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Decorating Advice

Decorating with a Colour Expert

By 04/12/2010February 10th, 201742 Comments

If you’re following my blog you’ll know that last week I helped Penelope Trunk pick colours for her farmhouse.

At first she hired me just for colour as she didn’t know where to begin choosing everything else for her house–it’s empty and she’s starting from scratch (This is scary for everyone!).

Country Living

Penelope said the last house she painted, every room was re-painted about 5 times before the colour was right. She was not interested in doing that again!

Now I’m helping her pull the entire house together with furniture, accessories, carpets, lighting, etc. We are emailing back and forth and it’s really fun (she sounds just like her blog—of course—but it’s fun to get emails from her about her house, this woman notices everything) then at one point she said “I didn’t know you could help me decorate my entire house? I thought you just did colour?”

This Bergere chair and ottoman is going in her living room (source)

That conversation led me to this post today because I think it’s obvious (from my blog) that I’m a designer too. After all I have a website, and one of my projects was featured in BC Home last September here.

We are doing french country can you tell? (source)

Also I think I’m always talking about so many aspects of what it takes to decorate your house, give it atmosphere and make it happy, but clearly it’s not so obvious because most of the business I get from this blog is for colour consulting.

There are colour consultants that specialize in strictly colour, however that is just a piece of what I do. I can also help you decorate your empty house from top to bottom.

Living room area rug (source)

Generally, this is how it starts:

Whether I’m helping you on-line or in-person, choosing wall colour in advance establishes a starting point (if you don’t already have one) for pulling the rest of the finishes (furniture, drapery, floor covering, kitchen finishes, etc) in your house together.

Country Living

The first appointment establishes the palette for the house. (If we are doing this on-line we both have the same fan deck and we walk through the colours together so that you can give me instant feedback on the colours I am suggesting).

A conversation to determine which colour(s) are ‘right’ for your house, is a process of elimination. Sometimes clients need to understand why all the other colours are NOT an option (it doesn’t take that long, all colours come down to 1 of 6).

This gives you the confidence to move forward with painting your home as well as making other purchasing decisions for furniture, drapery, etc. because now you know ‘why’ the colour(s) we have chosen are right for your home.


My client started with only a TV but it was too lumpy so I recommended a new one

Next is space planning. If your house is empty, I take measurements and make recommendations on furniture placement. Even if you are a do-it-yourselfer, a space plan is crucial before you start shopping for furniture!

We finalized the fabrics down to the ones you see here and then I sent her a few more toss cushion options and we ended up keeping it clean and simple as you can see by the finished room.

In the second appointment, I arrive with fabric selections (above) and furniture choices. (see example below, this is one of the options this client had and she chose the first sofa).

Then we order all the soft furnishings (upholstery, drapery and pillows) and it get’s installed (below):


After that we source everything else to finish the space! (below, click here to see all the images).

Interior Design by Maria Killam

Penelope was worried that she had to like green to work with me. I dispelled that concern right away. All colours are beautiful in the right context so even though I have my favourites I can pull them all together based on your likes and dislikes!

As Janice Lindsay said when I interviewed her on her favourite colour: ‘That would be like asking a mom which of her kids she liked best’.

My loft client (above) specifically asked for green and purple and the only part of that request I tweaked was that she originally wanted a gray/green but I recommended going with a fresher green because gray/green had been replaced by brown for a few years and fabric choices become more limited in colours that are dated.

Maria Killam Colour & Design

Perfect example was this outdoor lounge furniture (above). Although it might look like it was chosen to flow with her furniture inside, we bought it ‘off the rack’ with the ‘fresh’ green cushions.

The clients that call me ‘notice’ everything about colour and are committed to getting it right. People say to me all the time “I love colour but I’m so afraid of getting it wrong!”

Maria Killam Colour & Design

So if you have an empty house, a designer who specializes in colour (even if it’s just pulling together the right undertones of beige like my students will be learning in my True Colour Expert Training) is the one you want to hire to pull everything together to create the right look and feel for your home!

And now I’m curious, how many of you thought I was strictly a colour expert?

P.S. Okay, just to keep it easy for those of you that don’t read comments, here’s Penelope’s comment:

We would love to help you choose colours, select the right combination of hard finishes or create a plan to pull your room together. You can find our fabulous email consultation packages here.

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

Related posts:

Successful Interiors start with Space Planning

How to Choose an Area Rug

How to Create a Tablescape

The three most Important words in a Colour Consultation

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  • Laura Trevey says:

    Great post! I love the furniture selections ~~ and the beautiful rug!

    xo Laura

  • Karena says:

    Great job maria, you pulled it altogether beautifully! Love the outdoor living space!

    I have an interview with Artist Robert Anders up on my site that is fascinating.

    Art by Karena

  • Jennifer, Inside Out Colour and Design says:

    I hear ya, Sister! I get that too. What I find though is that clients are generally wary of who they work with and choosing colours doesn't seem as personal as choosing soft furnishings. So they employ me originally to help with colour selection and invariably I end up helping with everything.

