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I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

It’s exterior season, and ever since I launched my Exterior Colour Solutions this year, my consulting looks a little different than it used to.

Clients who wanted to fix their exterior trim used to book a live consultation with me over the phone. These days, you can buy an easy email solution to your exact problem — whether it’s your exterior trim or something else. This route is less expensive, it takes less of your time, and it gets you exactly what you need. Sometimes the trim is just in need of an update; more often, it’s being changed to save the day.

For example, a few of my lovely readers are in the middle of renovating their exteriors. Something new gets installed, like windows, and suddenly they are dismayed by the colour they chose.

This also happens when you’re decorating the house. You buy a sofa, thinking it couldn’t be more neutral in the showroom, but then it arrives and looks completely different (and wrong) in your living room.

The nature of the colour industry is that you can, technically, do it yourself. It’s not like dentistry (you can’t DIY your own cavities), or like medicine (you can’t DIY your own tonsil removal).

But the advice business is different. Many of us don’t pay for advice until we decide it’s an emergency. Then and only then will we seek out a professional and pay for it. If you get into trouble, you hire a lawyer to help you. . . usually AFTER you get into trouble.

You should pay for colour advice when you start making interior and exterior colour decisions, but too many people don’t pay for it until AFTER a few very important colour choices have been made. At that point, we’ll be mostly, if not entirely, bossed around by those early choices.

As some of you know, I never made any real money until I started writing this blog. Therefore, I did most things myself. I rented so that I didn’t need to hire a repairman when my dishwasher broke down. My landlord fixed it instead.

Now we’re homeowners, and three years ago, when we renovated our kitchen, we installed a Bosch dishwasher. It was great at first, but for the last 6-8 months, our glassware has not been clean. We thought it was the brand, and I was cranky thinking we needed to replace our dishwasher. I fantasized about writing a post telling y’all not to buy anything Bosch.

Then, a few weeks ago, I was having lunch with my good friend Jan Romanuk, a kitchen designer. I was asking her which dishwasher she thought was best as I relayed the story about our ongoing problem with dirty glassware.

She said, “Why don’t you hire your local appliance repairman to come out and look at it?”

“Oh, what a revolutionary concept. Okay ; ) ; ).”

Guess what? Some lemon seeds were stuck somewhere in the dishwasher, and they were inhibiting the spraying of the water.

And now our dishwasher works like new!

Now that I can afford to hire a professional to do something that I know I can’t do myself, I realize what a money saver a professional can be. I usually don’t have to be told when to hire one, but I have another example of when it didn’t occur to me to pay for advice…

We bought a new video camera for $2500 last year because we were going to shoot video. When I hired my friend Ted to help me set up my studio with the lighting, he said, “By the way, your $350 DSLR camera is all you need to shoot the video you are talking about.”

Had I hired him BEFORE we bought the video camera, we would have saved $2500 minus his fee. Kind of a bargain, really.

Basically, if you are about to make a very expensive purchase, you should hire a professional to make sure you are making the correct decision.

Sometimes we don’t know that we need help until after the decision has been made (just like in this situation). That’s just called life lessons.

A friend of my mother’s built a sauna. He hired someone who didn’t know anything about building a sauna. The carpenters rate was half the price of someone more experienced. It took him more than twice as long, and now there are fundamental problems like drainage that need to be addressed.

“If you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Here’s the point of this post, and it’s not to sell my services:

If you are on a really tight budget and you’re reading this right now, I want you to be educated.

What does that look like? Educated looks like choosing to hire a decorator or colour consultant to help you pull the room (or exterior) together BEFORE you make a bunch of expensive decisions that will force you to call the professional in hopes that a paint can will magically save the day.

Sometimes paint can save the day. . . but sometimes, you’ll just be held hostage by your mistake.

And I’d just like to save you from that sinking feeling in advance, I live for that actually.

Don’t DIY advice when it’s not your area of expertise. DIY the project AFTER you get the right advice, and just do it all right the first time.

What advice did you knew you needed only after you’d done it wrong?

Don’t make these mistakes again! 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 e-design consultation packages here.

