Ask architect-turned-interior designer Marie Flanigan three keys to a really great room, and she ticks them off immediately: “Tons of natural light. A cozy space to cuddle up with those you love. And great art that really speaks to you.”
Armchairs from Interlude Home, a hanging fixture from Circa Lighting, and a rustic coffee table from Lam Bespoke create an inviting sitting area off the kitchen.
Flanigan backed shelves with a Phillip Jeffries grass cloth for a dash of texture.
That trio of must-haves flows in abundance through the Houston home she designed for a young family who wanted gracious living spaces for themselves as well as the houseguests who frequently visit. Flanigan’s easy, breezy design style appears everywhere, from the living room’s generously proportioned window seat heaped with pillows to the nursery’s collection of prints depicting cities where the owners have lived.
A reproduction sideboard crafted of oak and an antique limestone fireplace from France add a vintage touch to the space.
The Colonial-style house was built more than 50 years ago, but it exudes an air of freshness and simplicity that’s positively of the moment, yet far from trendy. “This house has good bones and gave us a lot to work with,” Flanigan says. “It’s about timeless, architectural, simple spaces.”
In the living room, a deft mix of linen-upholstered furnishings, antique European end tables, and hemlock beams creates visual interest in the neutral living space.
A gilded side table adds glamour to a seating area.
It’s also about texture—Flanigan’s fourth key to an inviting room. Rough-hewn ceiling beams and heavily grained wood furnishings reveal her appreciation for authentic rustic materials and speak volumes about her approach to design. But she also incorporates soothing neutral tones that contribute an overall air of lightness.
A custom oak table is surrounded by chairs cloaked in white indoor-outdoor linen. “You can bleach them if you need to!” says designer Marie Flanigan. Walls are covered in gray linen wallpaper.
The designer swapped dated cabinet fronts for a clean-lined version of traditional Shaker style and used marble slab for the countertops and backsplash.
“Natural, organic textures are so important,” Flanigan says. “When you use them in architectural elements like horizontal paneling and reclaimed beams, it makes spaces special instead of just putting furniture into a plain, square box.” In other words, she advises, layer floors, walls, and ceilings with interest, and you’re halfway to obtaining dynamic rooms.
Once featuring green cabinetry, the powder room was updated using a marble sink and graphic metallic wallpaper by Schumacher.
A bit moodier than the rest of the house, this romantic space shimmers with sateen bedding. The hanging light fixture is from Circa Lighting.
The warmly muted color palette was inspired by the owners’ love of goods produced by the Rifle Paper Co.
A collection of prints depicting city skylines was purchased on Etsy and hangs above a new midcentury-style chest of drawers acting, for now, as a diaper-changing station.
The property’s guest house is a perfect example of layering textures for interest.
The self-sufficient space opens onto the swimming pool.
Flanigan once again chose a neutral palette—white with touches of beige, brown, and soft blue—and tied it together with massive rough-hewn beams overhead.
Natural, contemporary, curvaceous, and sculptural—all words Flanigan uses to describe a brilliantly mismatched collection of furnishings in the guest house dining and living areas.
The space includes its own living/kitchen/dining area. Slightly more modern than the main house, it nonetheless mirrors the main house’s clean yet layered aesthetic. “It’s smaller, fresher, and whiter,” the designer notes, “yet it stays true to the original building.”
Sleek oak cabinets are accentuated by campaign-style antiqued-nickel hardware and an elegant Calacatta marble backsplash.
Linen-upholstered chairs and a tufted linen bench surround a wood-topped table with iron legs.
Lacquered midcentury-style furniture mixes well with a tufted leather headboard in a guest house bedroom. Blue accents add fresh appeal.
Indeed, the houses share a palette of neutral hues, natural materials like linen and rattan, and furniture gathered over a decade. But Flanigan employs one more design aesthetic with her use of metal accents, most notably iron. Supplying both graphic impact and industrial flair, iron outlines and contemporizes everything from wing chairs and drum shades to bench legs and picture frames. It also draws attention in subtle, surprising ways.
“I believe in the age-old saying that ‘less is more,’ ” Flanigan explains, “but the contrast of organics, woods, and metals makes ‘less’ more exciting.”
The flagstone terrace off the kitchen and sitting room is furnished with chairs from Janus et Cie and a sofa and tables from RH.
Marie Flanigan’s tips for neutral rooms that are anything but boring:
- Feel it. Slubby linen sofas, animal hide stools, and woven chairs offer a range of textures you can literally feel. Vary the scale of those textures, and you amp up the interest even further.
- Light it. Natural light is important, but so is a variety of task, recessed, and ambient lighting. A lighting pro can help you illuminate for the greatest impact.
- Embellish it. Apply paneling to your walls, beams to your ceilings, and trims to your draperies and furnishings. Details make a difference, especially when your color scheme is quiet.
Photography: Julie Soefer