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Maria Killam in New Jersey

My first SOLD OUT Fall Specify Colour with Confidence workshop starts next week in downtown Vancouver. I’m so excited to meet everyone!

Whenever I write my Spring and Fall campaigns, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I might say.

But then I get to my courses and talk to participants and I realize my carefully worded emails probably aren’t as important as I think they are.

They tell me stories about the white kitchen they installed because they found my blog way back in the day and how much they love it.

or how they used our  eDesign services and were amazed at the result.

They tell me how much happier they are with their house because they followed the advice they read on the blog, for example one of my most popular posts, Boring Now Equals Timeless Later.

They share photos with me and it feels a little like all my friends have just arrived to hang out for three days. I often wish I live in other cities when I meet the fabulous women (and a few men now 🙂 who come to my events.

And then I realize, once again, that my 1500 blog posts sell my courses way better than a random email or two I write ever could.

And a lot of people tell me they decided to register because they thought, ‘If I learned this much just from reading the blog, how much more could I learn in a live course?'” Well, as it turns out, there’s a lot more to learn live.

Occasionally I receive an email that moves me to tears like this one from Jesse last week, so I asked her if I could share it with you, my lovelies, and she said yes:

“Dear Maria,

I wanted to write you this letter, to thank you. Your work was like a light in the darkness when I felt completely overwhelmed in the midst of a renovation that I completed last month.

Just to tell you a bit about me, I was raised in Manitoba and spent my entire young adult life being trained as an opera singer. It was something I happened to do really well and since everyone kept telling me how good I was at it, I never really bothered to stop and ask myself whether or not I even liked it. I found myself at 30, living in Los Angeles and feeling completely lost and empty.

I was always so envious of my friends who seemed to just love what they did for a living. I would tell someone I was an opera singer and they would always exclaim how glamorous it must be and how very fortunate I was, yet inside I was miserable. I thought there must be something wrong with me! Ultimately, I was faced with the harsh realization that I had spent the bulk of my life doing something that I didn’t enjoy.

Needless to say, walking away from singing was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made.

My friends, family, and coaches were all baffled and told me repeatedly that I was making a huge mistake and I would soon come to regret it. I took the couple years to try to sort out what it was that I actually did want to do with my life –no easy task.

I’ve always been a creative person and knew that I was not meant to work a traditional 9 – 5. I began freelancing as a stylist for photo shoots as a quick way to be artistic and make some extra money. As I started to style more and more lifestyle shoots with large furniture items I recalled that when I was a young girl I had wanted to be an interior designer. However, since my cousin was already such an enormously talented and successful one, I had discouraged myself from it early on, thinking, Why bother! You’ll never be as good as she is! Stick to what you know.

Nevertheless, all my life I have loved colour. I love renovations, historical homes, and decorating spaces. So I figured at this point, I at least owed it to myself to follow that curiosity and see where it took me. In the fall of last year, I began to seriously toy around with the idea of becoming a designer/home stager/who knows lol. I thought I might enroll in some intro design classes at my local university and see how I liked it.

However, life had other plans. In April of this year, my Dad bought a revenue property and I went from dipping my toe in, to being thrown head first into the deep end!

My parents had purchased a house in Texas with the intention to either flip the home for profit or to maintain it long term as a rental property. The house was built in the early 80’s and had never been updated. It was a complete hodge-podge, with all different flooring throughout each room, including the ever-charming carpet in the master bathroom, metallic wallpaper and a kitchen that would have made the Golden Girls feel right at home!

Since I had opened my big mouth a few months prior saying how I thought I might try my hand at design, my parents immediately asked me to do all the design work! Being the type A person I am, naturally, I said, Of course I can do that! No problem!” all the while appearing confident, yet silently freaking out inside. How could I possibly pull this off: create a floor plan, open walls, coordinate with an existing fireplace, select all the hard finishes, paint etc for an entire home?!

Looking back now, I have to wonder who was crazier; my parents for their blind faith, or me for believing somehow that I could actually do this! Either way, there I was on day one; all by myself, in a city I didn’t know, leading a renovation and team of contractors, with absolutely no formal training in design and no experience renovating except for my own instincts, your blog and my large colour boards to guide me. Honestly, Maria, when I write this and think back to how overwhelmed I was at times, with the pressure of my parents’ hard earned money entrusted to me to pull this off…well, let’s just say there were moments I wanted to cry and a few times I did.

You were without a doubt, my renovation guardian angel! Your blog became my go-to answer guide. Whenever I began to second-guess whether the finishes I selected would work together, I just kept hearing your voice over-and-over in my mind, telling me that if the undertones worked, it would be ok and if I made timeless (boring lol) selections, the end product would result in something that had universal appeal and lasting beauty. Your insights encouraged me to make strong choices and helped me navigate uncharted waters when I felt alone and faced with a project that seemed insurmountable on a tight budget.

