Designer Forum - March 2008

Interview with Clodagh

There are few hard and fast rules when it comes to flooring design for award-winning New York designer Clodagh, except that floors shouldn’t be too conspicuous, should be respectful of the environment and should make the people who use them feel good. Irish-born Clodagh likes to incorporate local elements such as local colors and her designs are sleek and modern. She prefers simplicity in all aspects, from the look and feel to maintenance. The floor, walls and ceiling all have to work together.

“Our goal is that when the space is completely empty, it’s still beautiful,” Clodagh says.

Clodagh loves to experiment with all kinds of materials, especially concrete and reclaimed wood—fitting with her constant emphasis on the environment and sustainability—and nothing is off limits, assuming it will fit into the project budget. She’s specified pure silk rugs for wealthy residential clients and is partial to Ardex decorative concrete in some places. Overall, she says, carpet is the most versatile flooring available. In hard surfaces, she tends to gravitate to stone, tile, concrete and wood, although she also uses Amtico and Forbo resilient products, and Gerbert cork.

“I’m like Madonna,” Clodagh says. “I’m one name and I’m a material girl.”

Clodagh says she’s constantly looking for inspiration for each project and she takes her digital camera everywhere. She takes photos of everything from nicks in the road to leaves on plants and downloads everything back at her design studio.

One of Clodagh’s specialties is hospitality design, and she says that today the lines between hospitality and residential design are blurring. Flooring designed for the hospitality industry can easily be used in the home. For example, she’s designing a new line of carpet for Bentley Prince Street that will debut this year at the Hospitality Design Show. However, she fully expects to see the multicolored, multi-plane carpets specified for residential applications. The carpets are being designed not only for color and texture but to keep looking clean even when they’re not—qualities she also looks for when she’s specifying carpet. In addition, performance standards are higher for hospitality, even though a household with children can be much harder on a carpet.

Also, today people are drawn to what she calls “easy living,” and that’s the way she tends to design for both the hospitality and residential markets. People don’t want to go home and worry about messing things up. “Even my richest clients like to live. They’re not interested in supporting their home, they’re interested in their home maintaining and supporting them.” Likewise, many hotels are working with a smaller maintenance staff today. So in both arenas, she designs for style, high wear and low maintenance, as well as sustainability.

“I will use the same bamboo floor in a hotel floor as I will in a high-end residence,” Clodagh says.

Acoustics are a major design consideration in every project because sound levels affect human behavior. Clodagh has just finished designing the interior for a new high-end W Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. The main hotel lobby area is stone, partly because the idea is to create a lively area that reflects the energy, the noises of suitcases on wheels and a waterfall. “When you walk into the lobby, you don’t want to feel like you’re in a funeral parlor,” she says. She practices the Chinese art of Feng Shui, which she says means the “energy should move.” In her designs, you won’t, for example, find hardwood laid at severe angles because “too much activity in the floor can be unsettling for some people.” It’s all about harmony. In other hotels she has used the largest ceramic tiles she can find, and plays with the scale and pattern. She’s also used wood in a smaller, more intimate hotel.

But in the W Hotel corridors and rooms, it all takes a sharp turn. Broadloom carpet, specified in W Hotel’s standards, is used in the halls, largely to deaden the sound. The rattle of stiletto heels on a hard surface at 3 a.m. could create a lot of angry customers. Hotel rooms also use Bentley Prince Street broadloom but each room has a short tile entryway to create a fresh feel upon entering the room. In other corridors where subdued sound is important, she has used a heavy, natural rubber backed sisal indoor/outdoor carpet tile from Ruckstuhl.

“The whole thing about designing hotel rooms is to make the room feel like it’s never been inhabited before,” Clodagh says.

In describing the hospitality sector in general she puts a twist on a familiar phrase and says, “God is in the wows.” In hospitality, she says, there’s rarely enough money in the budget to do beautiful, minute details that she might otherwise be inclined to do, so she goes for the “wow” factor. People are often moving quickly through hotel spaces so it’s more about bringing “visual joy” to create a quick memory to take home.

“I used to be in the fashion business and it’s a little like buying an inexpensive dress, then getting the fashion accessories and everyone thinks the dress costs a fortune,” Clodagh says.

She has, for example, used a fairly plain hard surface, and created the “wow” factor with an area rug, recessed into the hard flooring so it doesn’t change levels.

Lately she’s also taken an interest in acoustics in restaurants, and flooring plays a major role. Carpet often doesn’t work in this setting because it deadens the sound too much and makes a diner feel like “they’re at their auntie’s dinner party.” That’s especially true if there are acoustical ceiling tiles and the tables all have tablecloths and padding. But too much noise can literally create headaches for customers or at the least make it difficult to hold a conversation. She used a combination of oak hardwood and acoustical ceiling tile in the New York’s Landmarc restaurant to good success. Whenever possible she likes to team with an acoustical consultant. For her, the ideal restaurant is one where patrons can hold a conversation but “still enjoy the rowdy show” in the middle of the room. It’s not always easy to create that balance, and it’s often about changing the flavor of the noise rather than its decibel level.

Overall, Clodagh likes to use flooring to help create a unique sense of place. At the W Hotel, she incorporated the colors of the Florida sky and beach, as well as the local flora. Another design she loved—one that she didn’t create—was in an African hotel, where the local mudcloth was used in the design of the hotel’s carpet.

“It’s not just about design, it’s about creating experiences,” Clodagh says. 

Copyright 2008 Floor Focus