Related posts:

The Three Most Important Words in a Consultation

Professionals Know When to Avoid the Obvious

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or a Necessity?

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  • Farha Syed says:

    Hello Maria

    This post comes at a great time. I’m in the process of trying to educate my possible clients as well – to hire professional help before they make costly mistakes that will boss the later decisions.

    And as always spot on.


  • Such a great article. Couldn’t agree more about hiring a professional. Time and time again I get called into a client’s home and it’s AFTER they chose almost everything. Then I need to try and make all the unrelated items work.
    Professionals truly do save you money and even more, they save you anxiety!

  • Yv says:

    I hear ya. Costly mistakes are a recipe for endless anxiety and that sinking feeling you refer to. Wish we had discovered you at the beginning of our Reno. Anyone looking at major changes should heed your advice.

  • Tamara says:

    Yes, this is so true! It should be obvious, but time and time again, we all make this mistake. Great reminder Maria!

  • Candice Hill says:

    I totally agree Maria! Choose a professional, especially on permanent fixtures. This is not the place to learn to decorate, as you go. If you really want to diy, pick items that you can change, easily and inexpensively. Speaking from a person, who has been all trial and error, I wish you had been around years ago. I’ve learned so much, from your blog and book. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all the knowledge you have passed on. Someday, I’m going to figure out a way to take your True Colour classes. and hire you. It’s all on my bucket list! Thank you. Sincerely, Candy 🙂

  • Kathy Connelly says:

    Biggest mistake building a new house was using the builder’s “supposed” architect and not hiring our own OR we should have hired a separate building inspector to inspect each phase as it was being built. Lot’s of headaches as a result. I can pick the right finishes and colors till I’m blue in the face (they all turned out great), but if the design is fundamentally lacking in areas, it will always bug you! (at least it bugs me!) and can cause ongoing issues such as leaks, etc.

  • Gary says:

    Hiring a professional is always good, however I am the DIY guy that will try to fix the item, if I can’t,
    I call someone that can. But COLOR COLOR is much more demanding in time and money and if you are color blind you need someone that can see the overall like yourself.

  • Brilliant! Wish I had written this post.

  • tara dillard says:

    There is an age divide on cheap help. A black comedy. Older, we hire help. Younger, we DIY.

    Older, from younger experience, we know which is cheaper.

    The best help is not the cheapest up front, but in the long haul it is the cheapest. By far.

    Selling both my houses within 24 hrs of listing last month? I’m a pro, got full value, and zero stress about languishing on the market. Of course I staged my interior too.

    Try that with a DIY landscaper !! There are intangible benefits to hiring a pro.

    That would be a good post, the intangibles. We both know happiness is the best intangible.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  • There is truth here on so many levels. A home is primarily a business in the sense that is our largest investment ( for most people) . This IS THE most difficult thing to persuade people — that indeed hiring a specialist is practical as it is wise. Just as you would not put regular gas into a Mercedes, why do we think we can cobble together our homes? Whether it is carpeting, paint or an addition (or subtraction),
    An ounce of professional advice=many pounds of wasted material, time and labor.
    Great advice, Maria. I really hope people will read & heed !

  • Lauren Tyson says:

    Great post. Our problem has been, there are a lot of amateurs masquerading as professionals. Sorting them out seems to be the hard part at times.

    • Nancy says:

      Exactly my thought, Lauren! We’ve hired people who have come with good recommendations who turned out to not know their stuff.
      We are now VERY careful about hiring things out, and treat those we do trust extremely well!

    • KJ says:

      Amen! I know someone who just hired a “kitchen designer” to do their kitchen. The finishes are nice but ALL the appliances are bunched in one corner and block a doorway when in use! Terrible, horrible workflow and they blew out a wall and had a HUGE space to work with. It is so sad.

    • mrsben says:

      Excellent point as with the age of the computer there appears to be an abundance of those who are hanging out their shingle claiming to professionals, but really aren’t. That said, I totally agree with you that it makes the task of filtering very overwhelming. -Brenda-

      • mrsben says:

        Correction: That should have read; “That said, I totally agree with you that the task of filtering is very overwhelming.” -Brenda-

    • Rachel says:

      Precisely why I’m leery of hiring a professional. I guess I’d rather live with my own mistakes than someone else’s. 🙁

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Hi Maria,
    For years I tried to manage the landscaping around my townhome. Finally, I hired an expert at my local nursery. Her fee went towards the cost of any plants we purchased. So in the end, her help was free. And my home looks much nicer.