To say I am grateful to you seems like not enough. What I discovered in this process was not only a greater belief in my own creativity and myself, but I found what I now know to be my true passion. I can’t get enough of colour!!

Stumbling upon your blog and following your wisdom changed my life. I know I don’t have to tell you how important design is. I remember being a teenager and watching an episode of Oprah with designer Nate Berkus where he said, “Your home should rise up to greet you” and I never forgot it.

In this often crazy world we live in, a home should be a place of respite and sanctuary, a place where you can actually exhale. People live their lives within the walls of a home. They make memories, laugh, cry, and watch their families grow. Because of you, I feel honored to have contributed to that as a new family moves into this house.

In the end, there are so many things I learned, things I would do differently and an obvious wish for a bigger budget and longer timeline to make everything exactly right. I won’t load up your email up with a million before and after pics but I attached a few of the kitchen just for fun.

I’m sure you can see all the areas I could have improved (I did go with the trendy medium grey-ed out wood flooring since the grey trend is still alive and well in Texas). In light of everything, I’m proud of what I accomplished -none of which would have been possible without you!

Since I finished the project a month ago, I finally feel like I am on the path to becoming the person I was always meant to be. Who would have thought a blog about colour could change a persons life?! I really owe you tremendously and thought you should know that your words and guidance were a life raft to me, a complete stranger to you, when I felt like I was drowning in a sea of choices. I am so looking forward to coming to Vancouver in a few weeks to become a true colour expert. Thank you for helping to awaken in me my true passion and purpose.”

Here are the before & after pictures of Jesse’s kitchen:




AFTER Love the herringbone subway tile backsplash.

Whenever a reader sends me her white kitchen, I’m always struck by how much restraint it takes to end up with one.

It might seem common to see yet another white kitchen on this blog, YET AGAIN. However, your neighbour probably still doesn’t have one.

It’s so much easier to be seduced by all the trendy tile that’s out there, however having gone through the renovation of my three bathrooms this summer, I am reminded AGAIN how hard it is to just get your WHITES right.

When my 2″ white hex tile was installed in my master bathroom, I plunked the botanicals (that will be framed and being installed on the walls) on the floor to finalize the wall colour and noticed how white the matting was compared to the floor.

Then I freaked out, and pulled out my white beveled subway tile along with the white and cream tile I had in my studio:

YOu can see that the off-white sample is better than the true white sample. However, I also had a cap tile that being installed on top of the true-white beveled subway tile wainscoting in this bathroom.

When I called the tile store to complain that their floor tile wasn’t white enough (it was the only one they carried so when I saw it, I declared it white) they said “We get this tile from three different factories in China, they won’t be the same. But if you switch out that beveled white subway tile you have for the off-white one, it will NOT look good with your cap tile” (below). So, I pulled it out as well, and sure enough, he was right:

So I went with the true-white tile wainscotting, and in the end, it’s a thing of beauty. My tub is being installed as I write this, it has been a big production out in the country to get a free-standing tub installed. I’m on my second plumber and he’s doing a great job.

The lesson of the day is that it’s almost impossible to match whites in tile unless you are doing a high end, custom tile.

Keep your whites in the true-white or off-white realm and you’ll be fine! It’s if you mix true white and cream, now you’ll feel like you need to tread carefully to make sure your whites are repeated to end up with a result that you’ll love. You’ll learn a lot more about white in my White is Complicated eBook, download it here.

After all this, can you imagine how hard it would be to get a bunch of neutral, earthy tile to coordinate?

This is why most bathrooms do not have tiles with matching undertones because you can do your best and even know what you’re doing, for example, you choose or specify green beige tile and your surround is also green beige, and then you install it in a bathroom with no natural light and it goes pink beige.

Even installing the exact same beige or grey tile on the floor and walls can be interesting because I have been in many bathrooms where the floor tile doesn’t look like it matches the wall tile even though it’s identical. However, when it’s identical, the eye forgives that. When you end up with a ‘We tried to match it but we failed look’ that’s when we get cranky.

After all the work and expense to renovate my bathrooms this summer, I cannot imagine what it must be like to not have confidence in the tile you have chosen.  You cross your fingers and get it installed and it’s not awesome and now you have to live with the choices you’ve made until you move out of the house and for some of you, that’s never, if you have just renovated or built your forever home.

There are so many ways you can take boring white tile and still have an interesting bathroom or kitchen. When I show you the updates I’ve made to my bathrooms and my kitchen this summer, I’ll be sure to walk through it with you step-by-step.

Thanks Jessie for your lovely and inspiring email. It takes courage to live a life that you love and keep on the right path, you have to follow your instincts and trust your gut!

Find a Specify Colour with Confidence event near you this Fall here.

Related posts:

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

Ask Maria: What’s Next After Subway Tile?

Is your Bath Perfect? Or Perfectly Nice


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  • Molly says:

    That’s a lovely story!

