Doni Flanigan Gets Real

Doni Flanigan

Photo by Tack Sharp Studios


Why would anyone settle for faux, or fake, interior finishes when they can have the real thing?

Take it from Doni Flanigan, designer/master builder at Doni Flanigan Interior Design in Cincinnati, there is nothing fake about the beautifully unique finishes he produces.


“I produce the world’s finest interior design finishes, period,” says Flanigan. He spent more than 20 years as the leading designer of unique finishes on the West Coast, and was named one of the Top 100 interior design artists in the world by Architectural Digest.

Before Flanigan built his first mega mansion, or did interior design on the multi-million-dollar home, he worked for some of the top interior designers in the world, creating amazing finishes that gave these designers their superstar status. He has the unique ability to look at a piece of furniture and see through the finish and figure out the necessary steps to duplicate the restoration of fine antiques, precious gilded mirrors, and historic plastered walls. It was his fantastic finishes that kept the most prestigious interior designers coming back to Flanigan for more.

Having the life-changing opportunities to work with such incredible designers as James Northcutt, Mark Hampton, Jack Lawrence, Sandra Costa, Paul Lesperance and Stephen Chase kept Flanigan on his creative toes, he notes. His most influential mentor was architect and real estate developer Tony Ashai, who taught Flanigan how to build and do it turnkey.

“We would build 28,000 square-foot spec homes to the nines,” Flanigan recalls. “Tony let me bring in Provasi Colleton furnishing and Aga John rugs. I’d buy chandeliers from Connoisseur Fine Antiques, right down to the silverware and towels. I did venetian plaster walls, custom Gothic libraries and Clive Christian kitchens. And yes, they sold fast. Tony always said that people want what nobody else has. I still build, design and finish by that standard today.”

Flanigan learned early on in his trade that it is all about the finish.

“Flat paint never compares to furniture-quality glazes or European hand-polished plastered walls,” he says. “The wipe-on-wipe-off stains and varnishes will never compare to an 18-layer stain, watermarked and hand-waxed finish.”

Some finishers try to fake a dual metallic finish instead of real gold or real silver leaf, he continues. “They’ll even carve in lines. While putting on real gold or real silver leaf may be painstaking, it’s impossible to get the illumination behind the stain unless you do a real metal finish. A real artist will take the time to do it right.”

Flanigan is well known for being able to do finishes and do them the right way the first time. His career motto, “Give me one room and I will change your life,” is the result of a strong religious faith, armor-clad self-confidence, an amazing eye for beauty and a penchant for design he inherited subliminally from his parents, both awe-inspiring artists.

“My dad was a master artist, and he could do anything,” Flanigan recalls. “He’d bring home mantles and furniture from old farmhouses, refinish them and turn them into beautiful reclaimed pieces of art. He taught me glazes. We painted million-dollar cigarette boats, Bentleys, and Lear jets together. We’d fix chipped porcelain and you could not tell where it had been chipped. Once I got started, I never stopped. I never said ‘no.’ I studied and read and spent years developing my craft. Nowadays, people have YouTube. Well, there’s no YouTube-in’ what I do.”

“I’ve just completed a new line of incredible cabinetry and furniture finishes that are one-of-a-kind productions. I also provide a complete library of world-class finishes for walls, ceilings and murals.”

If Flanigan can visualize it, he knows it’s gonna work.

“Only God can give you that kind of confidence,” Flanigan says. “It’s a gift. I never went to school for this. God put this in my head. Either God talks to you, or he doesn’t. Well, he screams at me.”

Flanigan also spent four years observing the painting techniques of an impressionist painter from Peru.

“He got me started and I’d paint all night,” Flanigan says. “That’s what it takes. You have to have that passion, that ‘I can’t put my brushes down’ attitude. I’ll be putting silver or gold leaf on a ceiling, or staining a library, and forget to eat lunch.”

As one might suspect with a design artist of Flanigan’s high caliber, faux finish terms like stippling, sponging, or brown coffee glaze are not, never have been, and never will be, in his professional vocabulary.

Sure, real costs more than faux, but …

“People want value for their money,” Flanigan says. “They want to spend their money wisely. My clients know they can go to sleep at night knowing I am doing a great job for them. I leave a legacy. With my finishes, you never have to paint again. They stand the test of time. We’re talking about making history.”

His incredible library of finishes, from ultra-high modern to extraordinarily historical, is ever evolving.

Flanigan admits he is a perfectionist, a stickler for details. He sees himself as his design/building teams’ coach.

“I build these guys who work on my teams,” he says. “I’m proud to say that at least 100 companies have been started because of Doni Flanigan.”

Flanigan, who originally hailed from Indiana, immensely enjoyed the years he spent in California, honing his craft and earning major recognition in the world of home design working for celebrities and millionaires.

“I came back here for a while, and I would take my portfolio and show it to some local architects and designers, and they’d say, Incredible, but we don’t do that here in Cincinnati.’ For 12 years, I flew back and forth, spending a week here, three weeks in LA. My wife put up with that for a while.”

Four daughters and a couple of terrible earthquakes later, however, the Flanigans made their permanent home in Cincinnati.

“And I’ve been busy here ever since. Every day I get up and just go. Before I enter a house, I make the sign of the cross and say, ‘It’s showtime, God. Let’s do this.’ ”

Flanigan remembers his father warning him once years ago that at the pace he was going professionally, he would fall flat on his face one day.

“I said, ‘Heck, no! I’m built for success. I am made for success. I will never fail.’ Of course, I’ve made mistakes (like the time I accidentally spilled paint thinner on a glaze), but most of my mistakes have turned into beautiful finishes.” 


For more information on Doni Flanigan, call 513.207.6571, email or visit