Classic & Timeless Design Tips for a Home You’ll Love Forever

Classic and timeless design is not just for decorating with neutrals. It’s about creating styled and colourful interiors – that coordinate with your existing finishes. Here are some of my best design tips for creating a classic and timeless home you’ll love forever.

Classical Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum

What makes design classic and timeless?

Here’s what it isn’t. Classic and timeless design is not about not about Classicism, or about sticking with neutrals and safe decorating. For me it’s quite the opposite. Classic and timeless design is about simply adding colour to your decorating.

To clear any confusion, today, I’m defining my “Classic and Timeless” design philosophy, and sharing tips for creating a home you’ll love forever.

As I announced recently, we have opened up the smaller paint packages that were sold out for the better part of the summer. We have hired two new talented designers, and during their training on how to assemble a presentation of Maria Killam eDesign advice, we talked a lot about my ‘classic and timeless’ design aesthetic.

And it made me realize something.

A Design Aesthetic

My personal ‘design aesthetic’ is about creating styled and colourful interiors (above) and exteriors (below). And, contrary to my innovations with neutral undertones, I LOVE vibrant and lively COLOUR.

While I help many clients choose the right neutral to coordinate with their stone (that’s all you can do if you’re not painting it), I love when a client asks for colour!

Maria Killam – Two Timeless Blue Exteriors: Before and After

Known as an Expert on Neutrals and Undertones

Yet, I’m ALSO best known for sharing my proprietary System for Specifying Colour. The core piece of which is Understanding Undertones, or getting NEUTRALS right by recognizing 9 distinct neutral undertone categories. 

 

Do you see more neutral exteriors than colourful ones on this site? Yes you do. Because it’s in navigating in the realm of murky, less-versatile-than-you-might-think neutrals, that most people get colour wrong. So, I spend a disproportionate amount of time talking about neutrals on this blog. At least for a gal so very in love with COLOUR.

Because neutrals are where people need the most help.  

A neutral does not simply go with everything

That is why you will see many posts dealing with choosing the right neutral colours to relate to fixed elements such as existing earthy countertops, tile, stone or brick – even Carrara Marble has an undertone. A home exterior with lots of earthy stone or brick, for example, is one that simply cannot handle a colour because you can’t ignore those finishes.

Like this exterior below with lots of earthy stone.

Maria Killam – The Shortcut to Testing Colour: Before and After

A key insight to my system is that neutrals need to RELATE WELL to look right. You cannot choose a colour that doesn’t already exist in the multicolour stone on the house above because it would not relate.

It’s similar with interiors. The more hard finishes you have installed in neutral colours other than white or cream, the more difficult it is to decorate with COLOUR.

A fresh backdrop for colour is timeless

A fresh and versatile canvas, that is, a home with simple timeless wood floors and lots of fresh white and cream finishes, is the perfect CLASSIC AND TIMELESS backdrop for COLOUR. ANY colour you like!

All this conversation about the ‘Maria Killam aesthetic’ with my team made me realize that classic & timeless is not so much an “aesthetic,” but more a value system and a MOVEMENT.

One that really needs to catch on in this wasteful world of trendy finishes that no one ever likes forever. Classic and timeless stands in opposition to the relentless need to renovate in order to keep up with whatever is current. 

It’s an oasis of sanity.

And the reason why I think it’s a ‘movement’ more than simply a Maria Killam aesthetic, is because once people find my blog and start reading my advice, they realize it just makes sense.

I recently consulted with a client on her new build. She was building a home on the same property as her son and his wife. And while they were happily choosing ‘current and trendy’ finishes, my client, who was obviously older and had already lived through a few trends in previous houses, was totally on board with choosing ‘classic and timeless’ finishes and colours.

Classic and Timeless is simply design wisdom.

It’s knowing what will stand the test of time.

Classic and Timeless Finishes

Right about now, you might be thinking, ‘Where’s the checklist?’ Can you just give me one?

Well yes I can, and here it is:

Let’s just start in the order you need to choose your finishes in shall we?

