Paula Nataf: I was an accountant by trade and, at that time, I was working for a company that imported French limestone. I was interested in entering sales, but the owners weren’t confident in my knowledge of the materials. I understood design, I knew how to build relationships with clients, and I had connections with a few suppliers who trusted me. So I made the decision to start my own business selling stone and antique flooring. I moved into a shop on La Cienega and barely had enough money to pay the rent. It was hard at the beginning, but I was very determined.
One day, some people from Elle Decor came into my shop and asked if I'd like to place an ad in the magazine. I couldn’t afford it, but I couldn’t say no. They sent a photographer who took some pictures of a fireplace I’d bought in France, and things took off from there. As it turned out, I was great at sales because I was honest. I knew where everything came from, told my clients the truth, and went everywhere to find them new materials. I worked very hard, and that's how Exquisite got started.
PN: Not because I was a woman, no. The industry respected me and the designers respected me. Starting a business is always difficult, but I created the company at the right time. You know, in life you need three things: You need skill. You need guts. Those I had. But you also need timing, and the timing was right. In the late-90s, a lot of people, especially in California, wanted to build French houses. Provence houses, Italian houses. They wanted everything to be authentic, and I was there.
I was the only woman I knew of in the stone or wood industry. But when I visited artisans, quarries and factories, they respected me for what I was doing. They knew I was honest and authentic. When a quarry wasn't honest, I stopped doing business with them. With suppliers, with clients—it was all about honesty. I think that’s the reputation we have in the industry.