I never tell anyone my age. When I was 17, I was working as a fashion designer in Ireland, and a potential customer came into my atelier. When I told her how old I was, she said she’d come back when I had more experience. You’re either too young or too old. There’s never a right age.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a designer. My father planned his children’s lives, and I was slated to study at Trinity College Dublin and become a professor in classics and mathematics. But I had been in a horseback-riding accident, and I was stuck in bed with a broken back. My mother brought me a copy of the Irish Times one day, and there was an ad that said, “Why not be a fashion designer,” and I thought, “why the hell not?” My grade school friends had always complimented the way I wore my clothes, and so it seemed like a good idea.
I started with fashion, but then transitioned into interiors and beyond. I don’t like to categorize myself as an “interior designer.” I’m a designer. I’ve never planned my career. I’ve always been open to seeing where things go. I do furniture, lighting, even logos for corporations. I’m like water—I like to flow everywhere.
My first real project was renovating a farmhouse and townhouse in Spain for my husband and I. This was about 40 years ago. The townhouse had been used for offices with a bunch of cubicle spaces, and we were going through demolition. The dust settled, and a beam of light hit me on the left shoulder, and I realized that I wanted to create spaces for people to live in that would help them enjoy their lives. I turned the ground floor into a little studio and retail space, working with environmental architecture. I’m all about life-enhancing design.
I’ve worked all over the world doing all kinds of projects, most recently a moon garden for Six Senses Kaplankaya Resort in Turkey. I enjoy the diversity of design, such as the park I did for a hotelier in Armenia with playgrounds for kids, or yacht interiors for the jet set, multi-family building complexes, hotels, restaurants, private homes —it’s all so varied.
Sustainability and wellness are so popular now, but they’ve always been woven through my life. I was brought up in the Irish countryside where there were healers and mystics, in Oscar Wilde’s summer home in Cong. We had lots of horses and dogs. My uptight family was very fussy about what went into the garden. No chemicals were allowed. I learned that If I wanted my horse to jump higher, I fed him better. If I wanted our dogs to win a show, it was all about exercise and food. I realized when I was about ten, that this applied to humans too.
So, wellness is always top of mind for me—and for those who might think it’s a trend, it isn’t. Trend is a dirty word. I believe in movements. I’d describe wellness as “ease of self,” permeating many layers: financial wellness, wellness in communication, and on and on. I’m too busy looking at my own mistakes to look at other peoples’, but the things that bother me the most about other designers and wellness is the superficiality of it. Sometimes it is more decoration than anything else. We strive for something that can look beautiful and refract energy in a good way. You walk into some places and your heart lifts. I know people’s energy can be enhanced by design.
For most of my career, I’ve had imposter syndrome. I’m constantly searching. As Nureyev said, “I am not trying to dance better than anyone else, only better than myself.” We were just photographing a multi-family housing project I did that has 1,875 units. I designed a wellness facility for the residents and included feng shui for balance. It finished about a year ago and is just filling out. I was at the site and saw people in the garden, sharing wine and a great sense of community. I saw a woman lounging by the pool with a baby on her lap. That gave me so much joy to see people happy in the spaces I created. That’s when I feel successful.