All photos in this article were provided and designed by Marie Flanigan Interiors.
If we had to count on two hands the designers that most inspire and challenge us here at The Kuotes, it would be a difficult feat. There are just so many talented and creative designers out there, which is why we dedicate our Instagram to celebrating others in the industry. But we have no doubt in our mind that Marie Flanigan would be on that list. Recognized globally with her work in publications like Luxe Magazine, Marie Flanigan Interiors‘ distinguished designs channel a thoughtful and sophisticated use of texture, color, and structure to create the most beautiful and inspiring interiors. We feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to sit down with Marie and chat about her experience building up a successful interior design firm. Here’s what our sweet Texas gal had to say. Enjoy!
The Kuotes: Can you tell me about your background and how you got interested in design?
Marie Flanigan: I grew up in a small Texas town and always felt drawn to the visual arts. I had a very artistic family; my brothers and sisters are musically talented, but I gravitated towards the visual expression, and when I was young, my dad would take me on a trip to our little local art gallery every month. As I grew, I became interested in architecture and ended up studying that while at Texas A&M University. I was hired right out of school to work for one of my professors, and then I moved to Houston where I eventually worked for a small firm that managed both interiors and architecture. While there, I fell in love with interior design and decided it was time to make the switch.
K: Are you from Texas?
M: I was actually born in Michigan and then moved to Connecticut before moving to Texas when I was in first grade, but I will always consider Texas home.
K: What inspired you to make that switch from working in architecture to starting your own design firm?
M: I loved studying architecture, but my work experience was primarily involved with the development of commercial buildings, which put me behind a computer drafting for most of the day. Of course, I still love getting into the structural details of a space, but interior design allows me the opportunity to step into people’s homes, to get to know their daily lives, to build relationships with vendors, and to actually see design elements coming together before my eyes. For me, the two disciplines are intimately connected. Starting my career at a smaller firm meant that I was able to wear many hats and get involved in various aspects of the company, including marketing, which I discovered I was also very interested in. When the recession hit, I decided to follow that interest and went back to school to get my MBA. A few years later, in 2010, I decided to marry those passions and started Marie Flanigan Interiors.
K: Would you say your background in architecture informs your interior design work?
M: Absolutely; architecture informs and influences how I approach every single project. I believe that a great interior doesn’t rely on the furnishings, the décor, or the drapery; it relies on how well the architecture of the space and the interior design elements speak to one another.
“A great interior doesn’t rely on the furnishings, the décor, or the drapery; it relies on how well the architecture of the space and the interior design elements speak to one another.”
K: How would you describe your design style?
M: This is always a difficult question to answer because I’ve found that there’s no one-word response that best describes my style. Our designs are timeless, clean, sensual, layered, textured. We design spaces that appear as though they have been carefully curated over time, and although there are definitely some traditional influences, we love to combine those with more contemporary styles to create something that feels altogether different and new.
K: We also have this issue when describing our design style. We like to embrace both classic and contemporary styles. How do you go about integrating these seemingly opposing points of view?
M: It’s important to build a room with classic, timeless elements that people can live with forever. This would include those larger, well-crafted items with solid bones. Then you begin to layer in the different styles. We usually include some sort of rustic element that feels found and maybe even a little ugly, if that makes sense. That gives the space this exciting dose of visual interest and then we layer in some more contemporary elements that offer up a sleek, polished look. But no matter how I decide to layer styles, I have always been strongly influenced by minimalism and find that I am drawn to removing unnecessary “stuff” versus adding more in.
K: Where do you draw your inspiration?
M: I find inspiration everywhere. I’m inspired by my travels, by people, by art (I love building a room around a striking piece of art), and of course, I’m inspired by other designers who I admire as well. John Saladino is a personal hero of mine. I love, love, love his work!
K: Who are some other interior designers you look up to?
M: Ray Booth, Vicente Wolf, Victoria Hagan… just to name a few.