Hardwood Floors

There are two classic and timeless colours that you should consider. Pale and medium brown. Basically, make sure there is no grey or taupe in the floors you’re choosing. Which one you should choose, though, depends on the style of your home.

But seriously, what could be more timeless than the pale natural wood floors of the Metropolitan Museum? This is the look (below) that goes with EVERYTHING. FOREVER. They look bit golden in this lighting, but I think they are white oak. They might be red oak. Really, any pale, natural wood floor like maple, white or even red oak is a timeless choice. 

You don’t have to get hung up on the undertones of natural wood (except to avoid trendy grey stains) because wood is BROWN or GOLD or even PINK BEIGE. And it doesn’t matter. A timeless wood floor is like a pair of jeans, it goes with everything. 

The Metropolitan Museum NYC via Artsy

And if you like a richer look, neutral medium brown floors are versatile and classic too.

Lark & Linen

Read more: What if I don’t like the grey flooring that’s everywhere?

Fireplace Mantel

Stacked stone should only be installed if you are building a lake house, a ski cabin or if your house is more countrified.

The main problem with stacked stone is your decorating needs to be considered. Multi coloured stone bosses around your colour palette options.

The ONLY remaining, unrenovated areas in my house are both fireplaces in my living and dining room.

The house was original 80s, complete with the standard 80s kitchen and oversize jetted tub in the master. It was truly a miracle that my fireplaces were so pretty. What makes my fireplaces so great (below), is that I never think about what colour they are because they go with absolutely everything.

Simple White or Cream Hard Finishes

I can’t say this often enough: Boring now equals timeless later.

Just like with fireplaces, rooms that require a lot of stuck down, permanently installed (at least until the next renovation) finishes like tile and countertops, (Ahem, I’m looking at you kitchens and bathrooms), need to be as fresh and simple as possible. 

Kitchens and bathrooms are most versatile in a mostly solid white or cream palette. I already know what you are thinking… But Maria, isn’t that BORING??

Well, what’s more boring? A white bathroom that can be painted and decorated in essentially ANY colour? Or being stuck decorating with grey, well past its time in the trend spotlight, because you chose all grey for your tile?

And yes, that means subway tile. Or some other timeless and versatile white or cream tile that won’t boss you around well past the tile trend you installed it in.

The most timeless look for a kitchen is one where you could not precisely say when it was installed. Like this cream kitchen with soapstone countertops and wood floors below.

Old House

Aside from light or white, black quartz, black granite or soapstone is also a timeless choice for countertops. It’s a great way to introduce a bit of black because black countertops are not overpowering the same way all black cabinets or floors can be. This look has been around for ages, it’s as classic as the LBD. It can even look historical as in the kitchen above.

The honed black countertops, white cabinets, white tile backsplash, and pale natural floors I specified for this project below, will allow this client to change up her colour scheme endlessly if she wishes – and without an expensive and wasteful renovation. Changing colour is as easy as swapping out valances and bar stool upholstery.

Maria Killam – How to Detuscanize Your Home; Before and After

Paint

Paint and decorating is where you can indulge a bit more in a trend. Want to paint a room a moody, trendy black? Or fall in love with the Pantone Colour of the Year? Go for it in paint, textiles and accessories. Elements that are easy to swap out when you tire of them or they simply get worn is where to give in to a trend or two. 

Sheila Bouttier – Architectural Digest

If you are someone who really isn’t interested in painting your walls on a whim, and you want to paint your walls a versatile colour that will stand the test of time, choose a pale, barely-there neutral like a greige or a complex cream

Maria Killam

Just add colour

But don’t forget to add interest in your decor with colour!

This is where the character and personality comes to life in a classic and timeless home. It really is the goal of my classic and timeless philosophy.

You can have fun with vibrant saturated colour, or moody muted tones. Just make sure they have similar intensity, that is don’t mix CLEAN and DIRTY colour, and have fun with it!

And speaking of decorating with colour, I still love my vibrant yellow, raspberry and green living room. But it’s has been nearly a decade and it’s time to switch it up! Since I have timeless and versatile light maple floors, a white kitchen, bathrooms and fireplaces, the sky is really the limit for colour choice! It’s always hardest to decorate for yourself, especially as a designer who is well aware of all the beautiful options!

