Skip to main content

Maria Killam

Founder & Creative Director, The Killam Colour System

I’m the oldest of four girls, born to Finnish parents after they moved across the ocean to Toronto, Canada. After traveling across Canada to the west coast, they settled in Victoria, British Columbia.

Even though I was born in Canada, English was not my first language. I started learning it the day my Mom watched me step onto the bus for my first day of kindergarten.

I grew up in Abbotsford and at 19 I couldn’t wait to move to the big city of Vancouver to pursue a career that would lead me to the world of colour and design.

I moved back into the lower mainland in 2012 to be close to my family and I’m still surprised and grateful when I wake up in the small quaint village of Yarrow. It is perched on the edge of the green valley that spans from the Pacific Ocean to the beginning of the Rocky Mountain Range. The best part is my Mom and sisters live two minutes away and that, to me is happiness.

I’m honest and unfiltered to a fault and I’ve been doing this long enough to be bossy but in a charming way. It’s how most people with a long career in design end up. Gently, but firmly guiding their clients to a home that fills them with joy when they walk in the door.

I’m a decorator, stylist, speaker, educator, and true colour expert known around the globe.

My superpower has always been colour and the power it has to create transformation.

If I could leave the world with just one piece of wisdom, it would be this:

Every living room needs a minimum of 6 lamps and at least as many throw pillows.

Styling instantly makes any room look more expensive and subway tile is highly underrated.

I didn’t study or train formally in interior design. Instead, all my expertise comes from nearly 20,000 hours of on-the-job experience and having some great mentors to guide me along the way.

In my 20s I styled and decorated the homes of my friends and family. Then when I turned 30, I decided I had to be creative or die, so I quit my day job to start my own redesign business. Anyone else remember the redesign days before staging was invented? Broke and with no other job to fall back on, this move would prove to be either brave or foolish.

I may have started at zero, but I had big dreams. So I flew down to San Francisco and did a 5-day colour course with the DayStudio and that’s when I fell in love with colour and set my sights on becoming an internationally known colour consultant.

Then I got myself a job in the design department of a Benjamin Moore Paint store where I helped customers with their paint colour selections in store as well as consulting in their homes.

Working with large colour samples, I started to see a pattern in neutral undertones. My first discovery was with beige because, in the early 2000s, earth tones were trending. I noticed first that beige had 3 undertones: pink, yellow and green.

This was the insight that sparked the creation of my now famous Killam Colour System.

Seeing home after home in these early years, revealed the other epiphany that forged my lifelong design philosophy. I noticed that each homeowner always lamented the previous homeowner’s choices they’d inherited and now stuck with. Especially the accent tiles.

That’s how I discovered the essence of what would stand the test of time aesthetically.

I became obsessed with recommending the most timeless and classic selections possible for my clients.

In the fall of 2007, I started teaching colour theory to interior design students at a local community college. In the winter of 2010, 50% of my students had registered because they were reading my blog and were interested in learning more about my System for Specifying Colour.

By 2010, I launched my first Live Specify Colour with Confidence workshop in Vancouver. Twelve students came from all over the US to attend.

And now? There are over 1000 True Colour Experts all around the world. We have had students attend from all over North America, as well as from Costa Rica, New Zealand, Brazil, and the U.K.

During the subsequent 9 years that I taught my live workshops throughout the US, 40% of attendees at my events were homeowners, who were renovating or building a house and they wanted to learn how to make accurate colour decisions themselves. 60% were decorators, stagers, interior designers, real estate agents and architects.

One of the best lines from a designer in a course was “Throughout my entire career I’ve been telling my clients “It’s only paint, we can always re-paint” and I’m tired of saying that, and that’s why I’m here”.

I launched my first ebook How to Choose Paint Colours; It’s all in the Undertones, in 2011 which became a bestseller and then followed that up with my, White is Complicated; A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White. This book only became more popular as the black and white trend quickly replaced the grey trend and everyone wanted to know the secret to choosing the elusive “perfect white”.

Maria with iPad

Author Of Two
Best Selling eBooks

How To Choose Paint Colours & White Is Complicated

In 2012, we bought this house to be nearer to my family. Not only did we completely renovate the inside, we took out the front and backyard and created a blank slate for the most beautiful garden!

We were early to the game of running an online business where you’re selling products, ebooks, online courses, leading live workshops. Back then we had a lot of questions but there were not a lot of answers online.

Online business has the unique advantage of being able to reach beyond borders, but of course, all of this was new. Before we got our Visa to be able to lead the workshops in the US, I received so many emails from my readers asking when I would be there.

Within a year of starting my blog, I had readers from all over the US, asking for help with their new build/renovation finishes. That’s when my virtual colour consulting business began.

In 2014 my wife Terreeia and I spent 6 months attending workshops and events learning more about how to navigate the world of online business. That’s when we learned that we did meet the measures required to apply for a Visa to conduct business in the US and within three months, we flew to Chicago and never looked back. Our business tripled and for the next five years, we flew all over North America leading 10 courses per year.

During this time, I was still conducting one-on-one, online colour consultations with readers all over North America.

And, We're Off

Finally, a real vacation!

In the Fall of 2015, Terreeia and I decided to take our first real vacation since the inception of the blog in 2008.

We hired our first talented colour designer to run the department while we went on a tour of Tuscany for three weeks.

Today we have 4 dream team members in my online design department assembling customized paint colour recommendations, exterior, renovation and new build packages for homeowners all over the country.

In 2016, I had my website redesigned. During this process, we realized that I didn’t have a graphic that illustrates what my Killam Colour System of nine undertones really looked like.

My colour wheel started out looking like this:

First Colour Wheel

Then it morphed into this:

Morphed Colour Wheel

And then this:

Final Colour Wheel

And now it looks like this:

After 20 years in the colour industry, I have seen trends run the gamut. We’ve moved from the beige trend to the gray trend and most recently the black and white trend. During that time, I’ve added 6 more primary neutral undertones to my Understanding Undertones system, completing my comprehensive approach to colour selection which has now been named The Killam Colour System.

Kitchen Colour trends

Over the years, I have received frequent emails from readers who resonate with my no-nonsense advice. It’s an honour for me to help readers and clients to make classic, timeless choices, and to save them from expensive colour mistakes!

My passion in life is to transform the way you see colour through my system, and to share my classic and timeless aesthetic. Colour absolutely does not need to be a guessing game, and together, we can stop the endless cycle of wasteful and unnecessary renovations. Eliminate the risk of getting bored with the accent tile you installed, and instead have your home fill you with happiness as soon as you walk in the door.

Whether you’re a new follower or you have been with me from the beginning, thank you so much for stopping by Colour Me Happy!

Colour is the foundation of any design project.

View Our ProductsView eDesign Services