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3 Things I Learned about Design while Decorating for my Mother

By 12/30/2009March 28th, 202234 Comments

The sofa in my mother’s last living room had large, over scale, colourful pansies all over it (eeeek). And guess who helped her pick it out?


The only redeeming thing about this whole thing was it happened 10 years ago before my decorating career really got started.

Try to picture this on fabric *sigh* flickr


Before I helped her pick out new furniture (at the time), she had a peach, gray and cream sofa with a peach and teal area rug and peach rag-rolled walls (I faux finished them for her in the 80’s).

She also had cream tied back sheers with ruffles on them (from the 50’s).



My mom has always loved colour (I’m sure I was highly influenced by her!).

My parents live in a little 50’s house and the walls in my mother’s kitchen are a pale avocado green, the ceiling is buttery yellow and the cabinets are purple.

The pansies on the sofa are primarily green, yellow beige and burgandy, so we chose a burgundy chair and striped drapery fabric (to coordinate with the sofa). We hung them on decorative rods and just did straight panels.



And another thing–I love and adore my mother and will do anything for her. At the time, we had so much fun picking it all out, she happily went along with my suggestions. Then a few months later she said “I liked my peach walls and my ruffled drapery”.

I was devastated. Really, I was.

Now my mom is moving and I am helping her decorate her new house, and so far we have painted 2 bedrooms. One in peach and one in lavender and she loves them. The sofa is going downstairs in one of the rooms, I can’t remember which one, I hope I never see it again actually.

Image source


Here’s what working with my mother as a client taught me:

1) Listen closely to your client’s likes and dislikes.

Interior by Celerie Kemble


2) No patterns on sofas unless you can change your furniture every 5 years (we got tired of looking at those pansies real fast). Truly, people with a lot of disposable income to spend on decorating their home(s) can afford to be more outrageous with pattern (below).

Interior by Celerie Kemble


3) Decorate with your favourite colours and you’ll love them longer. My mom still loves peach, and to update the look, we bought an adorable tufted eggplant chair (along with other accents) to the mix in the bedroom and it looks fabulous!



NOT the actual chair but close to the colour


The living room is next and this time mom (she reads my blog :), I’m listening!


PS. Update, here’s my Mom’s house now.


If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.


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  • Easy Does It Redesign and Consulting says:

    I think that this is my favorite post so far! LOTS of lessons here 🙂

    Now that I think of it, my mom's decorating has influenced me more than I realized

    Thanks for stopping by yesterday and leaving a comment!

  • Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions says:

    I'm absolutely with you on this, Maria! My own sofa is a fine example ~ an all-over large floral with a blue background. I lasted longer than 5 years but am having a white slipcover made for it. I do always tell my clients to go with a solid and add pattern with pillows.

  • Things That Inspire says:

    It must be so hard to decorate for family! I recently profiled a home (not for the blog, for a tour of homes) in which the daughter updated the mother's house after 40 years of the same decor. The mother is very young at heart, vibrant, and eager for change, so the daughter used many of the mother's favorite pieces, but moved them around the house, grouped them in different ways, and brought in some new 'traditional with a twist' fabrics and accessories to liven things up. The result was wonderful – and now that I think of it, the sofas had a wonderful vibrant pattern on them! I will email you a picture.

  • Annie @ The House That Jade Built says:

    Your suggestions sing so true! I never buy patterned furniture because I definitely can't afford to buy new every 5 years! I go for throws & pillows in patterns & colors instead!

    I hope you share the finished rooms at your mother's house. It sounds fantastic!

  • Lesley @ The Design File says:

    This was such an interesting post. I think, especially as women, we are so incredibly influenced by our mothers, in so many ways we don't realize.

    And it's fascinating to see how those relationships continue into adulthood.

    (There were also some nice decorating tips in there!)


  • Ideezine says:


    How fun to share a design experience with your Mom and her trust in you as a professional.

    In my experience with clients, (siblings, parents, cousins, etc.) is always have patience in their processing the change.

    Sensitivity in their decision making and compassion as you gently guide them through.

    Because what we do as designers all the time….is in fact, new to our clients daily.

