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Rules are for Amateurs, Exceptions are for Professionals

By 11/11/2012February 16th, 201914 Comments

‘We have always tried to solve colour conundrums with rules. In my experience, every rule about colour is a rule that colour will break, but this doesn’t stop us from trying’.  Janice Lindsay


I find it fascinating that it‘s human nature to want to break the rules or at the very least be the exception to the rule. “Please let me be the special one!”, is the background conversation around breaking the rules.

Every day I get comments from readers who disagree with one of my posts.

For the record, it doesn’t bother me if you disagree with me. The reason my blog has a large following is because I have a strong point of view.

If you find my blog while searching for the answer to a question that is keeping you up at night and you like my opinion to your current dilemma, you’ll keep reading. And if you don’t, you’ll move on.

It’s much easier to begin the process of designing a home you love when you know what you like and what you don’t like. Having a sense of what you like however, will not automatically give you a designer look and feel unless that is a talent you already possess.


A client recently took me to a furniture store that she loved to help her choose the pieces that would work for her home. She confessed that the first time she walked in, she left almost immediately because she felt completely overwhelmed.

I truly believe in the statement “Hire a professional for everything you can’t do professionally yourself”, however if hiring a designer is not in your budget, then the second best way to get a house that you love is to follow the rules.

In my Specify Colour with Confidence Workshops, I reveal the guidelines I have discovered inside my system of Understanding Undertones to designers, decorators, architects, homeowners and stagers.


As a professional, once you know the rules, you can break them. Not only can you break them, but you must as every situation is different and usually requires a custom solution.

This advice is for me as well by the way. If I tried to design the landscaping for my house myself, I better follow the rules because I’m not a landscape designer.

So instead of emailing me to ask if your countertop is the exception to the ‘subway tile rule’ that you’ve read on my blog, just find the colour that works and install it.

Related posts:

 Professionals Know when to Avoid the Obvious

One Bad Design Pays for the Designer

Two Ways to Know if you are a One Trick Pony Designer

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s All in the Undertones to learn how to get colour to do what you want.

To make sure the undertones in your home are right, get some large samples!

If you would like to learn to how choose the right colours for your home or for your clients, become a True Colour Expert.

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  • I totally agree with this point of view. My clients think I do good work…thankfully. But there are definitely times when the rules can be broken. As far as color goes, sometimes I defer to Nature herself. I ask myself “Have I seen this in Nature?” If the answer is yes, then that might mean I’m breaking a color ‘rule’. Sometimes the best results are when a rule is broken…..if you know what you’re doing 😉

  • Another thought-provoking post, Maria. It seems like color selection is more like solving a Zen koan. I agree with everything you’ve said, and with what Donna wrote, that if the undertones are right, anything goes.

  • Debbiecz says:

    Ok, bear with me here…do you know the pond rule? The average pond owner will have three ponds in their lifetime. The first is the “cool, let’s try this pond thing”. The second is the “oh, that’s not REALLY the pond I Wanted”. The third and typically the last is the, “I know what I did wrong, I now know what will work and what I really want”. We’re on our third pond and love it. I’m on my second house, only three years old but I often sit here wishing I had had a decorator by my side helping with the fireplace stone color, window placement, etc. when we were building. It’s hard to change tile or stone…a decorator or Maria’s blog educates us and I for one look at color with new knowledge. Hopefully you’ll be there for house no. Three!

  • Donna Frasca says:

    My #1 rule is that I don’t follow any rules. Interior Design and choosing color is highly customized and each circumstance is different. There are of course certain guidelines one should follow for the best result but sometimes even those bend a lot. Besides, who’s to say that you can’t have a hot pink kitchen or a purple ceiling? However, the only time I try to follow the “rules” is when it comes to undertones.

  • Susan@Susan Silverman Designs says:

    I totally agree!

  • Lauren Tyson says:

    Just discovered your blog and really like it. Speaking of color, would you consider darkening the main font color on your blog just a bit? I find it a bit hard to read. And the white against yellow at the very bottom is really hard to read. Thanks for all your tips. I’m buying a new home and am getting a lot from your expertise. LT

  • Whether I’m decorating, staging, or doing color consultations, I definitely follow and teach my clients “guidelines” and a step-by-step order for things like purchasing new items, furniture/accessory arrangement, choosing a color palette, etc. Having some guidelines gives me and my clients a structure and pattern for moving forward. I beliieve there’s both a science and art to working in this field, and it’s exciting to find the right balance of both in our business. I definitely agree that knowing and understanding the “rules” gives you the wisdom to know when breaking them is the right thing to do!

  • teresa says:

    I would add that exceptions are for artists, the real leaders in all things creative! However, by following the rules, one can at least avoid a total mess and still be able to break them later on down the road with something less permanent that tile.CTD

  • Micki says:

    It depends on the rule. My opinion is that I would much rather make the mistake on my own than have someone make it for me! Also, I live here. It is important that I am surrounded with things that I love. For years I followed rules of what, where, when and how that my home wasn’t a true reflection of me. It wasn’t until I realized that “it can be changed” that my life became much easier. If the paint color ain’t working, then…I repaint. I am so happy and my home is really a true reflection of me.

  • Great post! I agree about hiring a pro . I do upholstery for many clients that are redecorating a room or home. I find that most often the best results are when clients have a designer helping them with selections. Always has the best results and clients usually are much happier and excited through the process rather than being stressed. 🙂

  • Maria, your rules are so spot-on, that I try not to break them. “White is not a neutral” is the main rule I never break, which is done by repetition as you taught. Also, “never mix pink beige with yellow beige.” Never in my life will I break that one! The Clean and Dirty Rule. Nope, it just doesn’t work. I am trying to think of one of your rules that would be okay to break, but none come to mind!!! Best, Ellen

  • Carmel A Reggi says:

    Rules are meant to be followed but creativity and inspirations are created by the exception. As an interior designer I follow rules but there is always the exception for all my designs to create the difference. I agree…. if you are not the professional than stick to the rules as even breaking them requires confidence and professionalism.

    Maria you speak professionally by experience and your blog is honest, inspiring , down to earth and very enjoyable to read. Keep it up.

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