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Advice for Homeowners

Ask Maria: How Do I Know What My Style is?

By 03/23/2013February 22nd, 201816 Comments

Dear Maria, I am building a new home and have a lot of decisions to make and can’t make up my mind what “syle” I like best.  Any ideas on how to know what I like best?  I look at a lot of pictures but like more components than whole.

It took me 10 years of working as a designer and one entire year of blogging, writing a new post every second day, using only images that spoke to me and that I loved to realize what my look actually was.

Even at 5 months when I was ‘tagged’ by some bloggers and asked to show an image that best represented my style, it would have been obvious to every one else even then!

Not to me.


One day, I had an epiphany, and the next time a fabric rep came over with a new set of fabric samples to show me to add to my office library, I had probably 20 books lined up by the door, ready to send back with her.

Want to know what was in those books?

Well, there were  shiny fabrics designed for bedding. I don’t specify shiny, polyester bedding, nothing wrong with that look, I’m just not a fan. Fabrics with tiny embroidered flowers and leaves. Again, not my thing.

Ask Maria: How do I Know What my Style Is?

Before I came to this realization, I would have been very afraid of being stuck with the responsibility of defining my style enough to be make all the millions of choices and decisions that need to be made to build a house or completely renovate one.

Decorating and designing a classic and beautiful home takes training and/or many years of experience to be able to do well. It’s a profession, and it’s why a beautiful home is most definitely the exception and not the rule, as most people choose to do it themselves.

Ask Maria: How do I Know What my Style Is?

I have a whole Pinterest board full of images of beautiful gardens that I like. However, I am not a professional landscape designer. Therefore, I would never have been able to come up with the beautiful design Maryanne White created for me last fall. Check out her blog here.

Do you call your dentist and ask for detailed instructions on how to remove the cavity in your mouth? No. You pay him to do it for you.

Even after a designer has defined their look, do you know what the hardest part of decorating is?

1. Taking your clients existing furniture and/or fixed elements whether they are mistakes or not and knowing what you can’t work with or what you can do something with.

2. Taking your clients look book or inspiration boards and turning it into their dream house.

That’s what separates the amateurs from the professionals. And it’s why one designer  charges $75 per hour vs. $250 per hour or more.

Ask Maria: How do I know What my Style is?

So if you are not a designer and have been tasked with the monumental and daunting job of choosing all the elements of your new house or renovation instead, my advice is to consult with a professional whose style you know you do like before you buy what is about to be installed.

Would you rather spend $50,000 on a new kitchen and run the risk of ruining the entire look or a one – two hour fee to get everything right?

Or how about paying a painter anywhere from $500 to $15,000 or more to paint your house in all the wrong colours?

The list goes on.

Bottom line, it takes education and/or years of experience in the design profession to know what your style is.

Just like any profession.

Related posts:

My Interior Design Style

Signature Look or Your Clients Look: Which One Works the Best?

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or a Necessity?


If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, become a client. On-line or In-person.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour Expert. 



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  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    You know, Maria, what you did with the books of fabric gives me an epiphany about purging my closet, etc. The colors, styles, shapes and so on that I no longer wear , feel comfortable in, or like (hello) —-get rid of. DUH!–right? So simple, but pretty darned profound. Bet you liked the space you gained from getting rid of those books too! PS: I like your style:)

  • Agnes P says:

    so true Maria.. I agree, there could be nothing worse than choosing wrong finishes, colours, furniture, etc. for an interior without professional knowledge (some people have a sense of style and know what they love and that helps a lot, but most people have no idea). I like that you stand for what you believe in, beside your taste, your experience is out of question… I am the beginner in Interior Decorating world (finished my studies, had some clients)… more and more I relize how much more is there to learn.. and I did learn a lot from you too 🙂 thank you

  • Elise says:

    I sympathize. I am in the process of trying to find my style as I have a whole house to furnish.
    I have found Pinterest hugely helpful. I’ve spent the last month combing through pictures picking things I like or things I think would go well in my house. I will probably hire a designer in the end, but before I do I want to be able to say “this is what I like.” I think it will make the consultation cheaper because I can’t afford too much.
    When I look through the pictures I can see a trend. And, my “look” on Pinterest is very different than my sister’s Pinterest board.

  • To your great advice I’d like to add “When you find your own decorating style, don’t be afraid to stay with it.” Some people know what they like but feel pressured by friends, peers, sales people to ‘upgrade’. Not always a good idea because if what’s trendy is not your style, you won’t be happy with it in the end. Example, for some reason I’ve never been a fan of granite countertops. Now we’re hearing they may be on their way out. I’m so glad I didn’t get on the trend even if it is one of those that’s lasted quite awhile. I once told a customer “Don’t decorate for your friends, relatives or neighbors. They don’t live in your home–YOU do!” And with that she happily put in the red sheers she was dying to have in her living room. Not many people (including me) would choose that, but that was a dream of hers. 🙂

  • Franki says:

    I certainly agree with “all of the above”…however, to me, I feel that the architecture of the home dictates “how far to go.” That’s where that grand word “choice” comes in! 🙂 franki