I want to keep my signature yellow sofa, but beyond that, I’m reeling with possibilities.

So I’d love to hear your thoughts. What would you do?

Want your next renovation to be your last?

You can find my Complete Renovation eDesign consultation here. I also offer packages for Kitchen and Bathroom renovations and New Builds!

PS. I recently received an email from a reader asking if I could choose a colour that was NOT classic and timeless? The answer is, the colour I choose for you, will be the colour that works best, period. And, obviously the colours you receive are also based on YOUR preferences, likes, dislikes, etc. 

And, having said that, if you ask for a colour that I KNOW based on my 20 years and 20,000 consultations will not work at all, I will be the first to tell you. 

Related Posts

First Rule of Design: Boring Now Equals Timeless Later

Ask Maria: What is the Most Timeless Colour?

Maria’s Timeless White Master Ensuite Reveal; Before & After

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  1. Perhaps you could use PPG 2020 Colour of the Year: Chinese Porcelain. White, blue and yellow, how beautiful. Add some Chinese porcelain and some plants- voila! I’m sure whatever you do will be beautiful.

  2. Carrie TCE Dallas ‘18

    The blue of old Chinese import vases in a print or solid would be lovely with the yellow sofa. Change out the rug for one with blues. Or a peacock color green blue scheme. Or … as you said plug in any color you love in the textiles and rug unless you are going to go dark on the fireplace. That shifts everything. What fun for you to get to play!

  3. Navy blue or another vibrant blue is always beautiful with your yellow couch. I Look forward to seeing what you choice.

  4. Look in your closets and consider using colors that complement your (and your wife’s) coloring – hair, skin, eyes (although I think that is what your current color scheme does). That way you always look and feel radiant, literally surrounded by your personal best colors.

  5. HI Maria
    Another great post!
    It would be fun to see if any of your followers have a “timeless” design and see if you concur and why.
    Ciao
    Denise

  6. Hi Maria:
    Is there a timeless color for floor tile? Hardwood floors are not a good option for those of us who live in hot, humid, sandy, coastal Florida. I’m stuck with pink beige/taupe floor tile at the moment, but when I remodel, I would like to re-tile in a less bossy color.
    Thanks so much for your blog!

    • Tile floors are really common in south and southeast Asia. Now that everywhere is more connected, you should be able to find pictures of homes from that area that have been decorated in various styles (not just the stereotypically Asian style major magazines used to restrict themselves to) and start noticing what works for someone in SEA who loves an English country look or farmhouse chic or California cool or whatever it is you have. It is not just us westerners who have access and are hoovering up images and styles and influences from the four corners of the world, people elsewhere are the same – especially expats who love their new country but miss ____ from the home they grew up in.

  7. I want to second that question about floor tiles. We will be getting a new balcony floor soon and I can’t come up with any good options for the tiles.
    Your living room has me thinking purple- I love yellow and purple and I think its the less obvious choice compared to blue (I am a little over that combo). And a rich teal or emerald- jewel tones. So golden yellow, rich purple and deep emerald- Slightly more moody and still colourful!

  8. Two curiosities about your living room! I remember it being a pretty big debate in your household how expensive the raspberry drapes were. Do you expect to keep those?

    I’ve always wanted to see a different (larger and less transitional) rug in this space! Perhaps a very light pattern antique rug, or something textured. I’ve also wondered about getting more hits of green since there isn’t much that ties in the lamps, per your “repeat the colour” rules, and also wondering about flow into your kitchen which I believe has green accents and your bathroom which I believe you painted turquoise. So I’m wondering what the colour “journey” feels like and whether you’re trying to tie in other rooms or whether the flow doesn’t require this.

    Looking forward to seeing the next iteration!

  9. Take the raspberry draperies down and …. then think. They are like the green valances in a kitchen you showed. They grab your attention and your eye plays hopscotch all around the room missing the other delightful interests. I’m speaking as an artist who understands how the eye moves through a painting. It’s nice to be guided but not grabbed.