  • Kathi says:

    Right on the money post- I hired a designer friend of mine at her usual $60 a hour for advice for my home. Best money that I ever spent. I think its important not to take advantage of friends that make their living doing what they do best and that they should be compensated for it. It was a win-win situation -She saved me hours of work and from sleepless nights. She got paid and lots of great referrals from me and more jobs because of how great my house turned out.

  • Great advice! Regardless of the area, professionals are well worth the money. Quality costs money … period. Thanks for the great post Maria.

  • anne says:

    right on, sister. i’m a color consultant. worst scenario: when client brings along friend who is “good with color.” i always defer to the friend and say come back when you’re ready to get to work. and they always do. ps: sometimes the best advice is “change your lightbulbs.” LOL

  • Kelsey says:

    This post really resonated with me… about to start demo on my condo, but unsure about whether I can make color choices on my own. Do you know anyone in the Chicago area that has your design ideals and could consult with me?

    • KA says:

      You contact Maria with the SHOP button above Maria’s head on this very page. Don’t drive yourself nuts. Just hire her. I live in California and it worked for me.

  • Laurel Bern says:

    Hi Maria,

    Oh, I related to this so well!

    Just yesterday, a woman from somewhere-not-local called me for help. They had completely gutted the home and were in the muddle, I mean middle of it. ;] I could here by the tone of her somewhat arrogant voice that she had already painted herself… you know.

    “We’ve selected the tile, counters, etc. for kitchen and bathrooms 1, 2, 3, 4 and need help with bathroom 5. I did it all myself,” she said, proudly. “I like cool colors, but now I need help with the “colors.”

    Right. She needed help from the beginning. (I politely told her that I wouldn’t be able to help her)

    I always say. “would you deliver your own breech twins?”

  • This is a great post Maria. I am one of those who chose expensive floor tile before I knew that the kind of help you provide was even available. I live in a small city lacking in real professional help in the area of color and decor. So now I have to live with the result that is way not the look I want! C’est la vie!

  • A good example of he difference between professionals and amateurs I’d movers. Most people start out moving themselves or finding strong friends to help. But amateurs bump into things even when they don’t actually drop and break something. Marks left on walls and furniture is the price you pay. Ever seen professionals move furniture? I have seen leather sofa beds in the air, turning tight corners in a stairwell with no contact anywhere. Poetry in motion! Professionals have the experience and training to know where the pitfalls are and how to avoid them. That’s worth so much, I think.

  • Christine says:

    Well said.

  • sandyc says:

    What a very timely post yet again, Maria. Even though I don’t yet have the bucks yet to replace the flooring throughout my 1350 sf open floorplan home, and even though I selected a wood-look porcelain tile that has seemed to be the “right” color for months and looks “right” in most of my photos (I bought a couple of boxes to try out), and even though my flooring guide doesn’t see it, I’m beginning to see pinkish undertones in that tile. Thank the heavens I know you, Maria. I’ve learned so much from you and continue to learn more every day, but I’m not an expert. You can be sure before I pay double digit thousands of dollar to pay for that new floor, I’ll be consulting you (even if I have to send you an actual 2-foot tile).

  • Crystal says:

    LOVE. This. Post.

    100%, completely spot on, and eloquently stated! It is hard for a lot of folks to justify in their minds the cost of hiring an expert when so much information is so readily available online and there is a free opinion on every corner. Unfortunately, abundant information and free opinions don’t equal the experience and advice of a professional.

    Save yourself the extra time, money and heartache, and involve a good designer in the beginning. Best investment ever!

  • Patricia Kramer says:

    Great Post Maria! But as some of your readers have already said…watch who pretends to be expert…they can be misleading.

