Some people call it intuition, others call it gut. For interior designer Brendan Flanigan, it’s a mixture of both — the hallmark of a career spent observing what makes every client distinct. From their needs to their wants, Flanigan keeps a close eye until he reaches the finish line and turns a project over to its owners.
“It’s about going a level deeper,” said Flanigan, who refers to the way he approaches his clients as his “New Design Paradigm” — his method for unearthing a client’s design identity. Everyone has one, he said, even if they’ve never put it into words.
Each client engagement, whether residential or commercial, begins with a series of questions during the “get to know you” process, he explained. For starters, things like: Who are you? Where are you going? What are you looking for? What do you need?
“You sit across from me and I take in who you are — what you’re wearing, are you passing through, starting something new. Do you have kids; one home or four?” Flanigan explained. He compared it to a scientific process, first identified then honed through practice, and achieved by combining insight and years of design experience.
“Two families can have the exact same profile — same style of house and same budget — but my design for each family will still be different,” Flanigan said. “People often have a rigid expectation of design, but the truth is that even when a profile is a match, what one family will love the other will not.”
He then transfers what he sees into what could work for the client. Starting with aesthetics, he curates a space detail by detail to create what he imagines will be the right setting.
“I’m always inquiring what’s specific to this brand, this family or this bachelor, and then taking it from there.”
The self-taught designer — who grew up not far from the the Emma Willard School in Troy in an arts-and-crafts, foursquare-style home — said he’s always had an eye for design, “cutting his teeth” while helping his parents renovate and manage their restaurant in Malta. Although he also bussed and waited tables at Emma Dux, and even managed the scheduling as a teenager, Flanigan said he enjoyed playing with the window treatments and decor.
Today, Flanigan resides in Saratoga but also keeps a place in New York City so he can reach clients wherever they are — whether it’s a home or restaurant in the Capital Region, a ski house in Vermont, a city residence or someone’s beach or lake home. That is to say he doesn’t mind a bit of work-related travel: “Each project has a schedule of its own, but I can be responsive and can travel there or work remotely.”
“I offer residential and commercial interior design,” he said, “with a focus on renovations, kitchen design and hospitality design.” His projects are roughly half-and-half, although slightly more residential these days.
In terms of commerical projects, Flanigan redesigned The Butcher Block in Plattsburgh a few years ago and recently completed work on The Bishop, formerly The Merry Monk, which opened in Albany this past summer. Flanigan called his design for The Bishop “beef and bourbon-centric,” infused with a feeling of authenticity he intentionally carried from the food and drink menu into the materials and decor. Features include mixed metal fixtures, brass sconces and a 25-foot copper bar, following significant restoration and renovation work executed over six months. He also designed the funky retail environment at Union Hall Supply Co. in downtown Saratoga, creating a stay-awhile vibe.
With every project, his intent is to deliver something that won’t require an overhaul in seven or 10 years’ time. That means being aware of trends, which are commonplace in design, without being beholden to them, he said.
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“My design always has an element of timelessness to it to ensure it lasts longer,” he said. “And the reason it’s timeless is that it reflects that person and their style — it always reflects them.”
That way, he explained, they won’t tire of it.
Beyond that, it’s a matter of how the mix is put together, he explained. Vintage and new, custom and otherwise, he considers everything from texture to scale, as the total effect is what he’s after, which is likely why he loves renovations, as they provide a chance to completely reimagine an existing space.
The designer said he’s not wedded to one style or aesthetic, instead working across a range of styles including modern, rustic, old world, romantic and what he referred to as “something with a touch of grit” to tackle each project. Where possible, he utilizes custom metalwork and millwork, and sources original artwork to lend one-of-a-kind touches.
Personality must always shine through. “When you have the reveal and someone sees their house for the first time, you can tell from how exuberant they are that it goes a bit deeper, because everything is looked at from their perspective.”
His particular perspective helped land him the win for best kitchen design at the 2019 New York Innovation in Design Awards. As far as what’s next, Flanigan cited a handful of renovations, including a historic home in Glens Falls, a prewar Park Avenue residence and a home in Lake George.