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BlueTimelessTrue Colour Expert

How to Make Timeless Choices in a Trendy World

By 09/06/2015December 11th, 202045 Comments

Hello, everyone! I’m Ellen Rhett, a former stockbroker now working as certified colour designer in Mountain Brook, Alabama. My work differs from that of an interior designer in that I am a fresh pair of eyes to help my clients with singular challenges: finding a perfect paint colour, for example, or tracking down a beautiful piece of statement art.

I have been a Maria Killam True Colour Expert since early 2011, and I’m the blogger behind “Color Calling” found at

  1. What’s your favourite colour? Why?
Photo by Charlie O'Brien

Photo by Charlie O’Brien

Oh, my definite favorite is blue! Almost any shade of blue, really. The colour spectrum of French hydrangeas makes me swoon. Blue is my happy colour. Currently, I am loving the blues in the Colonial Williamsburg collection by Benjamin Moore, and I don’t think it gets much better than Palladian Blue on a porch ceiling!

Palladian Blue porch ceiling photo by Ellen Rhett

Palladian Blue porch ceiling design by Ellen Rhett

2. What was your biggest colour/design mistake?

That would be the wallpaper I chose over a decade ago in my own master bath. It was heavy on the seaweed green (what I was thinking?), so it absorbed all the light out of the room. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, it clashed with the floors and counters. Of course, that was long before I took Maria’s colour course.

Now, I have a gorgeous room painted in Benjamin Moore’s Muslin, a beautiful colour that looks great with the existing travertine. Lesson here: nothing is worth the disappointment of living every single day with a bad decorating decision. Change it and move on!
This photograph reminds me of my own “new” bath:

  1. What is the most important colour lesson you’ve learned?

Dark rooms are going to go dingy with pale paint. Counterintuitive, I know, but Maria is totally right. When you have little or no natural light, you must use a colour with some intensity to bring the room to life. Don’t be afraid to jazz up an interior powder room or a laundry room with a shot of a dramatic colour you love!

  1. When it comes to colour, what’s hot?

Orange, used as an accent, maybe an accent chair or a great-looking lacquered chest. The colour of an Hermès box. But never use a colour you don’t already adore, no matter how hot it is!

5. Which colour do you think is timeless?

Blue and white together. It has been a classic forever. It has been my favorite since I was a young girl, and I don’t think it will ever go out of style. Case in point: my family’s summer retreat has a blue and white living room that I decorated 18 years ago, shown below. I still love it.

design by Ellen Rhett

Design by Ellen Rhett

6. Which colour trend would you love to see disappear?

I am so over white on white on white. So few people can actually do this look correctly. It requires the perfect colour white on the walls, the perfect natural light, lots of layering, and lots of texture. When done properly, it is extremely photogenic, which is probably why we’ll keep seeing it on Pinterest and in magazines. This room, below, does everything right with white, because the wood tones ground the decór:

7. What do you think is one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make with colour?

Without a doubt, staining hardwood floors anything but plain medium brown.

A mid-tone brown stain will stand the test of time, and will serve as the canvas that showcases the rest of the home and its furnishings.

Orange-toned floors and orange-toned cabinets are by far the biggest colour mistakes I see, but many homeowners don’t see orange as a really dated colour for wood. A fresh set of professional eyes can go far toward avoiding, fixing, or minimizing too much orange wood.

8. What is the biggest hurdle people have to get over before contacting a colour designer?


But! Contacting a trained colour designer for a two-hour consultation, early in the process, will be the best $300-500 you will ever spend on your project. In addition to colour, we know how to specify timeless choices in countertops, tile, and flooring, and we can help you avoid an expensive mistake.

For example, a client several years ago wanted to stain all her hardwood floors a very dark ebony shade, even though her mid-tone floors were in great shape. She had been seeing dark floors everywhere in all the magazines and really wanted them, but I helped her understand that what she already had was timeless. That would have been a $10,000 mistake!

You will be living with a floor stain and your countertops for a decade, or even two, so it is money well spent to consult a professional first. We usually know which looks are going to stand the test of time and which looks are just trend-bait.

Another example? I’ve noticed a trend toward putting extremely large-scaled light fixtures in otherwise normal rooms. I was recently at a beautiful home for a luncheon, and one of the ladies clunked her head on the tremendously wide chandelier as she stood up to leave the table. It was entirely too big for the space!

Here is an example of a beautiful traditional dining room with a gorgeous, perfectly scaled light fixture:

9. Which part of participating in Specify Colour with Confidence™ created the biggest breakthrough for your business, and how did it help you move forward?