  • Melanie Gao says:

    Yes, I thought you just did colors too! Thanks so much for clearing that up. I love the fact that you do online consultations. Maybe one day I will come to you for help.

  • Decoralora says:

    Maria, I thought you were a colour specialist because of your blog title…and also I have seen you answer questions on your kitchen posts that you were not a kitchen designer. I guess that should tell me you are an interior designer, and not just a color expert! I just wasn't thinking too much on it as I love color and I have loved reading about your opinions on color and white kitchens!

  • Tammy@InStitches says:

    I knew you did more than just color but I can see why she thought that because most of your blog post are about color ! That's the subject you help us with the most.

  • Vitania says:

    Even before we did that little interview .. I knew… Designer. A fabulous designer who I would trust implicitly, because of your in depth knowledge of colour..:-)

  • Maria Killam says:

    HI Decoralora,
    I guess it's confusing, the different titles designers have.

    1) Colour Consultant – for colour

    2) Decorator – for millwork, furniture, drapery, accessories, lighting – atmosphere!

    3) Interior Designer – usually includes decorating not not always, definitely renovations, moving walls and re-doing kitchens.

    I'm the top two!

  • Marija says:

    I knew you were a designer – only more versatile than most largely because of your in-depth understanding of color and color flow. It never occurred to me that you only did color – but maybe that's because I feel as though I've read hundreds of your posts! I will say that I didn't realize until recently that you travelled to work on projects. I thought perhaps you were only local or e-color consultation. Can't wait to see this project unfold! Marija

  • Penelope Trunk says:

    Hi there. I just want to pop in and say that Maria has been amazing. She has told me brilliant things, like you come to your color by deciding why all others are wrong (immediately I decided to steal this for a post on how to come to a career). And she has demonstrated super-human patience over and over again — like when I called her Sunday morning to ask if the lamp shade I bought the the wrong shade of yellow.

    I don't think I ever intended to use Maria for furniture. But after she walked me through a color selection process, I realized she came up with stuff I could never come up with on my own, and then I felt like I would cheat myself if I did not use her for furniture as well. And, now I find myself emailing her about everything.

    I could go on forever. Because I'm having so much fun with Maria. But I want to say this most important thing: I have learned so much from her, and I see design and color differently because of her. I think she's the most valuable of all the types of consultants one could hire — she changes the way I see the world.


  • curly texan says:

    I knew it! You must have been channeling my thoughts. I was seriously thinking this about you over the weekend. As I struggle to put together my living room I wondered…could Maria help me…
    Of course you can!

  • Jane says:

    Maria, you amaze me with your skill.

    I am totally in love with the orange and white rug. I wish it would work for me…but not yet!

    Jane (Artfully Graced)

  • Patrick Gracewood says:

    Good post, Maria. This is the best of blogging- showing/sharing your working process.

    Will you explain HOW/WHY all the other colours are NOT an option, all colours come down to 1 of 6.
    I believe you but would love for you to explain.

  • Anonymous says:

    Yes, I knew & thought everyone knew!! But the nice thing is that I can have you do a 2-hour color consultation for me (who lives far away) and I would be more confident in the color selections than someone who lives close.

  • Nancy@marcusdesign says:

    Great post Maria, I love hearing about the process you take when tackling a design. I really appreciate that you START with choosing the paint colors of a home before anything else, because this is what I have always done. I always here about designers starting with fabric, and though I think this is good too, I always want to choose my fav wall colors and choose other elements around that! PS. I do think it is clear on your blog and website that you offer many more services than just color consulting.

  • traci zeller designs says:

    Hmmmm … I realized you were a designer as well! Love how you walked everyone through the process …

  • "Yeah, that works..!" says:

    I got turned on to Penelope through you quite a bit ago and am forever grateful. Love her and love you – what a combo for this project!! Can't wait to see the results!!!!

  • Alina says:

    I love what you did to the room that only had a "lumpy" TV. I love the Green couch. It kind of makes the room.

  • Siddhartha Herdegen says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your talents with us. I love to see your ideas come to life and you have a fantastic looking site.


  • Twenty Two Flamboyant Street says:

    I think it is clear that you are a designer and a colour specialist with many other talents such as the ability to very clearly express your ideas. Well done. Great post as always.

  • Charlotte's Color Specialist says:

    I love to see the design process from start to finish.
    Love the use of the design board!

  • Melissa @ Veranda Interiors says:

    Maria, I love the breakdown you gave for the different designers. I, myself and the third with a bit of the second. Trying to explain that to people is funny at times.
    I will admit that I hate picking colors…for myself! Clients, no problem, but if it is my own home I freeze up, LOL! You might be getting a call from me when our plans are done for the next home!
    Mel xxx

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    Hiring you definitely creates a serious dependency on you! Once I see how you put things together in a way that looks so good in a way I never would have thought of. I realize I can't live without making a single solitary decorating decision without you. I need rehab to curb my Maria dependency just so I can put up with my own bad taste.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Patrick,
    All colours come down to 1 of 6 because of the colour wheel. Yes there are all the variations going all the way to neutrals for each colour but this helps to simplify it.

