When the (cocktail) tables are turned and designers are tasked with decorating their own homes, they are especially vulnerable to a condition they’re trained to diagnose and treat in their own clients. “I call it sky’s the limit paralysis,” says Houston-based interior designer Marie Flanigan of the decision fatigue that industry professionals often suffer when mining the boundless depths of their market knowledge, design education, and stylistic rigor. The decorator adds, “When you’re exposed to the latest and greatest all the time, you feel compelled to rethink the way you do things.” To wit, Flanigan estimates that she changes houses every five years, a not-uncommon pattern among designers, she notes.
In anticipation of building a dream home (but not necessarily a forever home), the designer and her husband, Joe, temporarily slowed pace, taking three years to mull over the fate of a corner lot they owned in Houston Heights. Eventually, the couple had the vintage bungalow already on the property moved to another part of town, and started from scratch on what would become a 4,000-square-foot neo-Tudor—an homage to the historic neighborhood’s century-old “Hobbit houses,” as Joe lovingly refers to them—that Flanigan designed with Houston architect Kelly Cusimano.
The new dwelling on the block possessed an authentic sense of place, not to mention a bygone sense of time, thanks to the salvaged brick (some stamped Houston) originating from demolished midcentury homes in the city. The Flanigan family of five, including kids ages three through eight, moved in just a few months ago.
If their history of frequent moving is any indication, it’s T-minus four years, nine months, and counting for the family to maximize the potential of what Flanigan calls their “English cottage with a Texas twist.” The first step was to capture a Lone Star level of sunlight with a well-placed array of the designer’s architectural “first loves”—an unusually amorous reference for windows. Flanigan’s passion for panes is evident in a small library with an airy and expansive presence thanks to its double-height windows and floating cloud ceiling. In this marquee space, a studied homage to Alabama architect Bobby McAlpine’s thoroughly fenestrated work, nary a sunbeam is sacrificed by the window treatments. Even the opaque roller shades allow a glowy passage of light, and Flanigan claims that the sheer curtains by Mark Alexander were an experiment—after all, they don’t block out the Texas-size rays, as drapery is wont to do around in these parts. “It’d be super private in here if they did, but what a shame not to experience those windows,” she says.
Within a tableau of textured neutrals supported by a cast of dramatic accents—from rich hues like russet, evergreen, and blue-gray to sumptuous materials such as lustrous velvet and burnished brass—Flanigan layers different time periods and styles, an approach inspired by the masterful mix of classicism and modernism patented by another of her design heroes, John Saladino.
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In the living room, for example, a substantial Bauhausian coffee table, in which pitted travertine is juxtaposed against smooth rift-sawed oak, is an organic foil to the room’s elements of Hollywood regency—a sienna-hued velvet sofa and antique brass sconces, the latter inspired by the iconic sheaf-of-wheat table in Coco Chanel’s Rue Cambon apartment. Flanigan’s daughter, the youngest of the three children, reigns over a dainty domain where chinoiserie textiles harmoniously coexist with a pendant of seaworthy macramé and a Moroccan-inspired bed drape. The dining room’s hand-painted custom wallpaper, featuring a thick grove of trees based on an 18th-century Aubusson Verdure tapestry, adds an Old World contrast to the contemporary furnishings. But vying for the role of centerpiece is the Menil chandelier from Flanigan’s lighting collection for Visual Comfort.
The designer says she’s road testing the glamorous alloy band with crystal fringe (also in situ are her textile designs for Annie Selke, like the hand-knotted wool rug in the living room or the jute rug in the library, both currently being put through their literal paces). “I need to understand how the designs stand up to real life,” Flanigan says. “Just in the short time we’ve been in the house, I’ve already learned so much.” The radiant light fixture, inspired by the elegant architecture of the Renzo Piano–designed Menil Collection museum in central Houston, is a literal brass ring that serves as a proverb, symbolizing the shining achievement of a dream home.