    Fun post, great insight, honest results. Love the chair!


  • Dusty Bay says:

    Welcome to Victoria, Marias Mom! Hopefully your daughter will show us what she's done to your house!

  • Danica says:

    One thing I am sure of is that my mom hates her peach walls! Which is a good thing that I've painted over half of it. Listening to clients is easily the most important thing, and since I'm working on my parent house right now, guess who I'm listening too? My mother is really supportive of me and my new ideas, and I enjoy creating things with her. Looking forward to your comments on my future projects. There will definitely be more pictures on my blog.


  • Design Junkie says:

    Luckily, none of my early decorating efforts were for relatives so I don't ever have to see the evidence of the lapses in decor judgement of my formative years.

  • Amber Beall says:

    Oh my goodness, this reminds me of the huge eggplant sectional I got for my mother…only to have it delivered and realize that while it looks great in the room its WAY too big for my Mom to sit on!! Her legs stick out like a little girls! LOL When it comes to designing for Moms its 20% design and 80% "smile and agree" heh, heh!

  • Debra Phillips says:

    you are brave maria.

    (i can comment freely here as my mother does not read your blog)

    totally renovated my mothers landscape and naturally thought the results were stunning. have now asked her not to tell anyone i had anything to do with it. as the clothed ducks, large plastic squirrels holding globes of light illuminate the path, uncountable cheerily painted birdhouses and plastic gnomes peering around every corner take over i have finally "let go", she is pleased….sigh……

    would love to see photo's of your mothers before and after's!

    ps; thank you maria for your many comments on my blog!

  • Melissa says:

    Now, I know why your blog is called Colour Me Happy. I love mixing colours.

    There is a free-spiritness about it. No limitations.

    I admire your talent.

  • Kelly at Kitchen Sync says:

    *grin* At least you don't have a mother who's a designer as well.

    My favorite point: "…people with a lot of disposable income to spend on decorating their home(s) can afford to be more outrageous with pattern." Truth!

    Sometimes in this age of seeing all these designs, it's easy to forget.

    Good post!

  • chanteusevca says:

    I love this post. You were exuberant about decorating for your mom but eventually had to learn to listen to her as a client as well. And I wish I had known the advice about the patterned sofas 17 years ago when I purchased the sofa and loveseat with the navy/burgundy/green/gold very unusual striped almost tartan pattern for our family room. But back then I didn't know I would have to keep it this long. I've already planned on slipcovered sofas with a couple of solid colors so I can switch out when I get bored or feel the need.

    I envy your mom having a very design and color savvy daughter.

  • Developing Designs says:

    I am still laughing at this post…..only because I can relate to "designing" for my Mom AND she used to be a decorator. Your tips, as always are dead on.
    @Debra Phillips, 🙂 you poor thing.
    Happy Happy New Year!! xo

  • Rachel says:

    my hardest client ever was my husband, but that was because he -wouldn't- listen to me!
    can't wait to see pics of your mum's new digs!

  • Sandra Ling says:

    This post reminded me of my mom…many years ago she worked with a designer, and before she gave approval to the designer she said, my daughter (me) has to see it. Well it was beautiful, and frankly still is, very timeless. Years later when I became a designer, I thought that comment must have struck fear into the designer's heart, because I've been in that situation only the mother and daughter have different styles and then you're trying to convince the daughter the design suits her mom. Anyway, I digress, but it's true…listening and creating a room with the colors the client enjoys living with is really key!!! Thanks for a great post!!
    Happy New Year!!

  • Laura Trevey says:

    LOVE this post!!

    Happy New Year Maria ~~ Here's to a fabulous 2010 ~~


  • Marlo says:

    As always, wonderful information.

    My Mom has a velvet sofa, loveseat & chair in a solid dusty rose colour from the 80's. I don't recall if this colour was ever in style but she loves it.

  • Arte Styling says:

    cute post, maria! and so true. #1 is always important, but very challenging with family. your mother is lucky to have your help. i'm sure you'll do a beautiful job!

  • Arte Styling says:

    by the way, you gave those homies a good run for their money! you got a vote from me. maybe you'll get 'em next year.