  • SandyCGC says:

    Neat post, Maria, and neat comments from your readers. I feel for anyone who has to make major, permanent decisions real quick before they know their style – they’re at risk of making costly mistakes as your brave kitchen dilemma reader shared. To the advice about collecting pictures of rooms that you like, I’d add, take the time to analyze why you like that picture or what you specifically like in that picture. Don’t worry that maybe you don’t like everything in the room (even if you did, you probably couldn’t duplicate it exactly) – just focus on what appeals to you. In time, if you have it, things should become clearer. Of course, I realize it’s not quite that simple and you probably would benefit from the help of a good designer, but then choose your designer the same way – look through their portfolios (if they don’t have one or much of one, they may not have figured out their own style yet). If you like the feel of their rooms, they may be the designer for you. If every room in a designer’s portfolio is over-filled with green plants (real and/or fake) or if every room has a lot of blue and you hate blue, those designers may not be the ones for you. And take Connie’s advice – trust that you can and will find your own style (take advantage of the tools our there to help you) and believe in yourself when you do find it, and look for the designer who will help you express it. Although designers probably see it differently, I think the biggest compliment to you is for someone to walk into your client’s home and say to her/him, “I love your house – it’s so YOU”. To me, it would be a bit of a disappointment to have someone ask me, “who was your designer? – who did you house?” because I would feel somewhat devalued. I’m probably an odd duck in my feelings and, if I were a designer, I might feel quite differently about it, but I know what I like about you, Maria, is a certain approachable-ness (in all the rooms in your own home and in your clients’ homes and in you) that makes me feel as though I really would be happy with my home after seeking your advice and help. And, if I were a designer, I think I’d love to have my clients feel this way about me and my work.

    • Paula Van Hoogen says:

      Well spoken Sandy!

    • Rebecca says:

      The reader wanted help in finding her style. You have given much needed ways for her to search out her style. A designer can only be of help if you both see your house as an extension of you. I have had a sister who was stuck in a family room she hated because it was want the designer wanted. “The trust me I am the Designer” is not always true.
      Seeking help after one knows a bit about her style is always a better situation. Maria, I do not think you answered this gal’s question.

      • Maria Killam says:

        Hi Rebecca,
        I totally get what you are saying and that kind of thing happens all the time when someone did not find the right designer. I think understanding what you like is a great step towards getting a house/living room you like, just like I told Maryanne I want boxwood hedges, white shasta daisies and hostas, etc, etc. but I would have had no idea how to design a custom landscaping plan for my house from scratch. Just like someone who is not in the design industry could not be expected to design a house based on a bunch of inspiration images without help to pull it together.
        Hope this clarifies what I was trying to say.

  • Kay says:

    As a person who has a strong aesthetic sense but no background in design, and who is currently doing a complete kitchen renovation and a living room expansion, with all new furnishings, I really sympathize with your reader. The kitchen designer I hired has been invaluable–worth every penny I’m paying her. And my consults with you steered me away from various mistakes I could have made with fixed elements and paint and toward what I think will turn out to be a clean and serene, yet cozy and welcoming space. As for furnishings, nothing beats looking at lots of pictures online. That’s how I’m getting a sense of what I really love. Also ordering samples of everything. I would love to have Rose Tarlow come and design our new living room to suit us, but I don’t have Oprah’s income or palatial residence so struggle along the best I can. If I can achieve cozy and pretty by myself, I’ll be satisfied.

  • I agree that one or two bad choices to totally defeat a beautiful space. This fact is intimidating to newbies in design and liberating to those with time and experience under their belt.

  • mrsben says:

    Similar to fashion, I believe as one ages so does their taste and style however there is always a common element that one favours. With myself it is practicality. ☺
    With that said, I feel it is wise to determine what exactly appeals to you and when choosing any type of Designer beware of those who focus on trends. -Brenda-

  • Nancy says:

    Your comments about getting rid of the books of shiny fabric reminds me of one of the ways I narrow down the millions of choices I have when trying to explain to a designer what I like. I refer to my parents who have been married for 64 years. When my mother would ask my father what he wanted for dinner, his favorite answer was, “Well I know what I don’t want” and he would name one or two things he did not like. This helped her steer away from something he disliked, but ultimately, he was a guy who loved to eat lots of things.

    I have been reading your blog for awhile now, and I have learned a lot about what I like from you. I also use Pinterest and Houzz to collect my favorite ideas and intend to share them with the person I choose to help me with the interior of the new house we are building. The hardest part is picking the right person who can turn your visions into the reality you want for your home.

    With my builder I have done this a few times, like when he had a plant ledge (dust collector) planned in the great room. Inevitably, I know I will say, “I know what I don’t want!” when it comes to color, or various other choices, yet to be made.

  • Annie says:

    I’d love some advice on how to incorporate decor items that you already own and love if they dont really complement your decorating style. We have things that are dear to us (that vase from our trip to Spain, or that sentimental gift from my parents, etc) that might be the “wrong” color or whatever but I am loathe not to display these old friends. However, it does not lend itself to a pulled together look. Thanks!

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