I hardly have to think about this question: the breakthrough moment was the discussion on colour harmony.

Although I have always been a decorating enthusiast, I came to Maria’s class with no formal interior design degree.

I was fascinated to learn her skill set from her years as a colour expert, and to benefit from her ability to create a timeless look and feel.

I loved learning about using colour flow to create colour harmony throughout the home.

You want all your colours to look like they belong in the same house.

I have found that this is especially important when helping a young couple in their first home, where all the rooms are close together.

Of course, my clients young and old all know that I am going to suggest a blue colour somewhere, if possible!

Image Color Calling

Design by Ellen Rhett

A huge thank you, Maria, for inviting me to be your guest blogger today!

Which colour trend is ‘over’ for you?


If you’d like to become the next True Colour Expert™ in your area register here.

Related posts:

The New Timeless Hardwood Floor

How Light Affects Paint Colour

The Debate on Interesting and Trendy vs. Timeless

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  • What a great posting Ellen, I’d love to see more of your family’s summer home – it looks beautiful!

  • Diane says:

    I have those “orange-toned cabinets” and verde green granite counters. What color walls would you recommend to tone down the cabinets?
    Thanks Ellen!

    • My best solution is to paint dated cabinetry white. If painting only the walls is the only possibility, I would start by looking at light neutrals, Benjamin Moore Muslin is a good one to check out.

      • Diane says:

        IThank you so much Ellen!!!!! If I paint the cabinets what white would you recommend? Again, many, many thanks!

  • Candace says:

    I’m so over the turquoise trend. And peacocks. Thank God for navy coming on the scene.

    • Oh, goodness. Peacocks, I forgot about peacocks, followed by owls!

      • Kay says:

        I’ve always adored owls, starting 40 years ago with Durer’s Little Owl, and will always have them in my house. For a while it might look like I’m clinging to a trend, but eventually the owls will simply take their place in the general bird theme. Sticking with what you love, whether it be turquoise or owls, IMO is not a mistake.

  • mrsben says:

    You are a woman after my own heart, as the colour blue is my favourite as well. Presently have it throughout my home, however with current upgrades am going neutral throughout with only accents of it. Love the LRm of your family’s retreat, particularly the fabrics chosen as IMHO all are timeless. That said: regarding medium brown h/wood flooring, I am wondering if the species of wood dictates how a stain receives it and/or exactly what colour is it as there are so many choices currently to choose from it is enough to make your head explode .. ☺. In my case I am speaking of pre-finished engineered wood which I am finding if not in Oak or on the darker side has very apparent red or orange undertones which I prefer to avoid. Any tips in choosing would be greatly appreciated. (Thank you.) -Brenda-

  • Thank you, Brenda, for the comment and the compliment. For pre-finished wood, forewarned is forearmed. You already have the secret, which is to stay away from samples with obvious red or orange undertones. We use oak flooring the time with great results, there are stains especially formulated to tone down the natural reds in oak. A good flooring specialist can help you. Then compare, compare, compare your samples.

    • mrsben says:

      Thank you Ellen for your reply, input and advice. Shall continue ‘the hunt’ and follow your recommendation of compare, compare, compare. -Brenda-

  • Laurel Bern says:

    Hi Ellen,

    Fabulous post with lots of great advice!

    I wrote a humorous post a while back about 10 interior design mistakes which echoes many of your points. I think my name will take you there, if you’re interested.

    One great reason not to do the very dark floors is that they will show every speck of dust, foot or paw print. I have a client with a big dog and oh dear. Despite the fastidious housekeeping, the floor is always a bloody mess!

  • Donna Weissmueller says:

    What colors – wall and fabric – do you recommend using to tone down orange toned wood cabinets. We have just moved into a home with orange toned wood cabinets throughout. They were updated by the previous owners 5 years ago at a cost of +$100,000. They are a beautiful current style and the bathrooms are all gentlemen height. I must work with what I have, as I absolutely cannot paint them.

  • Such gorgeous images, Ellen!!! I especially love the Powder Room with the Chinoiserie wallpaper! I have had my eye on that paper for sometime, but my husband is NOT a fan. Thank you for giving me the chance to see it in a room. Maybe that will suffice. Great post!!!!

  • 7. What do you think is one of the biggest mistakes homeowners make with colour?

    Without a doubt, staining hardwood floors anything but plain medium brown.

    What are people thinking when they choose orange/yellow/red, etc. floor color? also in sf so many home owners choose exterior white vinyl window sashes, wtf, at least pick black!

