The community of creative, ambitious women in Houston is one of our favorite parts about this city. Back in the spring we collaborated with a group of women who we admire on a garden party, and Marie Flanigan was one of them. We’re so excited to share Marie’s story with you, not only because she is the incredibly talented interior designer behind Marie Flanigan Interiors, but also because she is kind, supportive, and down-to-earth. Marie has grown her Houston-based company from the ground up into a nationally-known firm with notable clients across the country, including Whitney Port. You don’t want to miss her amazing career journey as well as her swoon-worthy interior design projects — read on below!

It’s so fun to get to sit down and chat with you about your career! We’re huge fans of yours and absolutely love your aesthetic. Did you always know you wanted to be an interior designer? Tell us a little about your journey.

MF: My first love was architecture and I worked in the field for many years before making the transition to interiors full time. Later, my passion for small business and my interest in marketing led me back to school where I completed my MBA prior to founding Marie Flanigan Interiors in 2009. I’ve always felt drawn to the hands-on nature of interior design, and relish the opportunity I have to work so closely with our clients and their families on a daily basis.

You’ve built quite a team — how many people currently work for MFI? How did you initially start the hiring and delegating process?  

MF: We are currently a team of 10, which I sometimes find difficult to believe! I’ve always approached building and managing my business conservatively, only adding new team members when demand coincided with the ideal candidate. I love surrounding myself with individuals who complement my personal skillset and keep that goal in mind throughout the hiring process. Every person who joins our team brings diverse talents to the table, increasing our ability to serve clients more effectively. So, although two of us are generally delegated to every project, the entire team is working together closely behind the scenes to bring a client’s vision to life.

How would you describe your signature aesthetic? Did it take a while to develop your trademark style, or has it always been your inherent taste?

MF: Simplicity has always appealed to me, and I believe that we are the best versions of ourselves in the spaces that ease and inspire us. For that reason, I strive to create environments that elevate a client’s everyday experience and encourage their unique life stories to serve as the foundation of every design. I would describe my work as tailored, authentic, and curated, although my approach to design has steadily evolved over the years. I love how each client brings a newfound inspiration to my work and that I have the opportunity to continue learning and growing through every project.  

Who are your favorite furniture designers  / stores / brands to work with on projects?

MF: We are grateful to have a long list of artisans and vendors who help bring our design dreams to life! It’s super difficult to narrow that list down, but I would say my favorite wholesale merchants include: Formations, Gregorius Pineo, Holly Hunt, Rose Tarlow, Baker, Dessin Fournir, Dmitriy & Co., Pierre Frey, and McGuire (See!? The list is still long!). As for my local Houston faves, you’re sure to find me sourcing goodies at AREA, Found, Vieux, Mecox, and Kuhl-Linscomb. And a special shout out goes to our lovely friends at Lam Bespoke, whose new showroom we just designed!

Tell us a little about how the process works from start to finish with a client.

MF: We begin our journey together with a discovery phase where we dedicate time to getting to know our client on a more personal level. Understanding how they use their home and what they value are elements that will play heavily into the details of their design. We then begin technical drawings and room-by-room concepts, followed by budgeting and the ordering of individual furnishings and accessories. We collect all orders in a warehouse, so that each item can be inspected well before it reaches our client’s home. Once everything has arrived, we ask our clients to leave for several days while we install every last detail – down to the picture frames and candles. When they return, we host a grand reveal, which is always a huge celebration! After years of thoughtful planning and preparation, introducing a family to their new home for the very first time is an unforgettable experience.

You’ve worked with some A-List names like Whitney Port. What has been most helpful in establishing your brand and getting the word out about your firm?

MF: Building an established brand requires a steadfast focus on quality. Whether it’s how we engage with clients and vendors or how we share our passion for design with the world, we always strive for excellence. It takes dedication and hard work to preserve quality through every touch point within the firm, but the feedback and referrals our clients continue to share prove that those efforts are worthwhile! I rarely engage in paid advertising, so our team has developed creative, organic ways of sharing our work, vision, and values with media on both national and international levels. One component of that was recognizing the power of social media early on, which has been a huge driver in establishing the MFI brand. We love how quickly and easily we’re able to connect with people all over the world who share a similar passion for design!

Do you have any favorite projects to date? Would love to hear about one or two notable experiences!

MF: It’s so difficult to choose a favorite! Lately, we’ve been feeling fortunate to have several out-of-state clients who trust us with their homes from afar. Whitney Port’s LA home was such a joy to work on. Not only does she have a killer sense of style, but she’s kind and gracious to boot! We’re also working with T.J. Oshie and his wife Lauren who live near D.C. He plays in the NHL for the Washington Capitals (they won the 2018 Stanley Cup, y’all), so our whole office is brushing up on those hockey rules and regs! ☺ T.J. and Lauren have two adorable daughters, and we can’t wait to see the look on their faces at the grand reveal. Whether we’re on the East Coast, West Coast, or somewhere in between, we cherish the opportunity we’ve been given to support clients on their journey home.

Your company produces absolutely beautiful photography and content. Why was this important for you to focus on and to grow this part of your team?  How has this focus impacted your brand? How has Instagram shaped your business?