  • Bridget Baldwin says:

    Love this post. Like the old saying goes: “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
    —Red Adair

  • Susan S says:

    I’m printing this out for my husband—Mr. I-won’t-hire-anyone-ever-to-do-what-I-can-figure-out-for-myself-no-matter-how-long-it-takes-or-how-many-times-I-screw-up!

  • Peggy says:

    If only I could find a qualified color consultant in my area!!!! I have consulted with four professionals so far and each gives me different advice about decorating my home. Some recommend the trendy color – gray. Others recommend blue, even though I tell them upfront I am not a blue person. I don’t know that I like gray or that it will work with the existing permanent fixtures. How do you find a professional who knows their stuff?

  • GaBi says:

    Oh, Maria such a great post! Yes, definitely we live the times where everyone is pretending they are professionals. It is very gullible for the clients to decide who is the professional.
    The best advise would be to seeing the previous work.
    It is very difficult for the starters, but they can be trained and guided by the professionals as it use to be. Apprentice was always learning from the experienced one, unfortunately NOT anymore. Our world became a jungle, but it will be cleared out after disappointing experiences

  • Alline says:

    Maria, I am forever grateful for your wonderful advice when we met with you four years ago. We have been in our new home for three years and it is so beautiful. Thank you again! It is true that it pays to have professional help not only to save money but to also be satisfied with the end result.

  • Ohio12 says:

    not to be argumentative, but I do think there is another side. when our dishwasher wasn’t rinsing properly anymore, my husband searched the internet for the cause and was able to fix it himself for no cost. and when it comes to design, I really like your style, but I am in Ohio and everything I see where my friends have hired help to decorate their home, it is ten years out of date. i am not sure i would hire a designer because there are a lot of really bad ones out there.

    • KA says:

      Easy. Go to the shop button above Maria’s head and hire Maria. I’ve designed kitchens & baths for the past 10 years in the Malibu to Santa Barbara, and I paid Maria for 3 hours of her time to talk through the design of the rest of my house.

  • Brooke says:

    Exactly! Wow – I have made some horrendous color choices – inside & out! Choosing color stumps me everytime. I’ve learned the hardway from many mistakes….that’s why I’ve contacted your office to set up a consult. I’m looking forward to working with you.

  • You are so right! There is nothing like a professional, often hiring a designer, or other trade professional actually SAVES you money. 🙂 to Susan, a few comments above…good luck with your Mr.!

  • Lucy Haines says:

    Maria, As said before, this is a great post for everyone to read i.e. designers, homeowners & DIYers. You are always so succinct. Post it on Linkedin! Wish we could get everyone to realize that we are professionals and deserve to be paid accordingly.

  • Barbara Loyd says:

    Maria, please supply more details about your online consultation service fees. Thanks from a Texas fan.

  • Linda Leyble says:


    Did you ever hit the proverbial nail on the head!! What a great post. Not only did you alert people to the reasons why they should call in professionals before they make costly decisions…but you call into play your own and many others’ failures to follow their own rules. Bravo Maria!

    I can count on two hands (and more) the times I wish investors, homeowners and realtors had called me in first to help them with their homes. They made flooring, cabinetry, appliance, wall color, furniture arrangement, siding…and many other mistakes that could have been avoided. They relied on other people for advice – instead of coming to a professional – and now they are asking me to rectify it…make it like it was never a mistake!

    I can do this – but at a cost (which they always complain about!) When will people realize that time and money could have been better spent by doing the right thing in the first place??

    Love your blog and all you do for the industry…

    Linda Leyble

  • SDC says:

    Maria makes an excellent point. However, DIY is not always a bad thing. And hiring a professional does not automatically ensure a good outcome.

    Successful DIY requires one to HONESTLY and REALISTICALLY understand their competencies and skills and know when to call in a professional. But, as others have pointed out, make sure it’s a competent professional.

    There are lots of mediocre to bad professionals in any field. As the old joke goes: What do you call a medical student who graduates last in his class? Answer: Doctor.

    In addition, you need to be willing to take the time to research, study, practice and acquire the skills (and appropriate tools) necessary to do the job right. For the things I choose to DIY, my outcomes always meet and generally exceed what a professional is willing or able to achieve.

