustainable.”
Fortunately, Clodagh’s firm was tapped while Handel Architects was still hammering out the building’s base design. “We came in early enough that columns could be rearranged to better support the flow of space, especially in the lobby,” says her second-in-command, creative director Sergio Mercado. At the entry, four walnut-clad columns demarcate an intimate zone from which to survey the sweeping 10,000 square feet. Standing below a grid of incandescent lightbulbs attached to steel rods—a treatment repeated in the elevator lobbies—you can see past the hefty reception desk, clear through to the other side of the block. “We kept it open, providing a series of experiences along the way,” Mercado explains.
The first “experience” is the Assouline Culture library, where residents can relax on upholstered banquettes while thumbing through lavishly photographed design and style books—courtesy of Assouline, the French publisher, and the Related Companies, the real-estate developer. Screened off from the rest of the lobby by cast-resin pillars sprouting from troughs filled with river rocks, the library is warmed by a gas fireplace slicing across a sculpted feature wall finished in concrete. “There’s a certain denseness to the finishes here,” Clodagh says. “Making surfaces look like solid materials is my big struggle in life.”
So is designing spaces that soothe the psyche. “Living in New York, it’s important to have detox areas,” she notes. “People can use the lobby to escape their apartments, restore their sanity, shift their energy a bit.” A skylit atrium in the center of the lobby encourages decompression with the help of a waterfall made from stacks of the same local bluestone that covers the floor. Another waterfall cascades into a reflecting pool nearby. “Water elements are so cleansing,” she says. Purification and wellness also inspired the placement of framed mirrors across from the elevators—“you never want a blind corner”—and the LED strips that glow in various chakra colors. Healing properties play a starring role in every Clodagh project, thanks in part to feng shui expert Sarah Rossbach, a collaborator over many decades.
Another longtime collaborator, Robert Younger Studio, executed the library’s fireplace wall and the lobby’s concrete benches. “We’ve worked together since Robert exhibited at Clodagh Ross Williams,” she explains. (That’s the East Village gallery she once operated with two partners.) She’s always had an eye for artistic talent, and the Caledonia is peppered with commissioned works: a kinetic curtain above the reflecting pool, a ceramic wall installation flanking the bluestone waterfall, abstract paintings near the elevators. One of the lobby’s most striking features, however, has a less distinguished provenance. Mounted in a row on the wall, three huge cast-iron disks are actually tree grates for a city sidewalk. “I used them in a Southampton home, embedded in the floor like a rug,” Clodagh says. “I’d been dying to use them in a public space.”
The lobby’s earthy palette and urban-Zen vibe flow through the rest of the complex. Two party rooms mingle sculptural found objects with furniture of rough-hewn salvaged wood. Terraces balance street smarts with spalike restfulness. “There’s such a nice quality of looseness,” Clodagh says of the grasses bordering a walkway. “I hate gardens that look like hair transplants.” Even the 30,000-square-foot Equinox, its steel-and-concrete envelope the work of Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, is enriched by wood accents and organic textures. An ipé bridge spans the three-story atrium, as an oak staircase zigzags down. At the bottom, a triangular reflecting pool irrigates a vertical garden that purifies the air and the soul.
Overlooking the greenery are the street-level entrance and lounge, pierced by enormous steel columns supporting the High Line tracks. The lounge doubles as a showroom for the Clodagh Collection of furnishings and accessories. Pop in for yoga, and leave with an alpaca throw. If only Clodagh’s creativity could be packaged and sold, too.
PROJECT TEAM (CALEDONIA) ANA GOLDSTEIN-KOGAN (PROJECT DIRECTOR); JOHN HENDERSON: CLODAGH DESIGN. FOCUS LIGHTING: LIGHTING CONSULTANT. HM WHITE SITE ARCHITECTS: LANDSCAPING CONSULTANT. G.C. IRON WORKS; DELFORM STUDIOS: METALWORK. DEX: CONCRETE WORK. ERNEST NEUMAN STUDIOS: PLASTERWORK. NORDIC INTERIORS: WOODWORK. WOOD, SPRING & DOWN: UPHOLSTERING. L&L PAINTING: PAINTING CONTRACTOR. PLAZA CONSTRUCTION: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.
PRODUCT SOURCES (CALEDONIA) FROM FRONTSILK DYNASTY: WALL COVERING (PARTY ROOM). CLODAGH COLLECTION: CONSOLE (PARTY ROOM), LIGHT SCULPTURE, MIRROR (LOBBY). THROUGH JODY’S IMPORTS: PILLARS (LI-BRARY). JANSONS ASSOCIATES: FIREPLACE. DUNE: CUSTOM CHAIRS, TABLE, RUG, BENCH.DELTA FOUNTAIN: TROUGH (LOBBY). TUCKERROBBINS: CUSTOM DESKTOP, BOWL, SCULPTURE (LOBBY), STOOLS (SHOWROOM). CHISTA: BENCH (LOBBY). GFC LIGHTING: CUSTOM PENDANT FIXTURES. ROTSEN: TABLES (LOBBY, SHOWROOM). TACTAC: CEILING PANELS (SHOWROOM). MARLA HENDERSON DESIGN: SOFA, CABINET.THROUGHOUTLIBERTYMARBLE: STONE SUPPLIER.