The Founder's Story

When Paula Nataf founded Exquisite Surfaces in 1997, she knew she was taking a risk. But with passion, persistence and her sons by her side, she would soon change the face of the flooring industry forever. Now, 26 years later, she reflects on the origins of E/S, working with her family, and what truly makes a house a home. 

Part 1

The early years

Can you share a little bit about how E/S was originally founded?

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.

Did you face any obstacles in those first few years as a woman in this industry?

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.

“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.”

Paula Nataf
E/S Founder

Part 2

The family business

What was it like to work with your sons?

PN: They joined me very early on. Sometimes it was a challenge, but it helped build the company into what it is today. Our different personalities and approaches really made the business stronger, and I couldn’t have done it by myself. It would have been too much stress for one person. We never had any confrontations when we worked together. You know, it’s very rare that a family company with two brothers and a mom succeeds for so long. But Alexis, Franck and me—we were always on the same page. It really was a wonderful experience to work with my kids. I got to see them more—what Mom wouldn’t like that?—and we'd travel all over the world together. I loved every minute of it.

“You know, it’s very rare that a family company with two brothers and a mom succeeds for so long… Alexis, Franck and me–we were always on the same page.”

Paula Nataf
E/S Founder

Part 3

making a house a home

What makes you feel at home when you're designing your own spaces?

PN: Personally, I like the look and colors of the 50s. I like to be bold with color because I feel like it brings vitality and excitement to my daily life. I also love using natural materials because they bring warmth and character to a room. They make you feel welcome. When I come home to my house I want to come home to a home. 

Natural products wear and age just like we do. I think that’s beautiful. Our bodies are not perfect. Our faces age. You don’t want your house to be perfect because nothing is perfect in life. It’s incredible to visit some of these houses in France that have been there for 300 or 400 years. They’ve changed, but they're still standing. Old, but somehow new again. I like feeling that sense of timelessness in my own designs.

“Our bodies are not perfect. Our faces age. You don’t want your house to be perfect because nothing is perfect in life. ”

Paula Nataf
E/S Founder

Part 4

looking to the future

What flooring or design trends do you predict for the coming years?

PN: The design trends we’re seeing today are very contemporary. That usually means using machine-made, mass-produced products that you can buy anywhere. And then, of course, everyone’s house ends up looking the same. Remember, in the 60s and 70s, when everything was plastic, linoleum, carpet? Even in France, we covered beautiful hardwood flooring with carpet or linoleum. It was a shame! Trends will always come and go, but I believe no substitute will ever compare to true, natural materials.

I think people are starting to understand the difference more and more. Everyone is beginning to realize how important their floors are. They need to be something that will last a long time—something that you love to walk on and see every day. And yes, even in contemporary designs, natural materials have the power to elevate and inspire. My prediction is that everyone will start to appreciate not just their beauty and utility, but also the stories within them that make them so special.