  10. How about a tip of the designer-hat to antique or vintage – all new seems like, well, all new. You might add some contrast with a traditionally-patterned and richly colored antique or vintage rug – it could be spectacular, layering in a whole new level and providing context.

  11. Hi. But what about interior doors and trim? My home is a basic little house built in the 80s. I plan to replace interior doors and trim (it’s currently dark mahogany color) with something less dated. Interior woodwork all seems to be white right now. Do I just paint all the woodwork white? Dirt, scuffs scratches on white scare me! Help! Thank you.

  12. The “bossy” elements in your room- the rug, the curtains and the sofa. Have you considered a natural sea grass rug and natural linen drapery panels? Maybe repurpose the raspberry to pillows or seat cushions? Changing these items will divert attention to other interesting items in your room. The sofa looks faded in some of the pictures.

  13. Thank you for this helpful summary of your design philosophy. I wholeheartedly agree and share these principles with all my clients, siting you as my Color Guru ❤️ You’re getting lots of suggestions for blue in your room and that would be pretty but I’m feeling green. Maybe a lighter version of your green lamp color for the drapes. Green and blue are friends, so then yes the blue and white chinoiserie porcelain would be a pretty accent. New rug in softer shades. You’ll make it stunning

  14. I suggest you find a larger rug you love, and pick colours from that. Then it will all come together in a cohesive fashion.
    I find your lovely drapes command all the attention in your room. They yell “Look at me! look at me!” One almost misses the rest.

  15. Thank you —
    Totally does make sense .
    Instead of having to update all the time how great would it be if all we needed to do was change paint color and pillows etc.
    Look how much money we could all save !!!
    Thanks .

  16. Hi Maria. I think the BM color of the year that is a pale aqua would be great with your yellow sofa.

  17. How fun! I love your living and dining rooms. I would switch the curtains to a green, change the rug to something with less black, paint to yellow side table in an orange similar to the 2nd print from the right in your dining room, and swap the large white lamp with something more colorful. I think I’d put a couple of colorful throw pillows on the white chairs flanking the fireplace too. Can’t wait to see what you end up doing!

  18. I agree the raspberry drapes distract from all the other elements in the room. I know you did a post on the lamps that block your botanical prints in the dining room however I’m not a fan of that look either. To me it’s distracting IMO.

  19. Another awesome column Maria. For your living room, I ‘m thinking a slubby, natural linen. But then the rug wouldn’t work. Why you are the designer, not me.

  20. I’ve never been madly in love with my raspberry drapes, at the time I installed them because I could not find a yellow fabric that was the same as my sofa, and I thought white would not be colour me happy enough 🙂 And they got me on the cover of a shelter magazine so they were worth every penny!

    The raspberry colour is not particularly repeated in the room because they are the same value and size visually as the yellow sofas so they are really there as a colour block. And it’s time for a change 🙂 Thanks for all your comments! Maria

  21. Replace the drapes with a light textured linen, new larger vintage rug with muted colors. Accessorize with colors drawn from the new rug. Fewer accessories, slightly larger coffee table.

  22. I’d choose colors that look the best on you and Terreeia. I love that photo of you a while back when you were dressed head to toe in lavender! So maybe a shade or two of purple and add in some more green. Whatever you choose, I know it will look fabulous and I can’t wait to see it.

  23. I love your living room! But I understand the desire for a change. I love yellow with a purple blue, deeper than periwinkle.

