I’m so excited for today’s Talk Shop interview with Houston-based interior designer and design world influencer Paloma Contreras. If you don’t already follow her gorgeous design blog La Dolce Vita and her Instagram @palomacontrerasdesign, you must!

This past year, in addition to running her renowned interior design firm, Paloma opened a beautiful brick and mortar shop in Houston, released her first book, and launched a collaboration with Williams Sonoma and designed a room in the infamous Kips Bay Decorator Show House. She’s had a huge year, to say the least! I love seeing this fellow Houstonian receive so many national accolades, and I’m honored to share her story with you. Read on below for how she got started in the interior design industry (she didn’t go to design school!) and how she built her brand into what it is today.

Originally from: Houston, Texas

Education: Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Italian Studies

Did you always know you wanted to be an interior designer? We’d love to hear a little about your early career journey.

PC: I have always loved design, but did not think of pursuing my passion professionally until later in my career. At a young age I didn’t really realize that this was a profession I could pursue, but I have always been very creative. I definitely fit the cliché of the future designer who was obsessed with organizing her crayons by color and constantly redecorated her room as a child. Languages were my first love, so after studying French for years, I majored in Spanish and Italian Studies. After graduation, I taught AP Spanish at the high school level for four years. While I enjoyed the subject matter and working with the students, I felt restless and disconnected.

I realized that my career was not the right fit for me and longed for a creative outlet. As such, I started my blog, La Dolce Vita in July of 2007 during the summer before what would be my last year as a teacher. It started out as a series of personal essays, but quickly took on a design focus because we had just bought our first house around the same time and I wasn’t able to find much design inspiration online at the time (to think how far we’ve come!), so I just wrote about what I found interesting and inspiring. Eventually, my audience grew and people took note. I took a huge leap of faith and left my teaching career. I focused on my blog and took on some freelance writing opportunities, taking my time to figure out what I wanted to do. It’s been such a long and winding road. I didn’t set out with a specific goal or a mission to gain X number of followers or to pursue specific collaborations or opportunities. It has all been so organic.

I eventually landed at Visual Comfort as their Director of Marketing for a few years. While I was there, we launched the AERIN collection. It was an incredible learning experience to understand the product side of the design business more deeply.

In 2013, I realized that I am happiest as an entrepreneur, so I started my design firm and never looked back. While I did not go to design school, I have an unorthodox education in design thanks to the various facets of the industry and invaluable mentors I have been fortunate to work with.

You have built a nationally-known interior design firm, Paloma Contreras Design. How did you initially start the process of building your team? How many people currently work for your company?  What qualities do you look for when making a new hire?

PC: The process of building a team has also been pretty organic. You really have to trust your instincts in order to know when it is the right time to add a new team member. It is also important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and hire people who are strong where you are weak. For instance, book keeping and accounting are not my strong suits, so my first hire was a book keeper who was more knowledgeable than I am in that arena. I also believe in the best use of talents. There are things only I can do for my business, so I focus on those things and delegate the rest.

You are known for your “modern take on traditional style”. What have been your primary sources of inspiration as you’ve developed your signature aesthetic?

PC: I personally love things that have a timeless, enduring quality. In order to achieve that, I really believe that you need a classic foundation. I love looking to the spaces designed by some of my idols from generations past and thinking about how to reinterpret some of the ideas in a way that feels fresh, current, and appropriate for the way we live today.

Your first book, Dream Design Live, was published last fall — congrats! We’d love to hear about the inspiration behind your book and a bit about the writing and publishing process.

PC: Thank you! I began thinking about writing a book several years ago, but waffled back and forth on what the concept might be. I also had moments were it felt like such a pipe dream that I would just put it on the back burner and forget about it for a while. I finally got really serious about it and started working with my literary agent to get the concept tightened up. Once my book proposal was ready, my agent pitched it to different publishers, we fielded several offers, and decided to go with Abrams because I loved the editor and they had produced some of my favorite books, including Tory Burch’s super chic book. I was thrilled when I found out I would have the same book designer as her.

Your new store Paloma & Co is a dream and such a nice addition to Houston! Had you always envisioned opening a storefront? What was your vision behind your store and how do you curate the shop?

PC: Having a store is something I had dreamed about since I was very young. Over the past few years, I had talked about launching an online shop as an extension of my brand, but with so many other things going on, we didn’t move forward with it until later. Devon Liedtke, my partner in Paloma & Co had worked in my design firm and we became fast friends. After she came back from maternity leave, it felt like the right time to get serious about launching the store, so we moved forward full steam ahead. As luck would have it, we had outgrown our studio space and found the charming bungalow that now houses our shop and studio, so we started with a brick and mortar shop rather than e-commerce. Even though we had planned to start online initially, we have found that brick and mortar has actually been a really great way to test our proof of concept, connect with our community, and experiment with our favorite finds on a day to day basis. It has been so rewarding to share the things we love both locally in Houston and with our audience across the country.

We love that you are Houston-based and nationally renowned! You’ve completed projects across the country from The Hamptons to L.A. How did you grow your business outside of Texas?

