Hi, LDV readers—Jeanne Lyons Davis here flipping the script on the one…the only…Paloma Contreras! Paloma has been interviewing the who’s who of the design industry since she launched her popular LDV series, The Style Files, in 2010. After nearly a decade of interviewing luminaries like Charlotte Moss, Aerin Lauder, Jonathan Adler, and Veere Grenney, to name a few, it’s about time that we get to know the insanely talented—and equally private—designer extraordinaire behind our favorite interior design firm and lifestyle blog.
While Paloma would rather tout other designer’s accolades here on LDV, we’re going against the grain (and her wishes!) to spotlight one of the hardest working people we know. Since launching LDV in 2007, Paloma’s garnered a legion of design-loving loyalists—350,000 monthly readers and 111,000 Instagram followers, to be exact!—thanks to her discerning eye, distinctive voice, and (let’s be real) darling dog, Tate. Her refined residential projects have amassed national publicity, including Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, domino, LUXE, Traditional Home, Southern Living, and ELLE DECOR, the latter of which listed her under their prestigious “A-List” of top designers in the world.
If she wasn’t busy enough running a design firm and lifestyle website, Paloma published her first book Dream Design Live (Abrams) this September. In the words of lauded decorator and Style Files alumni Mark D. Sikes, “The book is a testament to Paloma’s talent, hard work, passion, and—most importantly—showing all of us that we can turn our dreams into a reality.” Hear, hear.
But enough from us: Read for yourself why Paloma is a true reflection of her talents and tenacity, embracing la dolce vita in everything she does.
Jeanne Lyons Davis: How would you describe your style?
Paloma Contreras: My design sensibility is a modern take on traditional style, gravitating towards classic silhouettes and timeless pieces paired with a touch of glamour and an infusion of color.
JLD: How has Houston influenced your aesthetic?
PC: Houston is filled with beautiful homes in a variety of styles, my favorite being Georgian and Greek Revival in stately neighborhoods like River Oaks and Broadacres where the streets are lined with hundred-year old Live Oak trees. Aside from the inspiration that one can glean from a tour of the city, Houston, though thoroughly Texan, is also very Southern in the sense that people take a lot of pride in their homes, continue to pass down antiques through generations, and love to entertain, making the home a real focal point in one’s lifestyle.
JLD: What does your home say about you?
PC: Our home is a reflection of the things my husband and I love. You’ll find a mix of antiques paired with contemporary and modern pieces, abstract art by emerging Southern artists, and interesting finds from our travels. Of course, there’s plenty of ikat and a bit of Chinoiserie as well! Our house is polished, but also very relaxed.
JLD: Where do you turn for inspiration?
PC: As clichéd as it sounds, I find travel to be incredibly inspiring. Whether it is strolling through the streets of Paris and shopping for treasures at the Marché aux Puces or admiring the architecture in New York or Los Angeles, my eye always gravitates to new details when I am away from home.
JLD: Who are your personal style icons?
PC: Lee Radziwill, Catherine Deneuve, Sofia Coppola, and Lauren Santo Domingo
JLD: What trait do you most admire in a person?
PC: Genuine kindness
JLD: What is your guilty pleasure?
PC: Reality television, good wine, and chocolate, in no particular order! But truth be told, I don’t feel guilty about any of it!
JLD: How would you describe LDV to someone who hasn’t visited the site before?
PC: La Dolce Vita is a design and lifestyle site that creates and features content based on the things which inspire me the most, be they interiors, art, travel, food, or fashion.
JLD: Before decorating and blogging, what did you do?
PC: I started writing La Dolce Vita in July 2007 as a creative outlet during my previous career as a high school Spanish teacher. I felt creatively stifled in my job and it was never quite the right fit for me. I’d always loved design and we had just purchased our first house. I sought out design inspiration in magazines and online, but the handful of blogs that existed back then did not speak to my aesthetic, so I started writing about the things I found inspiring. Things took shape rather organically from that point on.
JLD: Describe the moment when you first thought, “Wait a minute—I should pursue blogging and interior design full-time?”
PC: Prior to starting my business, Paloma Contreras Design, I was Director of Marketing for Visual Comfort & Co., the lighting manufacturer. It was fascinating to learn an entirely new side of the design business. I helped launch the AERIN collection for Visual Comfort and learned a lot in my position, but after previously working freelance prior to this post, I was itching to get out on my own again, so I decided to hang my shingle.
JLD: What was your first “I made it!” moment?