  • linda Fitzgerald says:

    You deserve the accolades Maria.. no wonder you were moved to tears. Changing a person’s life is not a small thing and we never know how we touch people with our own passion.

  • Sandra Berube says:

    how uplifting to read this blog – thank you Maria and Jessie
    always amazed when the right person can put into words just how I have felt about my design projects at times.
    thank you all very much.

  • Kim says:

    Great post! Oh, well, I feel like I lucked out buying tile for the wainscoting and flooring in my master bathroom after reading this post, because we changed all of that before I discovered your blog, Maria. Some people refer to that as “dumb luck”! I hope to sell our home in the next couple of years, so I am sure I will be renovating the next home we move into, so this information on the tile is great to be aware of. I just started painting my master bedroom, again. I love Chantilly Lace, and I have painted other rooms in my home with this same color. After my children and grandchildren visited over the summer and stayed in the extra bedrooms in my home, and left marks on the walls from suitcases, it was so fun to just go in and roll-out some paint over the scratches and not worry about checking to see if I had the right color. So easy. Saved time. Looks all new, again. Your e-book on whites has been a wealth of help and knowledge for me. Plus, I love Chantilly Lace, which I learned about from you. Thank you, Maria!

  • Lorri says:

    The people who get to rent the house Jesse renovated are lucky renters! I’ll trade them the kitchen in the current house I’m renting. 😉

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Hi Maria,
    I can see why you were moved to tears. That was a beautiful letter.
    It makes you wonder how many more lives you’ve touched & provided such a valuable service to that didn’t have the words to articulate how great you are & how much you’ve helped them.

  • Candice Hill says:

    Hi, Maria..Loved Jessie’s email! Do you realize how many people you help, by you following your own passion!!! It’s mindboggling!!! You help me everyday, because decorating is on my mind everyday!!! I love it! Simply white and I are becoming quite familiar, since I started repainting all our trim. It’s going to look fab!!! All thanks to you!!!! Love ya! Candy

  • Norma says:

    A wonderful and inspiring story from Jesse! I’m sure that was rewarding to receive, Maria… and you do deserve it. You work hard and share your passion and give so much of yourself and your talent. And we all love it! I too am so happy I found your blog a few years ago.

  • Michele says:

    Lovely story about Jesse, and so wonderful that she found her path at such a young age. It took me twice as long and I felt conflicted for many eyars more than this sweet woman.

    You ran into one of my biggest headaches when it comes to white subway–not all manufacturers have matching bullnose or matching pencil tile or any kind of finishing tile! Thw whites are REALLY hard to match. While I love and agree with your choice of white subway, I really have a tough tile finding matching finishing pieces and have sometimes resorted to using Schluter which is pretty sterile looking. I still grapple with matching the white hex tile with the wall tile with the finishing tile every job. Even when you think you found “the” manufacturer, they often change their white or discontinue a size! Thanks for letting me vent and for showing the hard process of picking tile!

  • Brooke says:

    What a lovely story, thank you for sharing Jesse and have fun in class! The house looks great.
    It took me since the start of Maria’s blog to listen to her! I fought my off-white almost cream cabinets for years and kept trying to add gray and white to the house. I read Maria’s e-book over and over hoping for a different answer. Finally, I painted the trim and doors Acadia White aka Ivory White and of course it looks perfect, not stark. Thanks Maria and your bathroom tile is beautiful!

  • Robin says:

    What an inspiring story. So happy for her. Such a proud moment for you, our colour expert/guru lol. And as always, great advice.

  • Judi chevalier says:


  • What a wonderfully inspiring letter Maria. It is nice to feel validated and know that we really do make a difference in people’s lives isn’t it? And how exciting for Jesse to finally love what she does. It makes a world of difference.
    Have a wonderful rest of your week.

  • Connie says:

    I can absolutely echo the sentiments of that email and I also wanted to add, Jessie is a talented writer. I was right there with her in the 80s house worried about the choices. Thanks for sharing it!

  • Ange says:

    That was so sweet of her to share her journey with you and how you helped her discover her true passion. You have a true gift. You deserve the accolades.

  • Veronique says:

    Ohhhhh how wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kelly says:

    Thank you ,I needed this post today. I also love learning and gaining confidence from your posts to truly design my home the way I want it to be.

  • Nancy says:

    Maria just read this great inspiration!
    When you did your bathroom and discovered the white / off white did you have to repeat the off white some place else then to
    Make it work ?
    I’m not sure how you feel
    About this but I like white and off white together . I think
    Some times the true white can be stark but adding in the off white seems to take that away .
    But wasn’t sure when doing that if you then also have to do repeats of the pure white and off white to make it work …

    • Maria Killam says:

      No true white and off white are fine without being repeated. However true white and cream in the same room generally should be repeated. Not like this is a hard and fast rule but something to consider if your colours don’t seem right.

  • Teresa Wickman says:

    What subway tile and cabinet color did Jesse use?

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