Skip to main content
One bad decision pays for the designerTrue Colour Expert

Learn to be Bossy Yet Charming

By 09/08/2013February 5th, 202334 Comments

This is a post written by Irene Hill, my Design Associate:

It’s been two years since I’ve started working with Maria and it’s been about the same amount of time since I had a paying client, but occasionally I get an emergency call from a friend.

Just recently my phone rang with a plea for marriage counselling.

Over a design project.

If you work as a designer in any capacity you know what I’m talking about.

My friends had hit an impasse over the look and feel they wanted for the interior of the house they were building and their “discussions” were ending up in unhappy places.

“Could you come and see if you can help? We can’t agree on anything and we have to start ordering the finishes so we can actually have a completed house to move in to.”

So off I went, with a brain full of Maria-inspired guidelines and principles for design and colour.

My friends are building a 6,500 square foot house. It’s not their forever home as they’re planning to live in it for a year or two, sell and move on to their next build. He has always wanted to build a house with lovely French roof lines and this was the perfect time to indulge his creativity. The house plan is gorgeous and will look similar to this style (pictured below):

West Vancouver, BC

West Vancouver home photographed by my client

So pretty. But here’s where their planning starts to fall apart. They both love the clean lines and look of modern interiors and were planning to fill the house with elements like a linear fireplace, waterfall counter, glossy, flat-panel cabinetry, contemporary hood fan, pencil tile, etc, etc. Even though they were both on the same page with their modern design aesthetic they still could not agree on a single element.


via Pinterest

We sat down and first she gave me her list of what she wanted and needed in the house. Then he had his turn and gave me his list of what he wanted and needed. Yup, they were pretty far apart on their wishes and wants and I could see why they were stymied.

Then it was my turn and I leaned forward and channeled Maria:

“Oh, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re not the boss of your house,” I said in a charming but bossy manner.

Bossy But Charming Design

They looked taken aback and I could see they were wondering if I thought was the boss of their house.

“The house you’re building is the boss of your house,” I said.

“You made that decision when you decided on the French Country exterior. The style of the outside of your house is now dictating the inside of your house and you need to listen to it.

All these wonderful modern elements you’re in love with are waiting for you in your next house build. When you create a modern house design you can fill it with all these finishes and it will be perfect. But for this house you need to fill it with elements that continue the look and feel of the exterior.”

I could see that they totally got it and within 20 minutes we had put together a list of the “rules” for their fixed elements and a plan they were both excited about. We created a shopping list with criteria they found easy to follow.

Bossy But Charming Design

They went shopping for medium brown wood flooring, cream cabinets with cream subway tile for their backsplash, a plaster hood fan with lines that mimic the roof line, un-bossy floor tiles and a beautiful French-Inspired fireplace.

Now every discussion they have is with a listening ear to the true boss of their house. Apparently it’s them against the house and the house wins every time. I don’t think the house talks back, it just stands there in its loveliness and argument is futile.

They no longer spend hours looking for all manner of wild and wonderful finishes because their house won’t like it. Picking paint colours for the interior was a breeze because I brought Maria’s colour boards and they could immediately see the right colours to coordinate with all their finishes.

I had worked in design for almost 15 years before finding Maria and taking her True Colour Expert training, but can honestly say that the learning and language I’ve gotten from her was like nothing I’d learned before.

Before Maria’s training I was so focused on giving my clients what they told me they wanted that I never considered the dictates of their house style and fixed elements that were not changing.

I’ve learnt so much more than just colour. It feels amazing to be able to communicate design concepts and principles in a way that cuts right to the chase and gives people the confidence to feel I know what I’m talking about. Understanding Undertones™ was just the first step in this learning – the lens of timeless design, creating flow, the rules of colour, where to start a decorating project, yesterday versus today, the list goes on and on.

The more time I spend in Maria’s world, the clearer and more useful my design sensibility grows. And it works because now when I tell a client or friend what’s what, they totally get it. And they’re happy.

Because that’s the goal, isn’t it?

