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About meBefore and AfterColour lesson

The First Mistake a new Colour Consultant will Make Every Time

By 06/07/2009January 26th, 201754 Comments

Today is my birthday and I’m 42! We’ll get to the colour lesson at the end when I show you the first place I ever decorated for my baby sister, but first a little trip back in time:

This is me at 4 years old already wearing one of my favourite colours and don’t forget the pearls to dress up my summer bathing suit! I see my mother also missed the left side of my face when she cut my hair. . .

My first birthday party. I was 7 and my whole class was invited. Everyone got a necklace as a party gift, I see mine coordinates with my outfit nicely 🙂 That’s my mom in the background!

At 19 I went to modeling school. Alas my career never took off because the first time I auditioned to be in a fashion show I did not make the cut because I didn’t walk like a model. Apparently, according to my sisters, I still don’t.

My very first apartment. I was 21 years old. Actually it was a cottage, my rent was $200 a month (cheap even for then–it wasn’t THAT long ago). You can tell it was the 80’s with the black and white look I had going on! My favourite magazine was Architectural Digest and I loved nothing more than a fresh copy to dream about being in one day. . . Click here to read my article on Decorating with Yellow published in BC Home and Alberta Home magazine.

In the early days, before my design career, I was a Sales Manager at The Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel and [above] I’m standing next to my Director of Sales, Tamara Gibson at a Christmas party. Look at me with my 80’s perm—those were the big hair days! Red lipstick was my go-to colour in those days – NOT any more!!

My ex-husband Scott. He was a big sailor. I was not.
This is me at 33 with my nephew Luukas.

My first official decorating job many years ago. My baby sister moved into this little bachelor suite. We immediately replaced the awful white curtains with IKEA wood blinds, painted the trim cream and bought the furniture on installment from a big box furniture store.
Photo by Maria Killam
As she was renting, we didn’t want to paint the entire room because it had to go back to white when she moved out so to add some colour we just painted halfway up the wall.

So here it is, the first mistake a new designer will make when picking colour. We look around. . . desperate for some inspiration. . . in this case, nothing here but a few primary colours in the wall hanging (which was no longer a wall hanging after I was done), so what to do? I look at the floor. The fir floors have an orange cast to them so what colour do I choose? CC-420 Maple Syrup.

I specified a lot of CC-410 Boardwalk (which is the lighter shade) in my early days of colour consulting when I walked into an empty space or one with black leather furniture and zero inspiration until I discovered the many different shades of beige.

When I used to talk to people in the paint store about colour, they thought it was so important to tell me the colour of their dresser or bed or dining table when really unless it’s cherry or mahogany and you are painting the walls red (even then it’s not that you shouldn’t do it, just make sure you pick one that doesn’t fight with the wood), it’s generally not an issue. The colour of your wood furniture is like a pair of jeans, they go with everything.

Just to be clear, its not that the colour didn’t work in the room, but at the time (because I was new) I didn’t even consider any other options. And as I said, it’s a common mistake we all make in the beginning. And if you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about because you have never made this mistake. . .leave a comment and let us know what yours was because that is why we blog, to learn from each other and to get who we really are.

And since it is my birthday, please leave a comment, that’s all I want, and you’ll get one back, kind of like 2 presents really.

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  • Alicia says:

    Welcome to 42!!!! I leave for 43 in August but can say its better each month. I say what I feel, create as I desire, & wish of the outlandish & unattainable. 42 was my year to say the heck with the rules. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
    Happy Birthday!!!!

  • Cote de Texas says:

    That's a mistake? for a first job, I think its adorable, just like you! Happy happy!

  • berries01 says:

    Hipp hipp hurray! Happy Birthday to You! Wish you another year full of joy and creativity!


  • Anonymous says:

    I love your blog…your delivery and information is priceless! Happy Birthday and make it the best day ever!

  • Imogen Lamport says:

    Happy Birthday! Hope you have an indulgent day.

    I'm thinking your mother may have had to stop cutting your hair because you refused to sit still any longer (if at 4 you're anything like my 4 year old). My kids have wandered off with half-cut hair when they refuse to sit still any longer for me to finish the job.

    Also, I think you stole my hair in the 80s – I had the exact same perm with fringe!

