For Dallas interior designer Sharon Flatley, a Barbie Dreamhouse began her passion. She got it as a present when she was eight years old and knew then she wanted to design.
“I immediately set about redecorating the interior and adding cardboard porches to the exterior—I used scraps of fabric to make drapery treatments and made rugs and cardboard furniture to add to the décor,” she said. “I would spend hours looking at catalogues for furniture and cut out the pieces to create ‘roomscapes.’ I guess it was just meant to be.”
Fast forward a few decades, and she’s still creating roomscapes and great design, but on a grander scale with her firm Sharon Flatley Design. She specializes in kitchens and bathrooms, creating classic and timeless spaces.
“If I return to or repeat any design element, it would be just that,” she said. “I want my designs to stand the test of time and in ten years, still look elegant and classic, as well as functional.”
Flatley loves the process, from concept to completion.
“I love the journey along the way and designing and then adapting that design as issues arise either because of time constraints or structural limitations that come up during the project,” she said. “No matter how well planned out a design, there will always be challenges that will need to be addressed along the way.”
For Flatley, an “outdoorsy” person, hiking and being outside provide inspiration for her design work.
“I love natural elements and am most influenced by designs found in nature, colors and patterns,” she said. “I think by incorporating nature into design, you maintain a balance and a sense of serenity—biophilic design has become a great trend now.”
Flatley grew up in a rural area and spent a lot of time being outside.
“I still backpack, hike, bird watch, and paint outdoor scenes—I find peace in nature and it is a very grounding influence in my life,” she said. “I would like to think that I was using [biophilic design] before it became a popular way of incorporating nature into a designed space.”
Starting her firm in 1990, Flatley’s goal was to reach her full potential as an interior designer.
“I wanted to expand beyond the boundaries of what [my employer at the time] could provide,” she said. “Customer satisfaction was paramount to me, not just ‘selling a product.’ I wanted my clients to be ecstatic about the finished project and wanted the process to be a fun part of the process, as well.”
Her overarching mission is provide exceptional customer service and design so clients become repeat clients and provide referrals for future business. To do this, she aims for clean lines, and sophisticated, timeless, and classic design.
“I want my designs to stand the test of time and not be tied to trendy design that will go out in six months or less,” she said. “I am not saying that you disregard current trends or colors; just keep it elegant and classic. If you have to replace pillows or minor accessories, that’s easy—just don’t make it so trendy that you have to throw out everything and start over.”
The process of discernment is a central part of Flatley’s work. She sits down with clients and asks lots of questions, exploring what they have in mind, and finding patterns or repeated themes that might point to what the client wants in their design.
“It’s my job as a designer to sort through the verbal clutter to determine exactly what they do want,” she said. “Sometimes design is an evolutionary journey—what you or they thought they wanted in the beginning may evolve into a totally different aesthetic, but still come out classically beautiful.”
The biggest challenge of her job is managing expectations because everyone has a budget and timeframe to complete a project. The larger the project, the more she needs to be able to manage expectations about how long the process will take and cost.
“There is a big difference between a cosmetic re-do and totally gutting a space and putting it all back together—you need to be an expert at time management and coordinating with subs to keep everything on schedule,” she said. “We joke that our job is part designer, part construction manager, ambassador/peace keeper, and part marriage counselor.”
Flatley has specialized in custom kitchen and bathroom design for most of her career. She holds the highest accreditation awarded by the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) as a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer (CMKBD), and has served on that board for over 26 years. She is also registered by the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners as an Interior Designer (RID) and is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID).
Flatley ended up in Dallas because her husband is originally from here and she found Dallas is “the perfect place for business and design.”
“The wonderful thing about the designers that I know is that they are all willing to share resources and help you out if you get ‘stuck,’ as we all do from time to time—instead of feeling as if we are in competition, it is more a sense of community and camaraderie,” she said. “We are so fortunate to have a great decorative center with access to all kinds of furnishings, tiles, rugs—you name it and we can find it here!”
At the end of the day, Flatley bravely and happily works as an interior designer in Dallas.
“Never shy away from a challenge and sometimes the most difficult situations help make you a better designer, listener, and help you reach your full potential,” she said.