PC: I still don’t feel like I have made it and I don’t know that I ever will. There are a lot of egos in this business, but that’s not my style. I’ll always feel like there is more to try, more to achieve, more people to reach. I am a very goal-driven person. That being said, there have been a few defining moments that helped propel my career forward, including landing my first cover in the Winter 2014 issue of domino, being named the “Next Wave” designer in the November 2014 issue of House Beautiful, being named #4 Top Home Influencer by Forbes—I never dreamed I’d be featured in such a publication!—and most recently, being named to ELLE DECOR’s prestigious A-List. There are plenty of naysayers who don’t believe I am worthy of these accolades because I am self-taught or because I also write a blog, but I’d point them to some of the great designers of the past 100 years who did not have formal backgrounds in design either. Rather than tell them, I am motivated to work even harder and have the work speak for itself.
JLD: With more than 111k followers on Instagram and counting, how would you describe social media’s relationship with your brand?
PC: Social media is a very powerful tool. I was lucky to get in on the ground floor of blogging when it first took shape over ten years ago. Social media is essentially the marketing arm of my business, as I don’t do any paid advertising anywhere. I find it to be an incredible way of connecting with people who have similar interests and to share your work, personality, and style with those who care to follow along. I believe that having a strong social media presence is as important as having a great website or strong branding. In this day and age, it is your calling card! We have gotten several clients through Instagram because more than a website or even a blog, it allows people to feel more connected to you and to learn more about you and your personality. I understand the importance of social media, but I also find it imperative for there to be an organic quality to it all, so I don’t overly-curate my Instagram feed or prepare 10 posts in advance. I sort of just go with the flow of what is inspiring me on that day.
JLD: What’s next for PCD? You’ve been hinting on social media about some exciting projects on the horizon. Spill.
PC: I currently have a lot of irons in the fire! I have been on a whirlwind book tour promoting my first book, Dream Design Live, from coast to coast. As that has been going on, I have been working on several design projects with clients both in and outside of Houston, as well as renovating our new studio space. We’re moving our offices to a charming bungalow in the heart of Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood. The way the space is set up lends itself to having a small shop in the front, something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I partnered with my good friend Devon Liedtke, who once worked for PCD, on the store concept, Paloma & Co., which we will be opening together in early 2019 with an online extension to follow in the spring! We have worked very diligently to curate a fantastic assortment of handmade items from around the world, French antiques, original art from emerging Southern artists, as well as some private label items that will be available through Paloma & Co. In addition, I have a very exciting licensed collection of lighting, textiles, and decorative accessories in the works, which will debut in the spring as well.
JLD: And as always, what is your idea of living “la dolce vita”?
PC: Being able to achieve success by your own rules, living a life you are proud of, and having someone to share it with. I feel like I get to live my dolce vita everyday. I am lucky to have a career I am passionate about; I have a wonderfully supportive husband whom I adore, and we are able to travel often.
Style Mantra: Be true to your own taste
Scent: AERIN Rose de Grasse
Piece of Jewelry: My Rolex Lady Datejust 31 with a Mother-of-Pearl face. My husband gave it to me for our 10th wedding anniversary a few years ago.
Color I Never Tire Of: Black
Flower: Pink peonies
Indispensable Design Element: Abstract art and an element of Chinoiserie
Era for Design: Now because we can draw inspiration from all of the wonderful eras of design that came before
Dream Project: A John Staub house in Houston and a winery in Napa Valley
Fabric/Textile: Silk velvet
Hostess Gift: A box of fresh gardenias from High Camp Supply or a fabulous candle with a handwritten note
Meal: The burrata starter followed by steak frites cooked medium rare and a nice glass of Bordeaux at La Fontaine de Mars in Paris
Drink: Topo Chico sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, and a glass of Rosé—sometimes all three during a meal!
Way to Unwind after a Long Day at Work: With a glass of wine and mindless television with my husband, Fabian, and our dog, Tate
3 Things I Love About My City: The Menil Collection, Tiny Boxwoods restaurant, and the beautiful houses and Live Oak trees on North and South Boulevards
City: Paris, with London as a close second
Weekend Destination: San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Hotel: Auberge du Soleil in Rutherford, CA
Museum: The Picasso Museum in Paris
Artist: Cy Twombly
Song that Always Puts Me in a Great Mood: “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac
Actor/Actress: Meryl Streep
Risk Worth Taking: Starting your own business
Greatest Extravagance: Nice hotels
Go-To Color Palette: Moss green, white, with a touch of pale blue or raspberry
Rule to Break: Rules were made to be broken!
Movie Set Design: High Society, The Talented Mr. Ripley, A Single Man, and Auntie Mame
I can never have too many… design books and true friends