    Warmest wishes, and thanks for the weblink.


  • Rebecca Sherman says:

    Happy Birthday Maria!

    I'm so glad the 80s are over.

  • Velvet and Linen says:

    Happy Birthday, Maria!
    I will also give you another gift for your birthday.
    My birthday is this Wednesday, and I will be turning 44! So, guess what? You'll always be younger than me!

    Only you with your generous spirit would give us the gift of your knowledge even on your birthday. I always love your tips. This is another great one.

    May you have a wonderful and Happy Birthday, Maria.
    You've never looked more beautiful.


  • Anonymous says:

    Happy Birthday. You have been adorable your whole life! Love the pics. I look forward to your blog each morning…today was a treat. Enjoy your day.

  • The Changing Look of Friends says:

    Maria, What a cute kid you were, and you haven't changed one bit, just a better hair style. Happy Birthday to you!

  • Julianne says:

    Happy Birthday Maria! My present to you is to say that I think you are the best designer I have ever seen. I love your style. I so wish you were in North Carolina! I took some interior design classes but didn't like the program. I love interior design as you can see by my severly neglected blog. I am soooo happy I found your blog.

    I am never disappointed when I look at your beautiful pictures. I think you really love the same styles I do.

    Have the happiest of happy birthdays. And a great cake with lots of pretty fluffy icing

  • VictoriaArt says:

    Dearest Maria, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

    Love your posts, love your style, love the way you explain everything so clearly, you are a sweet and accomodating new friend to me!

    Have a fabulous day! Love – Victoria

  • DesignTies says:

    Happy Birthday!! Thanks for sharing "The Life of Maria" with us 🙂

    I've made SO many paint colour mistakes. But I've learned from every one of them, so at least something good came out of them!! Not to mention that after all the repainting I've done, I've just about perfected my painting technique 😉

    Hope you're having a great weekend — enjoy your big day!! 🙂



    Right after design school I had a gal hire me to pick paint. I was TERRIFIED! Here I just had four years of schooling and I didnt feel qualified to pick PAINT!! But of course I didnt let HER know that. Luckily I did ok. I stuck with beige and green. But her dining room she wanted red. It took FIVE tries to get it right. I felt like such a failure! Design isnt for me I cant even pick a darn RED!!! Well now I have been doing this for 11 years. And I have learned that red is one of the most finicky colors and it is ok to sample two or three colors before its RIGHT! Happy Birthday!!!!

  • Vickie H. says:

    Happy Birthday to YOU! I have always felt like as I sailed into my 40's that I was finally figuring out what life was supposed to be about…everything just sort of fell into place finally and I got out of my own way.
    I read you every day. I love your blog. I never comment except to myself to say: damn! this girl is REALLY smart about this stuff! Thank you for all you bring to the blogosphere. You are so generous with your knowledge, often bringing some of us back from the very BRINK!
    May God bless you, Maria, today and every day! Have a wonderful, wonderful celebration!

  • Toby Worthington says:

    Happy Birthday to one of the most clear-headed, forthright bloggers on the web. And one discovered
    by me fairly recently! Your musings have become required reading. When engaged on a paint project I now ask myself "what would Maria do?". This applied to a muddle surrounding a new patio umbrella in ink blue.
    Lovely, unexpected amidst all the good taste blacky greens used elsewhere; but it seemed like an arbitrary choice until I painted the french iron chairs an ink blue to match. All wrong, of course, to match anything precisely! After much trial and error it became obvious that those chairs would relate to the ink blue umbrella in a more subtle fashion if they were blue-black, rather than slavishly matched. The only way to learn anything, is from ones own mistakes.

  • DesignTies says:

    Happy Happy Birthday, Maria! I so enjoyed seeing the photos that you shared, especially the 80s ones… I have more than a few of my own taken during that decade; big hair, shoulder pads, colourful clothing (I had this yellow skirt that I'd wear with a purple blouse!) and all!!

    Paint colour mistakes… don't get me started! Heck… you had to come by and steer me in the right creamy/yellow direction!

    I hope you have an absolutely wonderful day… it's 9am and I see the sun is trying hard to peek through the clouds!