Register here if you would like to become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

Maria’s Colour Training is IDCEC Approved

Do you Give your Clients Exactly What they Want?

Undertones in Fabrics and Countertops

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

17 pins


  • Carol Anne says:

    totally. you must not dismiss the house or condo… the fixed elements you purchased… the other day I was talking to a client that had picked a very country oak table, chairs and buffet only to find out the condo kitchen right beside the dining area is a clean lined expresso finish design… I had to stop them from purchasing the oak design and look at the clean lines, dark finish of another table etc… after we worked on the design for the living room off both the kitchen and dining area… everyone and every room was on the same page and the condo will thank them everytime they come home… sometimes this conversation is a tough one but a good designer will go there and not just give the client what they want or love… well done Irene, great and useful blog post!!! x

  • Jill McDougall says:

    Great post, great advice! Thanks Irene!

  • Denise says:

    Thank God you stopped these people from filling a French-styled house with totally inappropriate finishes and furniture. While all the modern stuff might have made them happy, when they try to sell the place in a year or two, potential buyers would be difficult to come by. Anyone who wanted a French-styled house would be put off by the modern interior. And anyone who wanted a modern house probably wouldn’t even consider looking at this place because the exterior wasn’t modern.

  • Susan Medlin says:

    Great article and so true! Running into a number of new home buyers these days who want contemporary in their traditional or Tuscan style homes. It’s a fine line to walk!

  • I agree! I recently had a client who inherited her grandma’s house, and it didn’t in any way fit her style. She wanted to try and make it something it is not. She finally got that, at least on the outside, she had to go with what the house needed to look right, not what she wished it would be. I was able to come up with an exterior color palette that suited her sensibilities, as well at the house so we worked it out.

  • Great post Irene, so clear and true, and so nice to hear your voice! I love the concept of “bossy yet charming” and it’s so kind of you to share it. Please keep writing!

  • Paula Van Hoogen says:

    Hi Irene, the Interior Designer!!!! Bet it felt really good to get back in the saddle a bit 😉 You’re a darn good marriage counselor too!
    This article gave me more insight to the direction we’re headed in my house—it’s somewhat rustic on the outside, and I was pushing it too hard to be “historic” inside. This has clarified my thinking.
    Thanks, Irene!

  • StagerLinda says:

    Great post, Irene. Good for you guiding these folks on the right path. You had a great teacher in Maria!

  • heather says:

    Great job, Irene. Like a person, as house is what it is.
    More effective to play up its good points than to try (and of course fail) to turn it into something it can never be.

    • Cynthia says:

      So true, I thought the same when I read Irene’s article. Accept what you have, Play up the good. Don’t accent the bad. Excellent post!!!!!

  • Kelly says:

    You do remember how much I adore you, don’t you?!?!?!? 🙂 Great post. I’m finishing up my selections for our new house and I’ve tried to be very careful and listen to what it’s trying to say. Can’t wait to show it off and see if you all agree that I listened well. Good to hear from you, Irene! 🙂

  • Lori Fischer says:

    great post! it really boosts my confidence about my own design perspective. I’m still new to the industry and find that at times I struggle to talk someone out of a bad design decision because I’m not confident in my design “voice”. posts like this bolster that for me so thank you!

  • Franki says:

    THANK GOODNESS they contacted you when they did!! It is SO TRUE that the architecture of your home GUIDES YOU to plan accordingly..or…it doesn’t fit. What “some” have done to the “coloniel” homes here is…”unfortunate”…but…it is theirs, I guess…franki

  • Karen says:

    Thanks Irene! That is so what I needed to hear today as I have clients that have a mid-century home and they want to install kitchen cabinets that are french country! They really need to listen to me and their home.
    Thanks again!

  • Susan@Susan Silverman Designs says:

    Great post Irene, you just taught me a lot about “who’s the boss”. Keep up the great work!


  • Great post Irene! I stress over and over that the house itself needs to take center stage before the landscape each and every time. Unfortunalely some people need to have it all………

  • Beth L says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share. Excellent, clear information!

