If there was ever any doubt about the high-profile nature of Marie Flanigan's clientele, consider the interior designer's latest customer: Whitney Port, the reality star (à la MTV classics The Hills and The City)-turned-fashion designer. Flanigan is poised to reveal the L.A. kitchen and backyard she created for the celebrity.
And though Flanigan's high-end interiors are at home on the West Coast, the designer's roots are planted firmly in Texas. The Lake Jackson native studied architecture at A&M and earned her MBA from University of Houston before launching her own company here eight years ago.
Today, Flanigan's full-service firm manages projects across the country, melding Flanigan's background in architecture and small business ownership with her passion for design.
Just last week, Flanigan announced a new accolade: She's been chosen as an official designer for the 2018 Design on a Dime event in New York City, which annually challenges prominent interior designers to create unique room vignettes with donated merchandise. Proceeds from sales of the donated items support Housing Works, a New York-based non-profit combating homelessness and the AIDS crisis. Fewer than 100 designers are invited to participate each year.
Though her bright, elegant aesthetics can be found in luxury homes and commercial spaces all over, Flanigan has eschewed rapid expansion opportunities in favor of slow and steady growth.
"If you're not serving your clients well, growth doesn't matter," the award-winning designer tells Houstonia. "We need to stay true to the product."
On Houston's design community:
"Houston is such a booming, buzzing city, and I think we don’t get as much national exposure as is rightfully due. There are so many talented people here. We were recognized for food just the other day, being such a mecca, and there’s just so many talented designers here, and people are doing amazing things. What I love about the industry here in Houston is that it’s very collaborative; it's a community of designers where we are rooting for each other and supporting each other ... we have so much opportunity here. There’s just so much work to be done. Within the past two years, we’ve been branching out and doing a lot of work nationwide, which has also been fun."
On how clients differ geographically:
"On a nationwide scale, people want an authentic, beautiful space they can call home. As far as styles, there are certain threads in our work that stay true—we try to keep it timeless. I think simplicity’s important; we always want to layer old and new, found objects mixed with modern accents. People come to us for [that combination of] both traditional and contemporary.
Different parts of the country probably respond to some [styles] more than others. Like in Napa, we just finished a project that was a little more organic-rustic; we just finished another project in Telluride that was more London flat meets mid-century modern."
On her approach to design:
"People are looking for an authentic expression of themselves, and when they recognize that in your work, they call you. I think that’s something we hold true as a design firm: We’re not necessarily coming to put the Marie Flanigan stamp on your home; we want to discover what makes you special, what makes your family different, what is that thing you’ve been dreaming about having in your home? Because people are spending their fortunes, their life’s savings, on creating an environment that improves their quality of life in every aspect."
On how her aesthetic has evolved:
"As I’ve evolved as a designer, I see my work going more contemporary, especially architecturally, and then bringing [in] more antique pieces to soften and accent the sleeker, more clean lines. As I get older, I like simplicity."
On her background in architecture:
"Because my background is architecture, I want to be involved from the ground up. If it’s a large-scale remodel, I want to be involved in helping make some of the interior architecture decisions. We obviously work directly with the architect, respecting their vision throughout, but I believe the disciplines are really interconnected and really interdependent on each other.
I just don’t think you can come in and decorate a room and have the same effect as if you thought about the lighting and thought about how the ceiling connects with the wall … walk the space and [find], 'look, we’ve got all of this attic space, why don’t we just open up the ceiling?' Things like that to take interior design to the next level."
On the key to success:
"Surrounding yourself with an amazing team makes all the difference, and if you have synergy within your team, the results can be exponential. Not just at work–obviously I have an amazing team at work, but I have an amazing husband at home … I’ve got an amazing support group of friends and family."
On achieving work-life balance:
"When I had my first child almost five years ago, I learned that small business doesn’t stop for anyone. The train keeps going. And finding that balance of family and work in today’s world–everyone is able to reach you at all times, and me being a perfectionist and being used to working at a certain level, finding that balance of social media, always being there for my team, always being there for my clients and then also my husband and two children [is tough]. I’ve found that the only way to do it successfully is to set goals and boundaries. I try and [be with] my kids every day by 4 ... and to not be distracted when I’m with them, and really make the time that we’re together maximized in quality. Because it’s so precious.
When I had my kids, I gained this laser focus for what was important. Before where I would just say 'yes' to everything and go to every meeting, if it’s not worth my time, I’m not there anymore. You’re now balancing it against, 'Is it more important than spending time with my kids? Is it more important than having face time with my team [and clients]?' Probably not."