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International Design Star Clodagh Discusses the Southwest

The creative visionary shares her thoughts on understated luxury and the desert’s influences.

By John Roark

Internationally acclaimed designer, philanthropist and author Clodagh maintains that good design and physical, mental and spiritual well-being are fundamentally linked.

She applied this tenet locally, having designed the Miraval Life in Balance Spa in Tucson, as well as the resort’s guest villas.

Both projects embody the designer’s aesthetic: understated luxury achieved through authentic, locally sourced stone and wood, minimal ornamentation, richly textured fabrics and rugged surfaces—and an inherent serenity that mirrors what she feels when she visits the desert. 

“At home I am surrounded by concrete streets and stone and glass buildings,” the New York City resident says. “The Sonoran desert is very spiritual, and that energy should be embraced. When I visit Arizona, my senses are assaulted by the scent of mesquite and the sculptural quality of the saguaros. The bouquet of colors here is quite extraordinary, from dusty browns and terra cottas, to the palette of greens and ochres, to the vast expanse of the blue sky. This is a place like nowhere else on earth.”

When designing the Miraval projects, Clodagh was drawn to and inspired by what the land provided, including saguaro ribs, ocotillo and mesquite. “Authentic Southwest is about materiality,” she observes. “We payed homage to this incomparable landscape through the use of natural materials, such as rammed earth, aged wood, natural stone and rusted metals, suggesting authenticity rather than the manufactured.”

Here Clodagh shares her insights and philosophies on bringing beauty into your decor. “Your home is your sanctuary,” she says. “It should give you a hug when you walk in.”


One of the designer’s convictions is that clutter creates stagnation. “It affects your brain and body with needless visual chatter. We have a motto in our studio: Everywhere you look, everywhere you walk, you should see something beautiful.” Clodagh espouses surrounding yourself with what you love and not keeping things just for the sake of holding on. She recalls showing a residential client her “three-bag method,” wherein extraneous items accumulated over a lifetime are relegated to a trio of fates: donate, sell or dump. “The couple’s 30-year-old son was furious when he discovered that they were throwing away his baby bottle. What could he possibly need it for? Let it go!”

At Miraval, this wood-clad portal leads spa guests to treatment rooms.

At the entrance to the resort’s spa, this symbol, crafted of oxidized iron and copper accented with turquoise, represents the gateway to wellness. Below it, spirit-cleansing crystals greet guests as they arrive.


The desert is a feast for all the senses, Clodagh says. “The play of light and shadow throughout the day is exquisite. I’m also inspired by the rich carpet of fragrance, especially after a rain. I love glass walls that open to welcome the sounds and scents of the desert into your home,” she adds. “I am also a big proponent of using mirrors to bring the outdoors in. You may not be able to open a door or have expansive floor-to-ceiling windows to enjoy the view. But strategically placed mirrors can reflect what’s going outside, bringing the trees, cacti, light and air in.”


“The use of water in the desert should be carefully considered because there is so little of it,” Clodagh stresses. “Sound is one of the most neglected sensations in design. I’m not one for loud, showy fountains. If you’re going to incorporate water into your interior or exterior decor, be discreet. A minimalist design with tiny rivulets and splashing scuppers provides a gentle musicality that makes more sense here.”


“My husband worked in the film industry, and from him I learned many things about the art of illumination,” Clodagh reveals. “In a dining room, avoid glaring overhead lights, which will create dark shadows beneath your eyes. “Exterior lighting should also be nuanced. The sculptural quality of saguaros and other cacti—and the dramatic shadows they create—is gorgeous. Embrace that beauty when the sun goes down with lighting design. Here in the Southwest, I like to play with strong LED lights blasting through pierced metals to bring the outside in and the inside out.”

“I like portals and walkways,” designer Clodagh proclaims. This gateway path at Miraval Life in Balance Spa in Tucson integrates native rock and indigenous flora, such as Mexican silk grass. “I also believe in making use of what the land has given you.”

Clodagh’s groundbreaking and award-winning work has graced hotels, spas, retail stores and showrooms, restaurants and homes—even luxury yachts and private jets—around the globe. Her portfolio spans more than 30 countries and includes cosmetics packaging, branding, furniture, textiles and home furnishings, and her name is included on Architectural Digest’s list of “Top 100 Designers in the World.”

A proponent of what she terms “life-enhancing design,” Clodagh believes in pampering the senses through holistic attention to detail. “A room cannot be truly beautiful unless it functions in harmony with who we are,” she says. “The goal is not to design a space but to create an experience.”

In her third book, “Clodagh: Life-Enhancing Design” (2018, G Arts Books), the self-proclaimed nomad shares the projects and experiences that have shaped her life and career. A lifetime of wandering and observing the world has made its imprint on her design philosophy, which is recognized for the sense of tranquility, serenity and well-being her spaces brings to their inhabitants. With hundreds of photos representing her work on a wide range of commercial and residential projects—along with Clodagh’s recollections, thought processes and tips—this volume was created to inspire and provide a new perspective on interior design.


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