  24. i have a question. so…i have a husband who cares, lol. HE chose the blue/GRAY tile for the shower, and the blk/white tile for the master bath floor. Then had a friend build a charcoal GRAY vanity…I told him gray isn’t in anymore. He said gray is “neutral”. Would it be best if we paint the bathroom white or a super light pearl gray then, so that it becomes “classic”? Then add color with accessories? so mad we locked ourselves in =(

    • Colour goes with grey, that was the point of grey in the first place. Clean colour from the 50s and 60s arrived on the scene because we’d been decorating with earth tones for 30 years and it was time for something new. Grey was the perfect crisp backdrop from all that clean colour. Beige dies with clean colours. So I vote for colourful walls, you have lots of choices with grey! Hope that helps, Maria

  25. I’ve read your blog for years and this is so so good!! I’m sharing it with my facebook decorating group right now.

  26. Maria I am so happy to read this post. This is the aesthetic that I have had for a long time. I love changing color up by using different accessories each season. I will be so excited to see how you work your new colors in that flows with the rest of your home. You have asked for color suggestions but no one can give them to you because they have to be unique to you and Terreeia. You are the color queen and I know your room will be spectacular! So looking forward to the reveal.

  27. I’d get rid of the yellow couch and go all gray. Blah, just kidding! Being an 80s girl, I’m thinking blue with ducks. No seriously, this is a great post! I love your style!!! I’d love to see what periwinkle would look like in this room!!!!

  28. Hi Maria,
    It’s so simple!
    1) Swap out that black rug (I agree with Cheryl) for one wither some of your vibrant favorite colors.
    2) Send me those GORGEOUS raspberry drapes. I can put them to very good use. 😁
    3) Get some new drapes in a color that makes you happy.
    4) Sit back and enjoy!

  29. Here here, Maria!

    I love your living room. I say leave your raspberry drapes as they are – the room has an avant garde look now; I think a solid green or other colour will take that away.

    If you absolutely insist, Ms Serial Decorator 😉 , I say go w a bold floral that will work in the room. Thx as always for sharing your wisdom 💕

  30. Navy velveteen drapes, For sure! Chinese Blue porcelain vase side tables…… start there😊
    I know our own houses are the most difficult to decide upon!
    My whole aesthetic had to change when I moved to Florida.
    This article is actually helping me go forward!
    Thanks Maria!

    • Dear Maria, I’m wondering what color should you paint built-ins, all same as wall coloring, what are your rules? A dumbier question: who design your cabinetry and decides on moldings and trim, the designer or cabinetmaker? My house is new built and there are no moldings. I want some and I have no idea what is the name of an expert I should call and who make drawings (an architect maybe??). Please advice if you read my comment. Take care!

  31. Before redecorating, I would replace the rug with another one that looks like a giant color explosion, especially with yellow, raspberry, green and other colors. I would enjoy it for 6 months and then get rid of everything and start from scratch. I would not keep the yellow sofa, but do yellow another way.

  32. You might want to consider wood-look tile. We installed soft-toned, light brown wood-look tile in our Florida condo and it looks great! It also coordinates well with almost anything.

  33. As a professional Allied ASID interior designer, I have held back to comment on your living room Maria until I read all the other comments.
    I agree that the rug needs to be changed and it needs to be bigger because at least the front legs of the sofa have to go several inches over the rug so that the floor is not visible when looking at the front of sofa from across the room. A rug that sits in front of the sofa looks too skimpy and out of proportion. Your white Barcelona chairs should also sit on the rug . A bold colorful design in the area rug will give you the inspiration for colors for the rest of the room.
    I usually take two measurements for an area rug. Measure the maximum size that can work and then the minimum size that can work, as area rugs differ depending on if they are old or new and in which country they are made.
    Most reputable businesses will let you borrow several rugs and take them home for a fitting for a small deposit. You can bring them back in a couple of days. You should really see a rug in your home. If you find one on line, purchase the smallest size to try and you can send it back to get a larger size or if it is not perfect. When I take a client shopping or present edited samples in the home, I usually hear my client say the word” LOVE” when it is the right choice! Never settle for less than what will make you smile every time you walk in the room!

  34. I loved your living room so much that I used it as an inspiration for my own. When I read that you were (gasp) changing your beloved design, I moved beyond sadness and thought about what I will do to mine. I must keep my raspberry drapes because I love the color, but I am thinking about bringing in a new rug with raspberry and sapphire blue – and adding chairs in the same sapphire hue. I can keep splashes of yellow (because I love that too) but I’m really excited to see what you decide to do! Please do not keep us in suspense!!!