If you have ever seen a home designed by Paloma Contreras you understand the incredible talent that she possesses. Each one is polished, yet effortless, utilizing color in a way that makes the space perfectly timeless. In the span of 10 years, Paloma Contreras went from high school Spanish teacher to Elle Décor’s A-Lister interior designer. We learned so much from her about following your passion and taking a leap of faith. We are honored to feature her as our February Mujer.
I know you have had a few careers over the years! You were once a Spanish teacher – at what moment did you decide to pursue interior design full time? What inspired you?
That is quite a long story! I started my blog, La Dolce Vita back in the summer of 2007 while on summer break before the last year of my teaching career. In a nutshell, having this new creative outlet made me quickly realize that I was not nearly as passionate about teaching as I was design. The blog took off fairly quickly in that first year, so by the time the end of the school year had rolled around, I decided to leave. I was pretty miserable and would cry every Sunday night, so my husband was very supportive. I basically focused on my blog and some freelance gigs that came my way (before being an influencer was a thing!) and I tutored a handful of students in the afternoons which essentially made up for my teaching salary.
Eventually, I met Andy Singer, the founder of Visual Comfort, the decorative lighting company my husband still works for while tutoring his son in Spanish. His company had experienced tremendous growth and was approaching its 25th anniversary at the time, so he was seeking out a Marketing Director. After his search came up empty, he said to me “I’ve interviewed all of these marketing people and none of them know how to market themselves as well as you do. You know what’s going on in there (*taps on his computer screen), would you want to try out this role?” It was a huge opportunity, so I leapt at the chance! During the years I was there, I helped launch the collaboration with Aerin Lauder, who is now among their top-selling design partners. I learned a tremendous amount about the product, manufacturing, and marketing sides of the interior design industry while I was at Visual Comfort, but eventually, I felt called to focus on interior design work, so I moved on and started my design firm in 2013 and haven’t looked back. It has taken a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get my business to where it is today, but I am incredibly grateful for what we’ve accomplished. In 2018, I published my first book, Dream Design Live (with Abrams). In 2019, I opened my store, Paloma & Co in Houston and launched online later that year. And just this past fall, things came completely full circle, and I introduced my first lighting collection with Visual Comfort which is now available to order through Circa Lighting.
How would you describe your style?
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.
Where do you turn for inspiration? What are some current sources of inspiration?
I’ve been starting to travel more for work recently and have been spending a lot of time working on a couple of projects in Palm Beach. I am very inspired by the architecture, landscape, and sense of glamour there.
You can be as successful as you are determined to be, but you must be patient. Success is not achieved overnight, fame isn’t the end-all, be-all, and remember that your reputation is everything.
When you get started on a new project, how do you start your design process?
I always start with a floor plan and think about the functionality and flow of the space. Once that is set, I begin formulating the color palette and overall vibe and select the hero fabrics that the rest of the design will be based off of.
Who has been the most influential woman in your life?
Hands down, my mother. She is the kindest, most loving person I know. She made me believe in the beauty of my dreams from a very young age and is my most ardent supporter.
How do you balance work and family life?
I take it day by day and honestly have not figured out the ideal balance yet. They say it takes a village and I have a wonderful one! My mom cares for our daughter, Margot while I am at work and my husband has been working from home since the onset of the pandemic. I have an amazing team at work that I can rely on when I need to focus on family. My real issue is giving myself the permission to feel okay stepping away from my business for a day or choosing to work from home to spend a little more time on Margot. I am working on being better about this! I give my team a lot of flexibility, but I need to be better about granting myself the same grace.
What advice do you have for young women starting their careers?
Be a sponge! Seek out mentors. Intern. Go back to school. Learn, learn, learn! I do not have any regrets about my path, I just wish that I would have known that I would ultimately devote my career to interior design earlier on in life so that I could have gone to design school, spent time working from others learning the ins and outs of running a successful firm (and making mistakes on someone else’s dime!). I always say that while I do not have a formal education in design, I have my own, unorthodox, incredible education in design from years of writing about the subject, befriending some of the designers I most admire, and from working in various facets of the industry over the years. I would also encourage women to be patient and kind to themselves. You can be as successful as you are determined to be, but you must be patient. Success is not achieved overnight, fame isn’t the end-all, be-all, and remember that your reputation is everything. Don’t let your ambition damage relationships and burn bridges. I see it happen all the time.
Mi Golondrina has achieved something so wonderful in highlighting the glorious work made my indigenous Mexican hands by bringing it to a larger audience and reimagining how it is used.
What do you love about living in Houston?
I love the diversity in Houston. There are people from all walks of life and all corners of the globe here. I also love that we are centrally located to both the East Coast and West Coast. It’s generally an easy place to live.
What is your favorite thing about Mi Golondrina? How do you style your pieces?
My own heritage is Mexican, so I love seeing these beautiful, centuries-old artisanal techniques reimagined in a fresh, modern way. I’ll admit that I don’t typically wear a lot of traditional Mexican clothing because being Mexican, I would feel as if I were in costume. It’s not a novelty to me. Mi Golondrina has achieved something so wonderful in highlighting the glorious work made my indigenous Mexican hands by bringing it to a larger audience and reimagining how it is used. All the clothes in the Mi Golondrina collection are pieces I would wear. They’re chic, beautifully made, and fit right into my wardrobe. I recently wore the Luisa Microfloral Noche dress with a pair of strappy sandals and an army jacket on a chilly night out in Palm Beach.
Describe your ideal weekend. What are you doing? Wearing? Who are you with?
Lately, I have been relishing cozy weekends at home when it’s just the three of us and I’m with Margot all day and night. She’s seven months old, which is just the cutest, sweetest age. We would go for a long walk in the morning, play and read books, and maybe go to Tiny Boxwoods or Coppa for lunch. Hopefully, Margot would take a long nap in the afternoon, and I could catch up on a couple of shows on the DVR. We’d cook dinner at home and go to bed nice and early!
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Leap and the net will appear.
It depends on my mood. Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, It’s Complicated, and The Talented Mr. Ripley are at the top of my list.
What is the best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Few things compare to an authentic croissant eaten while walking along the banks of the Seine in Paris. The Oysters and Pearls starter at The French Laundry is also among the most incredible things I have ever tasted.