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Colour lessonInspiration for the DayWhen you pick the wrong colour

Happiness is. . . Being Uncomfortable

By 03/03/2009January 26th, 201721 Comments

Making the comfortable decision keeps you from reaching your potential. Comfortable is doing the same exercises over and over again and not getting any thinner.  It’s the person who won’t speak in class unless she’s called upon.   It’s the easy road, because it only takes you to destinations you’ve already been.   monica o’brien

In the courses I was in years ago, the talk that really stuck with me was when the leader said “People have this weird relationship to failure.  We live like there is seriously something wrong [with us] when we fail, when really that’s when we—many times—learn the most.   If you do something right, most of the time, you have no idea what you just did or how you could do it again.  We pat ourselves on the back, have a glass of champagne and move on.  It’s when we fail that we can then look to see what was missing and put it in for next time.”

In the past, when the client would call and say ‘The colour looks wrong!’ I would totally panic.  
Now, I have learned a few things (before I race over to look at it) and I ask a few questions first:

1.  Did you test the colour?

2.  Are you in the middle of painting right now (which is when a new colour, being painted over the old one, can look really ugly in the middle of the job)? Especially if a ‘dirty’ colour is being painted over a ‘clean one’.

3. Is your house empty?  Are you looking at the new colour within the context of all your new furniture and drapery that are  about to be installed?   Sometimes you need to show up with the fabrics and go through them again, especially when people have had white walls and now they are going with colour everywhere.  It can be a shock.

What if it’s still wrong?  Like just a few weeks ago, I had picked a bunch of colours for a client, they all turned out beautiful.  We installed window coverings, everything was going well.  Then I popped over to pick a colour for another room in the house where a duvet had been purchased in a purple colour.  I picked the purple and later she called and asked if I could come over and look at it. 
I arrived, and sure enough, it looked like we had tried to match it and failed. 

I didn’t get a photo but this one from flickr is close

Most paint decks don’t have enough purples in them [because it’s hardly used as a main wall colour, throughout the house]  also there are more violets than any other colour in the world, because a violet starts at the blue side of the colour wheel, moves through purple and ends over at the reds. 

So what happened?  I went through all the other colours in the deck (feeling embarrased that I somehow had missed the right purple) and determined that it would have to be a custom colour to perfectly match the duvet (whew).  Either that, or pick one that was quite a bit darker to create enough contrast that it wouldn’t have been an issue if the purple didn’t have just enough blue or red in it. (okay a third option would have been to try a different fan deck from another paint company but I generally don’t have this problem so I don’t travel with more than one architectural kit)

Bottom line:  I should have had the painter test the colour on a bigger sample (I didn’t have one of my bigger samples in the colour I originally selected).  In the end, my client decided to simply buy a new duvet as it would have cost more to have the room re-painted.

This is why I love colour so much, it’s never boring or predictable.  Sometimes it even makes me feel uncomfortable [when I think I should already know] but then I learn something new and that makes me happy.

Related posts:
Should you pay for a room to be re-painted if You Chose the Colour?
5 Designer Secrets that will make or break your paint Colours
3 Ways to Beat the High Cost of buying the Wrong Paint Colour

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  • Awesome Sara says:

    OMG that purple sky is gorgeous! I’m so glad yo write these posts, deinitely wonderful tips to keep in mind when I have my own place one day

  • Meade Design Group says:

    As always this blog is a source for the best advice regarding colour.

  • Rebecca Sherman says:

    A friend just forwarded your blog to me, and I read this post. The part about why we see failure as a bad thing instead of something useful was really inspiring and comes at a time when I need to read it. It made me feel good. Failure, I guess, feels bad because it makes us uncomfortable, and as you point out, the fear of being uncomfortable keeps us from trying something different. Like purple walls. Or blogging. Or commenting on other people’s posts.

  • Cote de Texas says:

    as you know = I am going through this now, we painted the room again and I got that call. oy! Im praying with the drapes and furniture and seagrass it will all be right. oy again!

  • custardbydesign says:

    what amazing pictures to capture your thoughts…
    also thats for the tips on blogging…i too have been blogging for about 4months now and you’ve ironed out a few pet peeves for me…

  • Imogen Lamport says:

    Another great post on choosing colours. I am learning lots from you about how to use colour in interiors – your blog is such a great resource, I’m going to do a post on mine about yours.

