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How to Choose ColourWashington Post

The Right way to Create Flow using Colour

By 03/17/2009January 27th, 201743 Comments

Thank you to the Washington Post for including this post in your blog watch, March 19, 2009!
When a client calls me to inquire about a colour consultation, here’s the question they need answered more than anything else: How do you create flow, and how do you transition the colour from one room to another? In addition to this, people want to know why the colour works or why it doesn’t? The process of narrowing down all the possibilities (from over 2,000 colours) to the one that is perfect for you is worth every penny. A professional will give you colour ideas that you never imagined, after all this is what they do every day. The following images illustrate the best way to create flow in your home.

Maria Killam Colour & Design

This is a living room I designed for one of my lovely clients Suzanne, two years ago. She recently hired me to complete her den and I met with her last week to finalize the selections. First though, a lesson on creating flow:

Suzanne had this colourful artwork by Vancouver artist Debi MacKinnon (shown above) and which we used for inspiration. She loved all the colours and especially the orange and fuscia, so that’s what we used for the accent colours in her condo. The colour we used as the ‘main wall colour’ in her space was HC-18 Adam’s Gold:

Adam’s Gold is actually a yellow on the green side. And as I tell my students, these greeny yellows mostly just work with bright, jewel tone colours like we used in this space. With bright or rich dramatic colours (such as red or eggplant) using a greeny/yellow keeps the space more sophisticated than if we used a regular warmer, orange based yellow like HC-12 Concord Ivory. We then used a cotton velvet in a slightly darker shade for the sofa.

She loved the bright orange in the art, so we picked an orange from the deck, which was a little too bright so we took it to the paint store with the fabric I had found for the toss cushions and toned it down slightly, so the colour you see above is a custom orange. The closest one we ended up with is 2169-10 Racing Orange.

We selected 2076-10 Crushed Velvet as another accent in her living room (shown in the toss cushions below):

Then we used that same accent in the powder room and hung some artwork that also repeated the colours she already had in her space.

In her bedroom we introduced a lighter shade of purple (than the above flower in the bathroom) while still keeping the colours in the same, fresh colourful palette as her living room.

HC-115 Georgian Green and 2070-40 Spring Purple. This (below) is the drapery fabric we selected for her bedroom.
In the den (before and after to be show upon completion) we chose 2 chairs which we will upholster in the velvet (shown below) in the ‘Crushed velvet’ shade from the bathroom and the accent colour in her living room. The drapery was our favourite fabric. And it repeats the fuscia colour as well (it’s slightly lighter as you can see). Then we chose an ostrich faux leather for a round ottoman. We will also repeat the white in the entertainment center for her TV and bookshelves. What makes this perfect for her space, when she needs extra seating in the living room, she can pull out the chair from the den and it will look just like it belongs there.
The colour we chose to tie in with the drapery is CC-338 Bluffs which was darker then the fabric. You can’t tell by looking at the photo though right? Don’t ever make the mistake of assuming the colour is right by just holding it next to the fabric like it is shown in the above photo. To make sure that it was the right colour, we held the fabric up by the window, then held the sample behind the fabric, we also held it up in the corner of the window (with the colour beside it to ensure accuracy). For even closer accuracy (of course) a bigger sample should be painted up just to be on the safe side.
Many people think that the only way to create flow is to take one colour and go from light to dark throughout the entire house. However, it’s really about keeping the ‘fresh’ colours together and ‘dirty colours together. If you mix them up, that’s what creates problems with flow including the feeling that gets created in your home.
If you don’t have a ‘perfect’ scenario where you can basically decorate your entire home at once to create the kind of palette I have shown here, then you need to decide which rooms you will ‘move forward’ using current colours and which ones need to coordinate with the existing colours in the home.
For example, if I am in a house that is mostly renovated, except for the bathroom, I will ignore the flow in this case, and just pick a colour that coordinates with the existing tile in the bathroom. I would rather specify the best possible colour with existing (dated) finishes, to make it look as good as possible in a bathroom that is not going to see a renovation anytime soon, than worry that much about how it works with the rest of the house.