    Victoria @ DesignTies
    P.S. How many Victorias drop by your site! Even a Vickie who spells her name the same way I do (it's not common)!! 🙂

  • danielle says:

    A very Happy Birthday to you Maria!!! although i have had no time to coment on your genius blog lately, i read it all the time! i miss your class and i miss you!
    have a fabulous day:)


  • Christine says:

    Happy Birthday! I love all your pictures, especially the first one with the pearls!

  • Wise Space says:

    Happy happy joy joy – that's who you are Maria!
    Thanks for sharing this with the world.

  • Lisa says:

    A new year.
    A gift from above.
    Let there be laughter.
    Let there be love.
    Happy Happy Birthday Maria!
    xo Lisa

  • Slices of Beauty... says:

    Many happy returns, enjoy.

  • Brillante Home Decor says:

    Buon Compleanno dear Maria…you were beautiful as a kid, as a young lady and you are even more beautiful now with more knowledge of yourself.
    Happy Happy Day!

  • Terri says:

    Happy Birthday Maria, and thanks for all the great tips! Terri in Calgary xo

  • Lynne Rutter says:

    happy birthday! my, how photogenic you are!

  • Bethany says:

    Happy Birthday! i am so glad you are blogging. You are are so fresh and authentic. You remind me everyday to be myself.

  • Gloria J. Lemay says:

    Hi Maria, what a lovely trip down memory lane with you. Thanks. Knowing your mom and your sisters, it was doubly delightful. What a treat you ALL are. Really special people in your clan.

    I'm going to put a link to your blog on my blog. . . we need a little touch of style over there at
    Can't just have breast feeding, birth and ending circumcision as my obsessions, right?
    Happy birthday, beautiful one.
    Gloria Lemay

  • Anonymous says:

    Happy Birthday!! Well, at 52 you are way ahead of me. Understanding white and beige is like going on a hike in a cave. Thanks for all you do for shedding a little light on those of us who tend to be a bit "color blind."
    Joni from Dallas

  • Kelly says:

    Happy Birthday- love your blog, very inspiring and informative!

    Kelly from

  • Vitania says:

    Happy Birthday Maria..
    I am still in shock that you didnt make it as a model!! But then everything does happen for a reason, where would colour be without you..:-)

    Hope you are having a great day and I wish you a fantastic 42nd year.


  • Awesome Sara says:

    Hey borthday sexy gal. I did make a bday post for you! geez, you are freaking welcome!!! oh yea you are a gorgeous now as you were in all those pics, i am totally honored to have met you even though it hasnt been face to face.

  • Authoritaters says:

    Happy Birthday! It's the first time I viewed your blog 'cause Awesome Sara told me to 😛 I love your precision in layout (on the right hand side, which I am going to check out, now).

  • Studio14D says:

    Happy birthday, Maria! Loved the walk down memory lane and as I've said before, I absolutely adore your blog — just so much info I don't get anywhere else.

  • Natalie R. says:

    Happy Birthday, Dear Maria!
    You are so generously giving and so open-hearted. You are full of so many surprises and you are fabulous. Enjoy your blog immensly and can't wait to open it daily. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. You're such an inspiration for all those ships in the sea. God bless you!
    Natalie Toronto

  • Tiaa @ EYInteriors says:

    Happy Belated Birthday!

    Your posts are always so delightful to read. You have been a true inspiration to me and I'm sure many others too! I hope you had a FABULOUS day!

    EY Interiors

  • home before dark says:

    I hope your most colorful years are ahead of you. Your early pics seem to indicate some are born with style! Hope you had a lovely birthday.

  • Ideezine says:


    Happy Happy Belated Birthday! With many more colorful years ahead of your time too! Thanks for all you do. Creative intelligence lights your path along the way.


  • guylaine rondeau says:

    hey girl…

    well i already sent you a couple of birthday wishes yesterday (twitter and facebook) so i hope you had a really fabulous day! and since we are in our 'more mature' days and don’t celebrate as hard, we are aloud to celebrate longer! – any plans for friday?

    my business coach was also having a birthday this week, and since she’s in kelowna until tuesday, i will make her a clafoutis on friday ( and we’ll probably do a little picnic and sip some sparkling shiraz (maybe just sit in my garden)… would you like to join us?

    i have a meeting with mike mahannah at 6pm (i’ll be his course leader support for the CPC)… so we picked 7:30ish for our gathering.

    let me know if you can join us…

    ps. was there a colour theme at your birthday party? because it seems everyone is wearing something red!