  • Eliana Tomás says:

    Happy 2010. All your wishes to come true.
    It's been a pleasure to blog with you. Always so positive and energetic…
    Looking forward to blogging even more next year.
    Big kisskiss
    Big hughug

  • Donna @ dh designs says:

    My mother was a huge influence on my decision to be a decorator. My parents' homes have always been a blend of comfort and style. Having built 3 homes over a span of 10 years, the layout and finishes Mum chose were not always to my liking – but they were to hers – lesson #1 in your post.

    Here's to Mums!!! Thanks for such a great post – and such a great blog! You are an inspiration Maria!

    Happy New Year!!!

  • Lauren says:

    such a spot-on post. it's too funny because I remember helping my mom pick out HER rose & pansy patterend sofa years ago!!! haha

    anyway, maria maria- what can i say? HAPPY NEW YEAR to one of the funniest, smartest, most perceptive designers of the blogworld. You're amazing & I'm so glad we've become friends. thank you so much for all you've taught us & i look forward to so much more in the new year!!!

    HUGE HUG!!!

  • Carol Ann says:

    Family are always the hardest to design for, if they will even let you..weird right. but so true
    You moms place will be fab if you help her…
    Happy New Year to you and thank you for being my friend this year, I love you comments, makes my heart sing…
    I just posted my skinny tree, sorry it took me so long to finish the post…

    Hugs, Carol Ann x

  • The Blasphemous Fiendess says:

    I love the way your relationship with your mum sounds. I am close to my mum too. Neither one of us is a decorator or designer, and we both have different taste, but we understand each other's taste and can successfully pick things out for each other.
    Happy New Year, Maria. I LOVE your blog.

  • Design Wanna-be says:

    How do you listen to your client, and yet steer them away from bad decisions?

  • DesignTies says:

    Reading this post, Maria, has me missing my Mom… she passed away 5 years ago now. My Mom was an artist and had a wonderful eye for design and decor. We did so many projects together and I have some wonderful memories of them!! It's funny you mention your Mom's pansy-covered sofa… my Mom purchased a dark blue sofa with irises clustered on each pillow & seat cushion. We loved that sofa (80s!)! It eventually became mine… but by that time the seat cushions had worn out, with big rips through the iris bundles… my first upholstery project involved sourcing out a matching solid blue fabric and using the original cushions as a template and then sewing new covers (used the original piping – made them look like they belonged with rest of the sofa). They looked pretty good if I do say so!! And gave me an additional 4 years with the sofa before I had it replaced. I have fond memories of that sofa!! Thanks for tweaking that memory, Maria!!
    Victoria @ DesignTies

  • Karena says:

    I love that yu are working with your mother on here home. Have you discussed art? I would be so honored!

  • Material Girls- Emily says:

    You and your mom sound like a good team! I decorate for a lot of my family and they are definitely the most interesting clients!

  • Anonymous says:

    Aloha im fresh to this, I came upon this message board I have found It absolutely accommodating and its helped me loads. I hope to give something back & help other users like its helped me.

    Thanks a load, Catch You Later.

  • Lynne says:

    Oh my gosh I desperately wanted to see the sofa covered in pansies 😀

  • diana mclean says:

    Hi Maria = Love your Mom’s home. Your mother is blessed to have you and vice versa. AND, your sister!!
    One of the home’s I did, the client’s husband consented to a nicer looking recliner. Well, it was expensive but didn’t last long so we had to go back to the big puffy one. Client’s husband is very pleased now.
    I, myself, bought my recliner from T.J. Maxx and paid $300.00 for it. After five years, I had it reupholstered with the same leopard chenille. If I had a man in the house, it would not work as my recliner just doesn’t have the stability.
    You made the entire home work and I like about listening to your client.
    I got my design sense from my grandmother, pattern on pattern, a huge iron wood burning stove in the kitchen. In the winter time, the dog slept behind the stove. Just like in the movies.
    Always look forward to reading your blog. You are a joy!!!!!!

  • Alannah says:

    Love vulnerable people, we all have strengths and weakness and are a work in progress. Finding a balance of truthfully looking at ourselves yet giving ourselves lots of grace to grow and change is healthy.

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