  • Velvet and Linen says:

    You are so right, Maria! I find that if I am afraid of failure, I can’t design anything. I worry, “what if my decision is wrong?”. It is only when I let those feelings fade that I can move on and create.

    Color is an incredible challenge. I have had the same experience as you described with your purple selection many times. I have had to accept that it is just part of my job!

    Thank you again for another wonderful post.


  • DesignTies says:

    I’ve made the wrong colour choice more times than I care to remember — but I don’t let it stop me from picking another colour and trying again!! 🙂 It’s so daunting trying to select the right colour — there are way too many to choose from!!

    As for failure — doesn’t the saying go something like “It’s better to try and fail than not try at all”?? How true…. failure is sometimes just part of doing. And you can’t “not do” just because you’re afraid to fail — then you’ll never do anything!!


  • Anita says:

    Uncomfortable . . . like when Noah is having a huge tantrum in Save On and all I want to do is disappear. He is my lesson in not caring what people think no matter how ‘uncomfortable’ I am . . .

  • Awesome Sara says:

    i gave you an award!

  • Pam Kersting says:

    Great post and great photographs! How true.

  • Awesome Sara says:

    OMG, I;m sorry I fell asleep before I finished the award post! i’m so sorry! i have it up now you can see it.

  • unique unique design says:

    Just found your blog. You make some very valuable points. BTW, your post on blogging was very helpful and informative. Thanks.

  • DesignTies says:

    It’s so timely that you’re writing about this, Maria – as my painter was painting my first client’s condo she would call me saying “this colour isn’t right”. I kept my cool and told her some of the things you listed in this post… but in my mind I was freaking!

    But like you’ve said, you have to learn from your mistakes and not see them as failures = my client’s paint colours looked great in the end, but I can see where I made my colour mistake – and I won’t be doing it again anytime soon!!

    You’re great Maria!
    Victoria from EdinDesigns @ DesignTies

  • Christina Lee says:

    GREAT site- that purple made me HAPPY!!!!

  • Bee says:

    Inspiring pictures and thoughts!

    I have some fresh purple crocuses in my garden this morning . . . I could use a shot of that everyday!

  • brillante home decor says:

    Bragging about success is easy, talking about mistakes deserves admiration!

  • viera says:

    I’ve found your blog very inspirational helpful and informative. Thank you for your thoughts…

  • VictoriaArt says:

    Ahhhh, I just went through this, just a quick story, I have been engaged with the client for a couple of month, we worked our way through many samples of colors, there were many changes and finally we arived at all the conclusions. The painter was to start last week. Now get this: the woman calls me up a couple of days ago and tells me the husband was not happy about the choice in the living room(even though he was part of all desicions step by step) and they went without letting me know to the paint store and brought a lady from the color department and changed the color scheme in the living room….
    Now what??? Since no wrong colors went up, I see no reason to apologize (for what) and I am hurt and I do not know, if I should quitt! I feel they do not trust my advise, but I have been with them through all the planing.

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi VictoriaArt,
    I completely get your frustration and hurt, and know that this kind of thing happens all the time! Because colour creates a feeling, people get completely distraught about it!

    The best thing to do is apologize that (in his world) the colour wasn’t right. That’s if you are interested in continuing your relationship with them (you may not want to). The other reason to apologize is so that you can learn, and see what the ‘correct’ colour was. (even if I didn’t want to work with them, I would still want to learn what went wrong).

    I met a woman once who said “I remember you, you came to my house and helped me pick colours but we never used them”. She said it to me like there was something wrong, even though she never painted the house–it was white, obviously they were afraid of colour, or decided they preferred white in the end. So, the only way to really learn and understand colour as a designer, is to leap over that stuff and go take a look for yourself.

    The customer is not always right but the customer is always a customer. (it took me a long time to get that in the beginning)

    Call me if you want to talk about it further!

  • VictoriaArt says:

    Dear Maria,
    thank you so much for taking the time and unravel my dilemma. I have in the meantime cleared up some of the situation and I’ll tell yo about it later when I talk to you. I very much appreciate your help!


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