  • Rhonda says:

    Great post! Even though I am not a designer, nor have taken Maria’s class, I have learned so much from her blog and book, and from a color consultation. Good stuff!!!

  • Sharon Charboneau says:

    such a smart article!

    I learned so long ago about people not really knowing what they want, and needing to be asked the right questions and shown the right products.

    Many clients do not know the right questions to ask & need to be focused by a wise & ethical professional

  • Lisa says:

    Great job Irene. I wish all marriage problem-solving went that smoothly.

  • SandyCGC says:

    What a great post, Irene, and how very right and clever to point out the real boss among the involved parties. I’m not a designer but I feel for everyone who gets called into a situation like this. You’ve given them great ammunition and a charming way to use it. You’ve reinforced my own realization and instincts about my house. Kitchen redo will be simple and cheap but before I tackle it, I need to at least make a DECISION about new flooring throughout my very open floorplan house with its sorta Mediterranean/ Spanish revival style with stucco exterior and dark-framed big windows. My vision of a white French-country kitchen might need to be altered a bit to make both me and my house happy. Maria was a wonderful find for me back in 2009. She’s been an unbelievable teacher and I get to learn more from every post and every web search. Today I learned from you as well and it was great fun!

  • Angela Taylor says:

    Lovely to hear from you Irene and what a good post! I have learned so much (still am) from Maria.
    Just finished having the backsplash (stone subway tile) put in my kitchen. Would have gone with the trendy glass multi-coloured tile before being educated:) Love the look and of course it is timeless! My home has finally come together, must be time to move again LOL

  • Brooke says:

    Great advice! Why is it is so easy to help friends with paint colors etc in their homes but in our own houses we have trouble?!!

    • Debz says:

      I agree. I can walk into a client’s home and know instantly what colour would suit. But my own home….. I really have no idea! I suspect I just need to take a step back and think about it from a designer’s perspective.

  • Jerseyjan says:

    How about the client who says boldly, even though she couldn’t express what she wanted, that she “knows” what looks best b/c she worked for 35 years as a clothing buyer (so she has taste?) I wanted to say, but didn’t, that she might know clothing, but that knowledge is not translating to her home’s design? That would have been too mean. LOL This article hit the proverbial nail on the head. Thanks, Irene. Well done!

  • Monique says:

    Way to save the day and marriage Irene!

  • Babs Loyd says:

    A great story of common sense trumping fantasy. I will soon be moving to a ranch style house in TX but have very little “rustic” leanings. Any suggestions dear audience of Maria’s marvelous blog?

  • Mary Ellen says:

    LOVE this! So true. Been in my 1880 little Victorian that my great-great aunt from Canada lived in 27 years so far – still listening and learning! Great article.

  • Rick S says:

    I love this concept and believe houses “become” living things if you treat them right. The tell you what they want and you get better results if you listen. My wife and I have been in our home for 6+ years and are still doing our best to listen. Ours is a 1978 2 story “Colonial” with farmhouse spindle porch trim and Big bay windows on each side of the front door with sidelights. We balance the formality with the fact that our “little old lady’ likes things pretty, and elegant, but not too flashy. She does win everytime.

  • this is very timely for me…I have a color client today, interior, they want modern, contemporary, light colors on a home exterior that is 1930’s style. I can picture the interior (unless I’m really wrong, which is I’m assuming the look of the interior) arched doors from living to dining room, possibly even textured walls. Modern? Contemporary? This is where your conversation comes in that you have so beautifully stated! I’ve prepared for this conversation in my mind already, breathing kindness into everything I say.

    Great article by Irene Hill – when seasoned professionals are still learning, I take notice and Thank You.

  • Roz says:

    This gal knows what she is talking about! She has saved me countless hours of frustration by complimenting the inside of my house with what the true look and era of the outside dictates!
    Thanks Irene! This system works!!

  • Diane Oster says:


    I love your colors and your blog. I look forward to reading it and seeing the beautiful pictures.
    Love the French Country house story.



Leave a Reply