Donna Paul is a matchmaker. No, not that kind—the kind you actually need: She runs Designer Previews, an exclusive service that pairs homeowners with a curated roster of experts to realize their design goals, whether it’s a ground-up build in the Hamptons, a prewar duplex renovation on the Upper East Side, or a total beach-house gut in Malibu.
“I’m like a therapist. I’m like a detective. I’m part bloodhound,” Paul says. Upon meeting with clients for the first time—almost always in their homes—she does indeed act as quite the gumshoe, analyzing them in their own environment to understand what they love and hate. “That’s the journalist in me,” she says, referencing her 25-year career as a design writer and editor. “Everything about how they live is information for me, and it’s invaluable.”
After discussing the project’s scope, budget, and style, Paul hands over her modern-day Rolodex—an iPad filled with the portfolios of acclaimed designers and architects like Amy Lau, Jamie Drake, and Jamie Bush—to guide her clients in selecting the right fit. She tells the story of one client, a 34-year-old bachelor in Manhattan who met her after trading hours in his conference room to show her a meticulous chart documenting his impressions of each portfolio. “He had assigned pluses or minuses or some kind of attribution to every designer—but I had already narrowed it down on my own to the same three people he ultimately selected,” she says.
But Paul isn’t just a matchmaker—she’s a bit of a chaperone, too, arranging all client-designer meetings, guiding homeowners through the proposal process, and educating them on the details that leave most of us scratching our heads. And in the end, she says, her job really isn’t all that different from making connections of the romantic sort. “It’s a lot like dating—you know right away if you’re going to hire someone,” she says. “I had a client who said to me, ‘One of the designers came here, and I just couldn’t stand his sandals.’ I always tell my clients, ‘If you don’t like them, don’t hire them—even if you love their portfolio.’” Or their shoes.