One of Paloma Contreras’s designs. 

Image: Kerry Kirk

In the past 11 months, have you transformed your dining room into a home office only to find that your furniture wasn’t quite working? Attempted the artistic gallery wall of your dreams but learned maybe you’re not the best at establishing balance? Were you inspired to finally paint your bedroom only to be met with hundreds of hues that all looked almost identical and yet also completely different, before deciding ultimately that the project would have to wait until the next pandemic? 

Enter The Experta virtual platform that launched this month and connects savvy at-home decorators with the upper echelon of the interior design world for one-on-one virtual consultations. Founded by L.A. designer Jake Arnold (you can spot his work in the homes and offices of Rashida Jones, Dan Levy, and John Legend and Chrissy Teigen) and entrepreneur Leo Seigal, the platform aims to give users access to insight from big-name designers for smaller-scale projects. 

Currently The Expert offers 25- or 55-minute sessions with 60 designers from across the world specializing in all types of aesthetics, with prices for a virtual meeting ranging anywhere from $150 to $1,500. 

The talent list features Arnold himself, as well as Queer Eye’s Bobby Berk (who was born in Houston), HGTV’s Leanne Ford, and a slew of notable AD100 and ELLE Decor A-List designers, including H-Town’s own Paloma Contreras. 

Paloma Contreras. 

“It was really enlightening and made a lot of sense, especially in the age of social media and after all of the changes that we've all experienced as a result of the pandemic, working from home, and just living differently,” Contreras says about being approached to join the platform. “Across the board, every designer I've spoken with—thankfully, fortunately—is very, very busy these days because everybody is obviously spending more time at home. They have projects that they want to get to or disposable income that they're not spending on travel. But oftentimes these projects aren't necessarily candidates for what we would normally take on.” 

Contreras has already worked with a handful of clients during the platform’s soft-launch phase on what she describes as “design dilemmas” and is open to about two or three sessions each month.

She likens the requests she’s received from her clients on The Expert to DMs she gets on Instagram about paint colors, tips for designing a beautiful bookshelf, or furniture placement—though users can get advice on things like big-picture design guidelines and floorplans, too. Most of the clients she’s interacted with have been excited to tackle the work themselves but felt they needed just a bit of her expert guidance. 

“It's just nice to connect with people who are really energized by what you do and are grateful to be able to work with you in some small way,” she says. “And in turn it's really rewarding for me to be able to provide some sort of design guidance to them even though we wouldn't work together on a full scale project.”

Still, she says, the users she’s worked with aren’t taking the task lightly. She recommends following in their footsteps and coming to the meeting prepared with mood boards or even a PowerPoint. “They've come to the plate prepared, they know exactly what they want to ask me about,” she says. “And so then I can really spend that time giving them tangible resources and valuable takeaways that they then can implement into their homes themselves.” 

Our only question: Why couldn’t this have existed last March?

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