K: Tell us more about your design process. How do you get started on a project?
M: I start by sketching out big picture thoughts and goals for the project in order to capture the overall look and feel. Once I feel comfortable there, I quickly take it to the computer and complete most of my work there. I compile digital mood boards for each room using Photoshop and then proceed into the architectural detailing in AutoCAD where I complete all of the interior elevations. I consider that process the crucial creation of the space’s “bones,” and once I’ve finished that detailing, I start playing with paint palettes and textures, and that’s where some exciting things start to happen.
K: How do you define success? What makes a project a good project?
M: One of the reasons I love interior design so much is because it’s incredibly personal. It’s a privilege to step into a client’s home and positively affect and influence the way they live. Of course, it’s wonderful bringing my original creative expressions to life, but I believe it’s that personal connection with clients and their families that makes this profession so exceptional.
K: What are some of your most memorable projects?
M: We recently completed a two-story showroom space for Mercedes-Benz which was memorable because it was a bit out of our “high-end residential” wheel house, but they desired that same high-end residential feel in this otherwise commercial space, so it was really exciting to pull those two worlds together. Every project has a list of distinct memories I tend to hold on to, but, of course, the very first home I ever designed holds a special place in my heart. I was so nervous and wanted everything to be perfect, and when it all ended well, it was so fulfilling. What a great feeling!
K: Can you talk a little bit more about having your first client? You graduate from design school or do an apprenticeship with a design firm…and then what?
M: It’s scary. I remember so vividly that feeling of “okay, we’re doing this… I hope someone calls me.” That first call for our first large project was so exciting, and I was so nervous, and at that point in my career, it was the only project I was going to work on, so I gave it every ounce of my energy. Our projects can take six months to a year to complete, so it takes some time to see your expressions come to life, but when everything came together beautifully at the end, it was so rewarding. It’s actually a lot of fun to look back at the steps I’ve taken on this journey. Every stepping stone and building block has made me stronger as a designer, and more able to tackle the next project. Looking back from where we stand today, all I can say is that it’s been a really fun and crazy ride.
K: Is there anything you would change or any advice you would give to yourself when you first started?
M: That’s a good question. My best advice to anybody trying to start a business is to find a way to serve people. There is value in enhancing someone’s daily life, and business is customer service. Of course it’s fun to be able to do what you love and foster your own artistic expression, but don’t forget to really listen to what people are asking for so that you can be the one to find a way to give it to them. Don’t call your clients with the headaches and problems; take care of those yourself, and call your clients when you’re ready to present solutions. That’s when clients will see your true value, and that’s when your business will take off.
“Don’t call your clients with the headaches and problems; take care of those yourself, and call your clients when you’re ready to present solutions. That’s when clients will see your true value, and that’s when your business will take off.”
K: We completely agree. We talk all the time about how we run a design business… but actually we run a customer service and shipping logistics business.
M: Exactly. It’s the companies and vendors who are always offering up positive solutions who are the ones we will call every single time.
K: What’s something that has surprised you on your path to becoming a designer?
M: I’ve been surprised by how large our firm has become! I always imagined myself designing solo, but the magic that happens when you have the right people on your team makes your own creative process explode, and encourages quality across the board. Our work process now ensures that two people, me and another member of the design team, are working on every project, which means we can provide enhanced customer service overall.
“the magic that happens when you have the right people on your team…”
K: How many people are on your team?
K: Any new fun projects coming up that you can share?
M: Certainly! We actually have a new corporate project coming up, which is a little bit new for our team. It’s a high-end office building, so I’ll be reaching back to my roots in corporate architecture for that one. Other than that, we’ve been working for some really amazing families and we can’t wait to share their beautiful homes with the world in the coming year, especially a really lovely beach house that we are installing soon! Stay tuned…
Share your thoughts in the comment section below, and catch more interviews with some of our favorite designers and influencers in our Friends of The Kuotes section of the blog!