    In my opinion, HGTV shows and the proliferation of DIY “young married couple flip houses” blogs often give very bad advice and information. Viewers and readers think, oh, that looks so easy. Trouble and bad results ensue.

    • bfish says:

      There is so much truth in what you say, SDC. I haven’t watched HGTV in years because I couldn’t take anymore miraculous one-day “anyone can do it” tile jobs or landscapes with plants installed twice as close together as would be healthy just so the end result looks “filled in”.

      DIY is mine and my husband’s hobby and passion. It’s where most of our discretionary income goes. As you aptly note, we do know our limitations and accept that we don’t have the time, tools or ability to master certain skills and trades and therefore need to turn to the experts. A few things we hire others to do include foundation masonry, wallpapering, roofing and wood floor refinishing (we can do new wood floors).

      Not to say we wouldn’t benefit from Maria’s advice and guidance on color but we’ve hit the mark at least 95% of the time, with the few re-dos thankfully on very small painting projects (bathrooms for example). I have learned a lot from reading this blog and it’s encouraged me to really think about certain design decisions that I would have previously done pretty well with instinctively but very possibly not considered every potential pitfall.

      Our shared interest is a curse but also a blessing. We argue and bicker more about home improvements than anything else. OTOH we inevitably reach a resolution that proves “two heads are better than one”.

    • KA says:

      Funny, I was referred by a general contractor to a couple of medical professionals who had used him to do an addition to their house a few years back. Now they are planning to do their kitchen and he’s brought me in after doing 2 others for him. She said when they did the addition, they couldn’t afford to pay a tile installer so she did the tile HERSELF. On 3 or 4 baths, I can’t remember. She did a fantastic job. She spent 12 hours on the design at the tile store in Santa Barbara, working with them on the design and layout, and who knows how long actually installing the tile, but I would have hired her! She was meticulous.

      I’ve had a professional flooring company we used to do my tile installations at the beginning of my career here, but after 1 of his installers was working in an empty home at 4 o’clock in the morning with the radio blaring, disturbing neighbors, I fired that company. I probably had referred over 100 jobs to them, talked more with the owner that company more than my own mother, but that was the end that. No excuse for that–he and that tile guy were going bass fishing was the “rationale.” Ummm, nope.

  • Deb Bruna says:

    For all of you with hard water and your dishwasher is leaving spots on your glasses and plates, those Cascade packets that include detergent and rinse aid are so amazing, you won’t believe it. My glasses are perfectly clear and my plates feel like silk. My old Revereware copper pans look better than new.
    A bit off topic, but Maria’s comment about her dishwasher made me think about my experience and I think the product is great and wanted to share.

    • KA says:

      Yes, I’ve found that out, too. A kitchen design and build client told me about lemi-shine, which gets the hard water off glasses after the build up of cheap dishwasher detergent. It’s a citric acid miracle worker.

  • Madison says:

    I highly agree with your advice. However, just recently I came across an incident where hiring a professional wasn’t what it was all cracked up to be….but in this case it was that hired the WRONG professional. We are repainting our whole house, and I hired a color consultant. After a $475 fee for 2 hours (despite the promise that it would easily be done in 1.5 hours), I wasn’t sold on all the colors that were chosen. I googled color consultant online, came across your blog, got very interested, bought your books, read your books, tested the colors on large boards against a white background, tested the colors on all the walls in the room, watched the colors changed throughout the day, and decided that out of the 6 colors she chose, I only really liked 2 of them. And I also found that the undertones for all the paint colors that she picked didn’t even flow together. So I changed everything after reading all your advice. So another layer to this is make sure you hire the RIGHT professional, and vet them thoroughly. I wish I had hired you instead. Now I’m kind of bitter about the fee, and not sure if I should do something about the fact that I’m not happy about the results of the consultation, but I did learn my lesson. The only question I have is that how could I have known if this color consultant knows what she’s doing? She had all five star reviews on, everything looks right. But how can you tell the difference between one color consultant who knows what she’s doing vs another?

