Award-winning interior designer, lifestyle blogger, and author Paloma Contreras is proof that we have the power to choose our own paths—no matter where they begin.
When Contreras graduated from college with a degree in Spanish and Italian studies, she took a job teaching high school Spanish.
“I taught for four years and it wasn’t a good fit,” Contreras shares. “I remember crying to my husband about how miserable I was because I felt creatively stifled.”
To channel her creative energies, Contreras—who is based in Houston, Texas—used a summer vacation from school in 2007 to begin writing a blog about decorating projects she was tackling around her first home.
“There were so few people blogging at the time, and even fewer doing so in the design space,” Contreras remembers. “I couldn’t find any that spoke to my style or about things that caught my eye.”
It wasn’t long before Contreras’ design blog, “La Dolce Vita,” started gaining momentum and securing a loyal fanbase, including the nearly 150,000 Instagram followers she has today. “People were messaging me for advice about their decorating projects and from there my interior design business organically evolved,” she says.
Contreras’ design sensibility is a modern take on traditional style—gravitating toward classic silhouettes and timeless pieces paired with a touch of glamour and an infusion of color. She’s been named to Elle Decor’s prestigious “A-List” of the top designers in the world. She has also been recognized as a “Next Wave” interior designer by House Beautiful, is a member of LUXE magazine’s “Gold List,” and was named No. 4 on Forbes’ list of the “Top 10 Social Media Influencers” in the home category.
Contreras believes that the most beautiful interiors are also the most personal and her first book, Dream Design Live, published in 2018, is a tome to this. And she recently launched Paloma & Co, a highly curated retail concept for the home.
“I feel like I landed exactly where I was meant to be,” she says. “I trusted my journey and I feel so blessed with this life and this work.”
Contreras was a natural choice for the planning committee behind the 2020 Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens benefitting the Infant Welfare Society (IWS) of Chicago. Founded in 1911 with a mission to provide fresh milk in response to high infant mortality rates, IWS now provides an array of services to men, women, and children of Chicago’s working poor through its Logan Square clinic. The Showhouse & Gardens is a biennial event and is widely considered one of the top showhouses in the country.
“I’ve long been very aware of how special Lake Forest is,” Contreras says. “Lake Forest is a city with a true reverence for its architectural past. It also happens to be where one of my favorite architects, David Adler and his interior decorator sister, Frances Elkins, completed a lot of their iconic design work.”
Contreras is one of more than 30 interior and landscape designers who has taken on a space in the historic Lake Forest estate that will be open to the public from April 25 through May 17. Designed in 1906 by Frost and Granger, the home sits on 3 acres and includes a large house and a smaller adjoining house.
In 1928, the William A. P. Pullmans purchased the property and engaged architect Stanley Anderson to make extensive changes. The 23-room, 11,000-square-foot house has a timeless elegance including a large living room, sun room and parlor, and a fireplace-warmed family room. The master suite has two dressing rooms, a bath, a sitting room, and the bedroom, which has a fireplace and a balcony overlooking magnificent gardens. Contreras chose the home’s dining room as her showroom. At press time, a pink lacquered ceiling was underway in this special space.
“I love this house because in spite of its large size, it’s not overly grand. It’s elegant, but not formal,” she says. “My goal is to honor the original architecture and spirit of the house. It has such great bones and the original millwork is gorgeous. I truly believe that a home tells you what it wants and needs, so my design features a mix of classic design elements including a beautiful wallpaper by Iksel and custom tole lighting fixtures by Coleen and Company. I’m pairing these with fresh, modern elements such as abstract art by Jane Timberlake Cooper and some striking fabrics by Schumacher.”
It’s this mindful tension between design elements that is Contreras’ signature in any room she touches.
“I think people appreciate my modern take on traditional pieces,” she explains. “Just about everything I do is rooted in the classics. I wanted to pay homage to Mrs. Elkins [David Adler’s sister], so I’m incorporating a pair of her loop chairs into the dining room. Even though the dining room will feel fresh and current, these loop chairs have a place there, too.”
Perhaps Contreras’ favorite part of the dining room is its wonderful views of the beautiful gardens. “My hope is to bring the outdoors in and have the room feel like a garden,” she says. “That’s why I’m calling this room ‘Eternal Eden.’’’
“Based on the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, the Lake Forest Chapter of the Infant Welfare Socierty of Chicago has made the decision to postpone the opening of the Lake Forest Showhouse & Gardens 2020. We will continue to monitor everything closely and follow the guidelines and recommendations of the CDC and State of Illinois before we establish a new opening date. The health and safety of those working on the home and that of our guests is our primary concern. We will continue to communicate and share updates on our website www.lakeforestshowhouse.com.”