So my lovelies, what is the undertone of the above beige?

Related posts:
Insider Secrets to Testing & Selecting Paint Colours
What Everyone Should Know about Beige
What’s an Undertone?
Clean vs. Dirty Colours
Should your Interior Colours flow with the Exterior of your House?

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  • Imogen Lamport says:

    From what Bluffs beige looks like on my screen it’s what I’d describe as a cool rose beige – which is a pink based beige.

  • Brett Walther says:

    I love your solution to maintaining flow in the bedroom, while making it a little more muted and relaxing – brilliant!

  • says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I have been working on this at my house and trying to pull all the rooms together but break free from the land o’ beige that was our house when we bought it. great post!!!

  • De Anna says:

    I just love your blog — so much great info, so well put.

    I see a pink undertone…

  • Karena says:

    Great information, I love to hear about color choices. I say the backround tint in the beige is pinky shade. I am having a Sunday Sundown Giveaway, so please come visit!

  • Brillante Home Decor says:

    Definetely pink undertone.
    Your Posts are always well written and communicate so well your knowledge.

  • Kathleen says:


    Hiring a color consultant was one of the best decisions we made in our renovation.

  • Lauren says:

    beautiful examples- i also have to say how much i love the rug in the first room shown!

  • Mrs B says:

    Yet again, excellent post Maria!
    I am just starting on my journey of learning about colour, so I am reading your posts through several times to really understand the concept of different colour combinations. Your blog has such a wealth of information in regards to decorating with colours and always with real life examples of your work…thankyou so much!
    Mrs B

  • De Anna says:

    Maria — I have to ask — I know you said in a previous post that there are 3 undertones to beige — pink, yellow, or green. I’m wondering about orange — it seems like there are tans that have an orange undertone to them. Am I seeing it wrong?

  • Bethany says:

    I was going to say pink (red) too! Question…is it possible to pick a color without any undertones? Or maybe there are just colors with more mild undertones?

  • Cote de Texas says:

    just beautiful – i love how you used that artwork in the condo for colors. I have that problem right now with a client. doesnt want to work with the colors in this bright piece of art work. wish you could help!

  • Colour Me Happy says:

    Dear De Anna,
    That is a very good question. Yes there are beige’s that have an orange undertone, such as BM Boardwalk (CC-410 Canadian number) 1102. But that’s the only strip in the deck that I would consider to be in the ‘beigy/orange category’ which is why I only talk about green, yellow or red undertones.

    Is it possible to pick a colour without any undertones? Not really (even some grays that read like a neutral gray, have an undertone–green), but obviously the lighter you go with colour selection at least it’s less ‘offensive’ when it goes up because it’s light.

    I was just in a house that had a very pale shade of beige with a pink undertone to it all over the walls and ceiling. In some lights it looked cream but it’s really a very light pinky beige. Could the client live with it? Yes and she had been, but I was there to pick the one that actually worked with her carpeting and drapery so that she could get rid of the pink undertone.

    Even ‘apartment beige’ technically has a yellow undertone even thought it’s very light and works with everything. (although in the last few years before brown became so big, builders beige moved to a green undertone).

  • Colour Me Happy says:

    By the way, all of you are right, that beige has a pink undertone. Which is perfect with the drapery she chose and will be a nice, rich background with the fuscia fabric we chose for her chairs.

  • Lausanne says:

    Great to see a step by step! Beautiful work, Maria.

  • Awesome Sara says:

    omg, fantastic post. i’m seriously taking so many notes and i have an idea for when i can move into a place where i can paint!!

  • Meade Design Group says:

    Sweet entry! I love the sophistication that you brough to the space using the contrast with full of life colours.

    The pictures really made this story sing!