  • mrsben says:

    Maria; as usual excellent advice! Speaking namely for myself I feel one also has to realize their limitations when they tackle a DIY project regardless they have got advice and/or done research on the subject; not to mention it also prevents your head from exploding if the project is really beyond your capability … ☺. -Brenda-

  • karen savage says:

    Well said and thanks for the post! My husband and I are long time DIY’ers as we purchased an old farm 25 years ago and have been fixing it up ever since. So, I’ve made and learned from every mistake in the book (Maybe that’s why my client’s love me-LOL). But trying to save money is addictive and we thought we were so smart buying the lowest fairs online recently for our son’s over seas study abroad program this summer….until he had a seven hour delay and missed his remaining flights! All of which cost us even more green $! Ouch! If only we would have used a travel agent! I’m still living and learning!

  • KNJ says:

    Biggest Mistake: thinking I could get fit & trim on my own. Only thing is/was . . . I always found an excuse. This/that needs to get done and not setting the time aside to exercise consistently with results. It only happens for me when I hire a personal trainer, pay in advance, don’t let the prepaid money run out and book my appointments in advance. He holds me accountable. Sounds so simple to exercise/ workout on my own yet after 50 years, I realized there were no positive results to show for it. Hire a professional if you wish to see positive results & save money (I don’t need 4 different sizes of clothing for every season). Thanks, this post is so very necessary. I hope people heed the advice!

  • Jan Romanuk says:

    Thanks Maria, as we discussed Yesterday if only we had known yesterday what we know today. Loved our time together as usual but the conversation regarding. “Mistakes” was a good one, had a gorgeous dining room table and velvet sectionals delivered to a clients home today and she said, I come to you so I can be 100% confident that I have made the right decisions, today I am 200% sure. This client asked me to select a colour to paint her 7000 sq ft home a few weeks ago, she decided not to go with my choice, paid $10,000 and last week had it all repainted the colour I recommended. Some mistakes cost more than others. Paying for a professional should save our client money, the bigger the price tag the bigger the saving. Look forward to many more great blogs.

  • Great post Maria! I think the key is educating people more on the benefits and cost savings of hiring design professionals just as you have done here. Many clients hire me after mistakes have been made or after they get stuck on making certain choices which, as you mentioned, their previous decisions on fixed elements then dictate/limit future decisions for colour etc. Planning early on is essential to get the look the clients are after and to pull it together as only a professional can! Thanks for writing this post.

  • Tiffany says:

    I hired Maria to help with interior colour of our farmhouse renovation. Her paint recommendation surprised me, and was quite opposite to what I would have gone with! Thank god for the consult, I took a leap of faith and did exactly what she told me and now I love it. …….now only if I had asked her about the exterior siding colour as well……I don’t exactly love it, and will now have to live with it for the next 20ish years

  • Debbie Viola says:

    I am so glad I came across your wonderful blog. It amazes me how many people do it all backwards and wait until they are desperate and have wasted money trying to do things on their own. As an artist and owner of a decorative painting business, I am in a lot of homes and can instantly tell when the client decorated themselves. Nine times out of ten, it is clear, and they even admit, that they should’ve hired an interior designer.

    Debbie Viola

  • Adriana says:

    My sister in law wanted to install closets like the ones we have (white wood panel doors) but instead of hiring the arquitect that built her het shutters, she hired someone cheaper, who spent a lot of time and instead of actually building her the closer doors I think he bought premade doors at home depot and cut them to fit. He literally cut the top doors in half through the middle of the panels and everything. I’m visiting them soon, I’ll take a pic and share it here

  • Julie says:

    Boy is this true. Two other points, someone mentioned the first. Make sure to vet the person you choose. We had someone repair our rotting wood porch, looked great when finished but then started rotting again. We ended up finding an excellent carpenter who told us the repair was actually causing the problem. If we had found this second person first, we would have saved thousands of dollars in all the repairs he had to do cause the first contractor didn’t do the job right.

    The other point is…….lol……try following the advice a reputable professional gives you. Our home inspector told us to make sure the gutters were cleaned out……..UGH……..LIfe took over, we ignored the gutters….and the rest was literally thousands of dollars in wood repair….and yes it was the wood on our porch I just wrote about above.!!!!!

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