    Many clients are not willing to say what colours they want to work with until we have the fan deck out and start looking at colour. That defines it pretty fast.

    Then there are all the existing fixed elements in a house the define colour further.

    And bottom line, it's taken me many years to be able to define a colour palette with a client in a systematic way. . . you have to experience it to really get it.

  • Roberta says:

    Another great post Maria. You have quite the following now! I think I finally got it w/ my bedroom color which I just did a post on. Thanks for all your inspiration!

  • Nichole says:

    I did know that you did more that Colour. I love that outdoor lounge! What percentage of your clients are long distance?

  • Donna says:

    Marie, I am so so glad I found your blog! I wish I could hire you myself but you guys are way out of my price range..Ha! Maybe someday…

    But I have to say that your advice on focal points, how to use color, choosing what is most important before decorating, buying one expensive thing..etc, has been very helpful! Even if I can't go out and buy paint, I can still make use of your ideas.

    I can't afford to buy new furniture, much less hire someone to help me pick the right colors-Ha! Nevertheless, your blog has such a wealth of information that I can make use of, that I have been doing so gleefully!!

    In fact, I love your advice so much that I'm going to set up a feed of your posts to my blog so my readers can get the benefit of your great ideas! Some of them will be able to afford painting, pillows and furniture. I sure want to steer them in the right direction!

    I have to say, of all the blogs I've seen, yours is the first, that's caused me to say… "Hmmm..I want to relax this evening..I think I'll read a good blog!" It's as good as sitting down with a good interior decorating magazine! I ran out of time last night to comment, but spent a good hour just reading. I enjoyed every minute of it!

    PS. Thanks for the great article that you sent for those who subscribe! It was full of excellent information.

    Have a great day,
    Donna at Comin' Home

  • Donna says:

    Marie, I forgot to mention that I read a couple of Penelope's articles too..Great read!

  • Imogen Lamport, AICI CIP says:

    Great explanation of the work you do, and exciting to be working with a great client who gets what you do.

  • Donna says:

    Hi Marie,

    Just a quick to note to say Thanks for leaving a comment! I hadn't got the feed going yet, but I do now. I hate colds! They interfere with ones' plans!


    Oh and by the way, I love the furniture you picked and the bottom to rooms you re-did. I'd be happy to live in them…so restful, orderly, and elegant too!

  • mydivabydesign says:

    Great post. i always love the pictures too!

  • Lauren says:


    I love seeing your work as always and am glad to see you explaining your services fully on here.

    will be out again tomorrow but might try you on my celly

  • heather jenkinson says:

    I found this so utterly inspiring that I've told anyone who will listen about this – brilliant work. I love the story behind how it all happened.

    It's always exciting when two talented women work together; thank you so much for keeping us in the loop. Looking forward to future updates…

  • Anonymous says:

    I am new to the blog world and your site, which I love. I have gone back thru your archives and read almost every post. You are definitely more than a colour expert!

    I do have a question that I haven't seen you post anything about. What are your thoughts about painting stock stair railings spindles, or risers?

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous,
    Paint them and fast, especially if they are dated (oak from the 80's). I am working on some more posts covering stained wood as I am getting a lot of questions on them lately! Must be the brown trend coming to a screeching halt 🙂
    Thanks for your comment!

  • Color and Style says:

    Maria – You always write these great posts and I truly enjoy reading and learning from you. You are amazing.
    Thanks for sharing

  • allie says:

    Love your blog Maria! The photos are awesome! Something I've been wondering…Do you always use COM when ordering upholstery? What if the customer doesn't like it or wants to see it first? How do you handle that? Or is it not an issue. Thanks!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Allie,
    Usually what the client wants to do is sit on the furniture which can be arranged at the showroom. I would say that if the client is wanting to 'see it first' (which is impossible obviously with custom fabric) it might be because they are not convinced that it's the right way to go.

    One way to help them see the whole picture is to present the drapery along with toss cushions, etc. I never present a palette for a living room without including the toss cushions (for example) because they truly make or break a space in my opinion.

    The more the client can 'visualize' because you have put together the entire package the more they trust you and the process.

    Hope that helps!

  • Just A Girl says:

    Great post!!!

    Your after inspired me! I have high ceilings in our living room and didn't want to fill the space with an entertainment center (gross) so I'm totally stealing your stacked horizontal art and large branchy arrangement. Excellent!!!!!! You gave me an "aha" moment!

  • Karen says:

    Wonderful post. I was intrigued start to finish, after coming to your site from Penelope's. And that's saying a lot because I have a shot attention span, and not much interest in design! But your design, and philosophies about it are so wise. If I had a house, I would hire you to design it. 🙂

  • Katie says:

    Love love LOVE that living room!! The space is similar to mine, and I sometimes struggle with how to warm it up and utilize the high walls. Would be curious as to your thoughts around painted ceilings!

  • Adriana says:

    I don't know how someone could not know you are a designer. It was obvious from the start. And a fantastic one at that. How beautiful your design!

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