Paloma Contreras has been on our must-follow list for years, thanks to the timeless and refined aesthetic she brings to her design projects and the endless inspiration she offers through her blog, La Dolce Vita. Today, with the release of her book, Dream Design Live, Contreras gives readers an inside look at her design process, offering a prescriptive roadmap for transforming their own interiors and, in so doing, achieving their own version of the sweet life—as Contreras writes in the book’s Introduction, “La dolce vita starts at home because that’s where we are our truest selves.” In three thoughtfully presented sections filled with stunning photography, she discusses everything from seeking and committing to a creative vision to chic fabric combinations to how to make the most of your stylish spaces, sharing personal insights alongside practical tips. Here, the Dream Design Live author (and member of the forthcoming The Scout Guide Houston, Volume 4) discusses her sources of inspiration, her favorite design elements, her go-to dinner party menu, and more.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that my profession is so deeply intertwined with my personal passions. I live, eat, and breathe design. I don’t go on vacation and leave my job behind. On the contrary, when I travel, I am constantly seeking out new ideas, connecting with details, and further training my eye.
You travel often. What’s your favorite destination, and why?
Paris is my favorite city for work. It is incredibly inspiring and I go often to source special pieces for clients as well as for Paloma & Co., a brick and mortar design destination we will be opening in River Oaks this fall. In terms of relaxation, it is hard to beat Round Hill Resort and Villas in Jamaica. It is heaven on earth!
Are there any designers who you turn to again and again for inspiration?
I find the work of Jacques Grange, Billy Baldwin, Veere Grenney, Michael S. Smith, and Daniel Romualdez endlessly inspiring.
Do you feel your teaching background influences your approach to design and how you work with clients?
While my design career and my previous career as a teacher could not be more different, my experience as a teacher taught me how to effectively deal with multiple types of personalities, helped me to successfully manage multiple projects at once, and also helped me refine the skill of tactfully providing feedback.
Photograph by Max Burkhalter
Which projects have been most memorable for you, and why?
They’re all memorable for different reasons, but a couple of the most special projects are here in Houston and are for long-time clients that have really trusted me and the process, which of course, allows me to do my best work. The projects are quite different from each other in that one is more traditional and features a lot of blue and green hues while the other one has a more modern verve and is mostly dressed in a striking combination of crisp white, black, and gray. I’m very proud of these projects, both of which appear in my book.
In “Dream,” you talk about “how to tap into inspiration and transform it into something that serves your mission.” What was the most recent inspiration that you’ve transformed into something?
I recently returned from a trip to Paris and found several beautiful antiques that will serve as the impetus for some projects we are working on.
Is there a design “rule” that you love to break?
There are no rules, there is only good taste!
Photograph by Max Burkhalter
What are your three must-have elements for creating an elegant room?
Tailored upholstery, beautiful lighting, and striking abstract art
In “Live,” you offer tips for stylish and gracious entertaining. What’s your go-to dinner party menu?
I like to keep things simple, but elegant so that I can enjoy the party and mingle with my guests. I’ll start with a beautiful cheese platter with a variety of cheeses, different crackers, fig spread, and some fresh grapes served with champagne and then move on to dinner which could be an elegant dish like a roasted tenderloin of beef. The beauty of it is that it is a crowd-pleaser, but doesn’t require you to stand over the stove while your guests are present. I’ll usually serve that with a seasonal salad and some simple sides like green beans and roasted baby potatoes. I’ll usually outsource dessert and pick something up at a local bakery.
In your “Style Files” column on La Dolce Vita, you always ask how the city in which someone lives has influenced their style. How does living in Houston influence yours?
Houston is an interesting place in that it is at once Southern and genteel, yet it is also a modern melting pot of cultures. In terms of style, I have no doubt that Houston’s beautiful old homes by John Staub and Birdsall Briscoe with their expansive green lawns and old Live Oak trees in neighborhoods like River Oaks and Broadacres have been quite influential on my aesthetic. My style is rooted in a classic sensibility, but executed through a modern lens.
What are your top five Houston “musts” (shops, restaurants, museums, neighborhoods, hidden gems)?
Tiny Boxwoods, Brasserie 19, The Menil Collection, A Bientot, and Sid and Ann Mashburn
Photograph by Max Burkhalter
Now that Dream Design Live is out, what’s next for you?
I am hitting the road and going on a pretty extensive book tour which will take me from coast to coast this fall. I am also working on my first licensed product collection which spans the categories of textiles, decorative accessories, and lighting and will be released in early 2019! In addition, we are moving to a bigger office and I will be opening a tightly curated design shop, Paloma & Co., featuring unique finds from around the globe in River Oaks this fall.