MF: The design industry has always been image driven, and I’ve had a personal interest in photography for many years. After opening the firm, I quickly realized that producing and sharing high-quality imagery of the work we are doing would be vital to the success of our business. Over the past decade, editorial exposure has taken on new meaning as social media platforms, blogs, and the entire digital sphere have gradually morphed into what we all know as modern day e-magazines. Coupled with that digital innovation is the need for constant, more readily-available content. In response, we place a continued emphasis on producing editorial-worthy material throughout every aspect of our business, whether it’s a full-home portfolio shoot or an Instagram post. Our digital platforms allow us to reach and inspire hundreds of thousands of individuals every single day, which is a true dream come true for any creative!

Do you feel like the social media / blog / content world is changing the interior design world in general?  How do you handle followers wanting sources and information for free on social media since your business is providing that for your clients?  

MF: Absolutely! Moments of inspiration are being shared around the world at a remarkable speed, and we are all being called upon to determine whether those moments provide any substantial value to our everyday lives. When the possibilities are limitless we can drop expectations and craft homes that truly speak to who we are. The issue most people face is being unable to pinpoint the elements that come together to build that dream home, and that’s where designers and architects step in. Thanks to social media, we don’t have to wait for a magazine to publish our work before we’re able to share it with the masses, which means people have access to our firm with the touch of a button. We love engaging with our followers and, while we don’t always have the time to explain each component of every image, we’re always more than happy to help out with sources when we can! We consider ourselves a hub for all things interior design and want to remain an active part of the design conversation industry-wide.

Where (or to whom) do you look for design inspiration?

MF: Architectural Digest, Elle Décor, House Beautiful and Veranda remain beloved sources of inspiration. However, my go-to activity for a fresh dose of perspective is travel! Observing the way people in different parts of the world approach design helps me think beyond the bubble, always challenging me to reimagine what home can be.

Do you have any large goals or business developments coming up for 2019?  Or further down the road?

MF: We have a few exciting developments in the works, the biggest of which is the production of a book. We’re aiming for a 2020 launch which will be here before we know it, so stay tuned for more on that!

What does a typical work day look like for you (even though we know there are probably few “typical days”)?

MF: I have two children (with a third on the way), so suffice it to say, there’s nothing typical about my mornings at home! But once I’ve made it to the office, I spend the morning checking in with my team and tackling time-sensitive tasks. My afternoons are generally dedicated to meetings outside of the office, which may include site and showroom visits, photo shoots, or vendor meetings.  

How would you describe your work personality in a few words?

Ambitious, Creative, Dreamer

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

MF: Designing! I truly love what I do. On my shortlist for the next few years would be the development of a furniture collection. We create a lot of custom pieces for our clients, and I’ve become increasingly determined to take that work to a wider audience!

Outside of work you have two little ones and one on the way — congrats!! How do you find a balance between motherhood and running a company?

MF: Surprisingly, having children has helped me develop laser focus when it comes to work. Since the birth of my first son, I’ve made it a point not to waste time on unimportant issues. I’ve dedicated time and energy to hiring teammates who make me better, faster, and more efficient, so that I can put my family first. Time with my boys (and soon to be girl!) is everything to me, so I schedule my days around picking them up at a certain time and then do everything I can to unplug for the evening.  

You are also a fellow small town Texas girl who attended Texas A&M University.  How did your early years prepare you for where you are today?

MF: Gig ‘em! Life is such a beautiful patchwork quilt of experiences and relationships. I feel incredibly fortunate because I was surrounded by role models who taught me so much about hard work, values, and leadership. I’m still learning every day while continually trying to evaluate the true meaning of success. It’s important to me to accomplish abundance and depth, not only through my work, but in my relationships, health, and social contributions.

What is your favorite part about running an interior design firm out of Houston?  

MF: Houston is such a vibrant and diverse city, and I feel incredibly lucky to live and work here! I like to say that, much like our work, Houston encapsulates time-honored traditions but executes them with a modern twist. The daily growth and sheer expanse of our city offers plenty of room in the market for new and emerging businesses, and I find that sources of inspiration and collaboration are nearly limitless!

What are your favorite neighborhoods from an architecture standpoint?

MF: Houston has so many incredible neighborhoods to choose from! I’m personally fond of The Heights (my family’s stomping grounds) for its charming bungalow-lined streets and walkability. I also love how passionate the neighborhood is about the protection of its cultural and architectural history. River Oaks has been hailed as an architectural treasure trove, and a quick drive by its numerous landmark homes shows that to be true. I’m also fond of the Memorial area where architectural styles vary but properties are large and meandering. Homes blend in seamlessly with their lush landscaping, and it can feel like you’re in an entirely different city!

Any favorite Houston restaurants we should check out?  

MF: My latest faves are Nancy’s Hustle, Emmaline and Calle Onze. Also, if you haven’t checked out Bloom & Bee at the new Post Oak Hotel, I highly recommend it. Our team will actually be there celebrating next month following our company retreat!

Do you have any follow up questions for Marie? Feel free to leave them in the comments below! xo