Design a Space with Staying Power

How do you ensure a room will stand the test of time?

I try to go as personal and unique as possible when it comes to elements such as art, rugs, window coverings, and accessories, but overall I think it's wise to keep anything that requires permanent installation classic and timeless. Hot pink grasscloth wallpaper in the powder room? Sure. If the walls are primed correctly, the paper can be removed and updated with something more subtle in a few hours. Floor-to-ceiling hot pink tile in the master bathroom? Probably not. That's where I usually opt for something that's a little less specific like white carrarra marble or paint-grade millwork.

Dining room Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions
Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions

What are your go-to building materials that evoke timelessness?

Tough one. I guess a good place to start is with countertops since they're usually one of the top three largest expenses. When it comes to countertops, it's a three-way tie between honed marble, poured concrete, and butcher block. All three are investments but they also work well in a wide range of architectural styles.

Hands down, of the three, I use butcher block the most because many of my clients are families with small children. Butcher block is forgiving and can also be sanded and re-stained and sealed over the years. I also think butcher block can be a nice surprise in a more formal kitchen; it can create a juxtaposition that's fun and adds a sense of casualness.

First choice for flooring?

I'm a light-toned wood floors guy and 75% of the time, I'm all about unfinished tongue and groove that can be stained and refinished again and again. I love really light stains, sometimes even just a sealant on a light white oak is enough, and then there's whitewash which is and has always been my number one. I love to use light floors to bounce light around a room.

Where do you start when you design a room?

First up is assessing what furniture pieces fit the architecture, the homeowner's lifestyle, and also flow of the space. When it comes to sofas, I feel like you can't go wrong with a tuxedo style if the room is meant for one- to two-hour conversations and briefly entertaining guests. If long visits sprawled out with kids and out-legged friends are what the space calls for, I love a slipcovered camelback sofa. After the sofa is chosen, I choose chairs that fit proportionately and don't at all match the same lines as the sofa; I do this so the overall look will be more collected. To me that's the key to a room that feels legit: when all the pieces look like they were carefully selected out of love, the room feels more personal… And personal feels forever.

Bedroom and dining room Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions
Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions

Have you made any mistakes that caused a room to feel dated?

Absolutely. The most important method for truly getting interior design right is to fail at putting a room together. In my first place, I designed everything with midcentury modern furniture and a very textbook midcentury modern palette. The issue: it became one-note, didn't feel original, and those pieces truly only worked together. When I moved to my next home, either those pieces all had to exist in the same exact space or they didn't really work, like, at all. That project taught me the importance of eclecticism and editing. Most people don't love just one style of design, and if you mix things up, it's very likely you can keep creating fresh looks with the same pieces again and again.

Your rooms are colorful and layered, but not overwhelming. How do you do that?

For every high energy hue introduced into a room, I like to bring in one or two neutrals to tone it down. The colorful elements are usually free-standing or easily changeable: accessories, rugs, paint, and wallpaper. Most of the time I stick with neutral upholstery for big-ticket items like sofas and armchairs and headboards, but those are usually new neutrals: navy, blue-grey, shades of white, black, grey or charcoal. I'm big on new neutrals; the days of sticking with builder beige or choosing twenty tones of tan, those aren't really ever on the table!

Any tricks for choosing art?

Art is the ultimate way to put your own mark on a room. And to me, it's all about juxtaposition. I like to use art as an opposite. In formal rooms, I love massively scaled kid art professionally framed and hung front and center. Pop art is another way to take down the seriousness of a spaced used for more formal entertaining like a dining room or even a living room. Conversely, a room meant for fun and games can be given a brand new vibe with a classic oil portrait or an old school landscape.

I try to choose a mix of art pieces that have tons and tons of color so you can pull one of them out for use on rugs, upholstery, and walls, but then I also love me some straight up black and white art because it mixes well pretty much anywhere and everywhere.

Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions

What color do you find to be the hardest to work with and why?

Tie: yellow and beige. Yellow can be super duper intense and really grab and hold your attention, like, for a really really really long time and it can be visually draining. Ever think of why road signs and construction signs are bright yellow? Yep! When I use yellow, try to stick with as much pure white as possible and ensure the room has a massive natural light source. This way the pure white can help counterbalance the yellow and then it's a bit more balanced, and the result is cheerful and fun.

When it comes to beige, I find that even though it's a neutral, it kinda kills the mojo of any super saturated colors paired with it. Anytime I'm going with tons of color, I like pure ultra-white as my backdrop. If I do have to work with beige, my favorite mix is beige furniture upholstery and/or rugs with stark white walls, and then mix in a ton of black and white pattern or black and white art. The key to beige is making it not boring… And that's why hiring a designer is key. I have some designer friends who masterfully use beige and I bow down to them with mad respect!

Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions
Design by Brian Patrick Flynn | Courtesy of FlynnsideOut Productions