PC: Social media is such a powerful tool. It allows you to connect with people you would never have otherwise met and makes the world feel like a much smaller place. Instagram in particular has been a great resource for me. It allows me to share my work and point of view so when someone reaches out through that medium, they already know my voice, my aesthetic, and what I am all about. As a result, we have worked with clients all over the country. Instagram has also been invaluable to our store’s business. Because our audience extends far beyond Houston, it allows people in other cities to keep up with what is new in store and they can shop with us very seamlessly.

Who are your favorite furniture designers / stores / brands to work with on projects?

PC: I love pieces by Jacques Adnet, Andre Arbus, and Louis XVI antiques in particular. I am a huge Francophile, so I generally love French design, regardless of the period. We love to collaborate with our workrooms and artisans to create things that are special and unique for every client.

How does your design process work from start to finish with a new client?

PC: Every project begins with a process of getting to know a new client. Typically, a prospective client will call and after a brief phone consultation, we will have an in-person meeting to discuss our process, the scope of the project, and the client’s goals. After that, the design phase takes place and after we have presented the design to the client, we move on to the procurement phase in which we do all of the ordering, expediting, tracking, and project management on the client’s behalf. The most fun phase is the implementation phase in which we install everything and give the client the big reveal!

Do you have any favorite projects to date?

PC: We worked on a really beautiful house in River Oaks with the sweetest clients a couple of years ago. It appears in my book and I am really proud of our work there, but also really enjoyed the clients on a personal level which makes a huge difference. We also have another long-term client whose house we worked on and it was published. We just started working with them on their new house which is a new build, so I will have a hand in every element of the design which is exciting. We are also designing her father’s house now. The fact that our client would entrust us to help her dad with his home is a wonderful testament to the level of service we provide. We have a 92% client return rate meaning that the majority of our clients return to us for a second project, which is something we are very proud of.

Between being on tour with your book to opening a store and launching a collaboration with Williams Sonoma — how do you do it all?? Do you have any advice for other business owners who are wearing multiple hats?

PC: I am not going to lie, it is a lot to juggle! For me, it really boils down to setting and understanding my priorities. I have an amazing team—primarily my husband Fabian who is so supportive of my career and my demanding travel schedule. I truly could not do it without him. Having a partner in Paloma & Co has also been invaluable. Knowing that Devon is here to handle the day to day, manage our shop’s staff, take care of our clients, and liase with our vendors gives me a real sense of peace of mind. It’s her baby, too, and I know that she cares about the success of our venture as much as I do. The team at Paloma Contreras Design is also really wonderful at keeping the wheels moving while I am away, so I can travel for a book signing, client meeting, etc and know that things are still happening while I am gone. It truly takes a village!

What does a typical work day look like for you (even though we know there are probably few “typical days”)?

PC: Every day is really different from the next. Since our design studio and shop are housed in the same building, it is easier for me to go back and forth between the two sides of my business. The only constant is that I start every single day with Instagram, email, and coffee—regardless of where I am! Otherwise, I usually answer client and vendor emails, then rearrange things on the shop floor, and work on various design presentations. Some days are chock full of design meetings with clients, contractors, and architects, while others may allow for a good amount of computer time to get caught up on correspondence, the design phase of a project, ordering for the shop, etc.

We love following along your travels on Instagram! Where is your favorite place to visit and where is next on your wishlist?

PC: It’s hard to choose just one! I love visiting New York and Paris for work, which I am lucky to do fairly frequently, but when it comes to relaxation, nothing beats a long weekend in Napa Valley or at Round Hill in Jamaica.

Is Houston a supportive city for interior designers? What have been the pros and cons of running your business from here?

PC: I think everyone in Houston is generally supportive, but I also find that people hold their cards really close to the vest. My network of close design friends is mostly based in New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. I am not sure why, but I find that designers in those cities are much more open with information and outwardly support each other in a way that is so nice and refreshing to see.

For someone looking to dive into the interior design world, what words of advice do you have for getting started?

PC: I would recommend learning as much as you can whether that means going back to design school, interning for another designer, and/or investing in your own education by attending conferences that focus on the business of design. The design field is not as glamorous as it seems on the outside. It’s really 20% design and 80% business, so it is imperative to understand how to run a profitable business in addition to carving out a design niche for yourself. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of personalities to manage.

Do you have a favorite neighborhood in Houston from an architecture standpoint?

PC: I live in the Museum District and on the weekends, we love taking our dog Tate for long walks in Broadacres along North Boulevard and South Boulevard, which I think are the prettiest streets in Houston thanks to the beautiful, centuries-old Live Oak trees and the stunning homes by architects including John Staub and Birdsall Briscoe.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

PC: I feel so fortunate to get to do what I love each day and that my career is multifaceted with my design firm, our shop, product design, and writing books. I have written my blog for 12 years and don’t think I have another 10 years of blogging in me, but never say never! I would love to continue doing everything I am doing, but on a larger scale and with more balance for a personal life.

If you have any follow up questions for Paloma please leave them in the comments below! Be sure to follow her @palomacontrerasdesign and her shop @shoppalomaandco on Instagram.