    I’m thinking about taking Maria’s class in san francisco. I’ve had my color consulting business for 6 years and Work exclusively with BM paint, gives me a nice advantage with color. I’m more interested to ask if Maria’s class hits some of the business/marketing aspects of the business? and if you found that helpful?

    Thanks – Lynne

  • Janet from IL says:

    Ellen, I’ll be following your blog from today on. So happy you posted here today!

  • Great post Ellen and I love the photographs you used to illustrate your opinions. I too believe orange is a fabulous accent colour, so vibrant and fresh!

  • Teri says:

    I just went through a major renovation of the entire main floor. When it came time to spec the fixtures, everywhere I looked I saw those oversized light chandeliers and pendants. The proportion of them really bothered me, and I stuck to what I was comfortable with. Hopefully, my choices will be timeless. Thanks for the validation.

  • karen says:

    Wonderful post Ellen and loved the pictures and info! I also just love the color blue and a bit of European influence. It’s my happy color! I also adore blue hydrangeas whether in black urns or in the garden.
    So glad you posted here today!

  • Hi Maria,

    Do you ever have color classes in Los Angeles? I’d love to take it.


  • AnneElise says:

    Could not agree MORE with you on the white trend. Practically speaking, it is quite enough to maintain white painted cabinets and woodwork…but everything white??!! Only in a magazine or show house. And I do note the floods of natural light and lovely proportions of thos magazine pictures, which help make anything look good.

  • Great advice as always. One project sticks in my mind – it was a 5,000 sq ft home, with every bit of the woodwork and floors in a pickled pinky-beige stain. The new homeowners couldn’t afford to change all that – who could? We just had to work with it as best we could. It’s my cautionary floor tale to this day.

  • Lucy Haines says:

    Ellen, You nailed all of it! I am working now with a client who wanted to do orange/brown wood floors. Her stair railings are now an orangey brown. I finally talked her out of the orange and told her that the medium brown will go with everything. I took Maria’s statement that medium brown is like a pair of jeans. Finally she agreed to use the medium brown.

    I love all of the guest posts because I come away with such good info!

  • Linda Fitzgerald says:

    Palladian Blue by BM … I agree!!

  • Arlene says:

    It has taken us 2 years to find a laminate for our log cottage that did not have an orange undertone. Our pine has turned orange and the oak table/chairs. Fortunately the log has kept a yellow undertone. Pleased to say we have a light brown floor now Molokai Driftwood. 90% of the flooring has orange undertone. Thanks for your thoughts on the questions. Will be considering blue

  • What a fabulous post Ellen! I really love the way you decorated your family retreat. So timeless and gorgeous!

  • Kelly says:

    I’m with you Ellen! I love all blues. Great lessons in classic vs. trends. Beautiful photos you have chosen to explain. Great article!

  • I love blue and white! I scour estate sales and Goodwill for blue and white vases and bowls. I am slowly building my collection. I had two lamps made from blue and white vases that I found at an estate sale and I love them!

    I also love Palladian Blue. My younger boys’ room is that color and I never tire of it. It really is the perfect blue – just enough gray in it.

  • Betsy OShea says:

    Ellen, thank you for your post. Excellent perspective. I for one would never tire of the aged turquoise trend although I’m seeing less of it. I have had Palladian Blue in three different rooms at different times. It is currently in the master bath. Re: Orange oak cabinets I finally painted mine white after years of procrastination. Soooo much better. I don’t get why readers here say they can’t do it. It is certainly very time consuming but not difficult if you followDIY instructions. Requires many thin coats but so worth it. I do think that orangey oak is still better than that 80s golden oak look. As far as what color trend I would like to see disappear is dark gray on gray! Love pale blue or green grays w color but too much charcoal is so dreary!!

  • Nicole says:

    Gray! I’m so over gray everything. We moved into a house that was decorated by the owner (an interior designer) around 2001. Yes, wallpaper and all. I’m trying to get color ideas to update the interior but gray WILL NOT work with the the things we can’t/won’t change- cream tile floors and cherry cabinetry in the kitchen and family room. The wood it gorgeous and needs a color to make it look good and gray is not it. We have dark gray granite and it really doesn’t look right with the cabinets but that’s not changing either. Plus the gray makes me sad. But everything else seems dated! I’m so stuck in makes me want to cry. Thanks for your article!

  • Shirley Ricketts says:

    simply inspirational use of colour and harmony with environment. I have recently moved house and was going to keep all the furniture, not any more….I am going to take a fresh look at what needs to go and celebrate the change. Thank you.

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