  • Emily from says:

    I love your blog. It's like taking a color theory class in my spare time. It has got me thinking about how I pick colors and confirmed that I made a poor choice in my bedroom! Have a lovely birthday!

  • Things That Inspire says:

    Happy belated birthday! I loved seeing the pictures of you through the years.

  • Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) says:

    Happy Birthday, Maria! I'm a year ahead of you and I can tell you life keeps getting better. Thanks for sharing the most awesome pictures, I remember big hair!!

  • Lauren says:

    Happy birthday Maria & sorry Im late!!! You look gorgeous (as usual) in all your pics and luukas has really grown up since that pic!!!

    ok, here's my big first color mistake, OH LORDY. I will send you a link to the pic so you can see just how off i was!! Luckily, the client absolutely loved it– eeeek… it's the bottom picture with orange (they were supposed to be gold!!!)walls

    happy birthday!!

  • Anonymous says:

    So sorry for the belated warm wishes, just been trying to get caught up on things around here and with all the rain we've been having – I couldn't let the opportunity to do 'in-door' work go by when the weather is dreadful outside.

    So . . . Happy Birthday! You have a real talent with so much passion and I wish you continued success, health and happiness with your endeavors.

    – KBN

  • Haven and Home says:

    Oh how fun is this post? I loved looking back with you!

  • Kat says:

    Happy Happy Birthday (belated, oop)
    though I'm surely your least fashionable or color coordinated reader, I keep coming back!!!
    (my biggest color mistake? 18 mths ago, I started painting my loft 'Vintage Map', & hated it so much that the room is still unfinished. Mid-wall…)

  • Danica says:

    I am definitely late to the party. Happy Belated Maria, I do hope you had a wonderful day!


  • Grace says:

    Belated congratulations and a big hug!

    (I'm catching up on your posts from my email subscription.)

    I've learned so much about color by reading your blog. I've become confident about following my own color preferences and choosing color schemes. And I've having a blast decorating my nest. Thank you!

  • dachsynut says:

    Happy Birthday! 42 isn't so bad.;-) 29's better though. I'm not a decorator and struggle with decorating, but I've learned so much from your blog. Thank you!

  • mesj says:

    Ok this is really funny, I'm a home stager who dabbles in color consulting just because I do get asked for recommendations, but I have NO training. So guess what color I just recommended for a kitchen transformation? Maple Syrup! They said it needs a third coat to cover the previous yellow and yes, the reason I recommended it was the golden oak cabinets and the lack of anything else inspiring (including the rosy countertops). I haven't seen it yet. Should I prepare to hide my wincing?

  • sarah says:

    Maria – thank you so much for this wonderful post and your amazing blog! Its now a go to read for me! This post was great, it reminded me (I am just starting int. des. school) when I doubt myself that as I gain experience I will also gain the confidence to step out of the box! Thank you!

  • Paula says:

    Happy Birthday on Thursday! I just found your blog about a month ago, at the tail end of a remodeling project. 🙁

    Love it so much and having a great time reading through the archives.

  • Maria, I hope you have a wonderful day. Those kids in Toronto are getting the best gift of all, you know. Happy and healthy! xo

  • Jackie Toye says:

    I’ve never considered the furniture color in my wall color selection. whew (wipes brow), but I’ve seen “on TV” suggestions to match the oak cabinets or furniture. Thanks for the clarity.

    Since this Post is originally from 2009 …. you’re 45 now. I turned 45, February 20th this year. Welcome to the Club!

  • Claudia says:

    Dear Maria,
    Happy Birthday, hope you enjoy a year full of creative surprises. I loved your ebook and it has changed how I look at color in a good way, thank you!

  • Susan says:

    Have the happiest of birthdays, Maria. Thanks for all you do to help those color-challenged among us to make our surroundings happier. Thanks to you, I now know why a few things in my home have always bothered me and I am on the road to fixing them.

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