  • Joyce says:

    I like how you make all the colors come together as if they were meant to be together. The color choices are great.

  • Julianne says:

    Your blog is so beautiful. I could look at it all day. Are these photos the actual rooms you have done? I am so happy I found your blog through Imogen. I love design.

  • DesignTies says:

    FANTASTIC post!!!!! You’re totally talking my language!!!! This is the absolute best explanation I’ve ever read about how to make colour flow throughout your home. Now I just need to follow your guidelines!!

    And best of all… it proves that you don’t have to use beige to keep your colour scheme cohesive 🙂 Not that there’s anything wrong with beige, but I LOVE colour!!

    Thank you, Maria 🙂 I’ve just added this to our list of “most favourite posts” 🙂


  • Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) says:

    Maria, I just stumbled upon your blog for the first time and color me GIDDY! I love it and I look forward to your future posts!! Well done!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Hi all – it's my house that Maria is profiling here in the blog. I can't tell you how important it has been for me to walk step by step through the process with Maria. If any of you are designers, take a 'page from her book' and help your clients to see colour. I would never have thought you could do purple, green, orange & deep pink in one small space…but it works!
    Thanks for the help Maria and for the great blog.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. Thank you for all the wonderful information. It’s easy to see that you put great effort into these posts.

    Thanks again-

    Tara b.

  • DesignTies says:

    The beige you’ve asked readers to assess – Bluff – looks alot like my kitchen tiles, doesn’t it?! Darn pink!!

    Your commenters have said it – and I’ll repeat it – great post!


  • Velvet and Linen says:

    I learn something new every time I come for a visit, Maria.
    Thank you for the education and for sharing your beautiful work with us. You may very well be changing my mind about the use of color in my designs!


  • Rachel James says:

    Wonderful examples and advice on making color flow through a home. I love the idea of starting with a “kick start” point—-the artwork in the LR.

  • Rachel James says:

    And congrats on your Washington Post accolade!

  • Lauren says:

    Maria- congrats on the Post today!!! I wasn so happy when I opened it up & saw Colour Me Happy!!!!! xoxo 🙂

  • Things That Inspire says:

    Great post – I have so many rooms that flow into each other, and have avoided this issue by painting them the same color. It is great to see ways to tackle this through the eyes of an expert!

    Congratulations on the WP blog watch!

  • Kierstin Bridger says:

    Really nice colors without overwhelming the space- accent walls, however small are so effective!

  • unique unique design says:

    I love the colors you have put together for your client. Beautiful job! Thank you for your informative blogs. Your step by step approach is very helpful.

  • Anonymous says:

    Wonderful post and great room. Nice colors and I love the rug and drapes.

  • Eve says:


    First of all-gorgeous rooms! I have a furniture question that relates to the flow. Can you mix gray walls with brown furniture? Or should you use only black/white furniture with gray walls?

    I have mostly brown furniture…but would love to paint a room a light gray color. But I am not sure if the brown furniture can flow with a gray room-and whether a gray/black/white room could flow with a brown room right next to it?

  • Maria Killam says:

    Absolutely I would combine gray with brown (way warmer than black/white and gray). Consider a colour like HC-172 or 983 Smoky Taupe. Gray is the new Brown so I think the 2 together would be great is long as it's a warm gray.

  • Anonymous says:

    Just found your blog off AT in the fall and love it! I just moved and am trying to find a 'beige' for my new living room condo that has that dreaded pinky-beige carpeting from 10 yrs ago – bleck! however, I rent so changing it is not an option. Problem is that my furniture is a moss greeny taupey color and I can't figure out common ground other than painting the wall chocolate brown, which looks great with the sofa, but will be too dark in this space as it has north light. I will try some of your pinky-biege suggestions (bluffs and stonehouse) but I was wondering if you knew of a color consultant in Toronto that I could call – you are, unfortunately, a little far away to come and do mine!
    My other question was if you think the color seashell – OC-120 would work with all of the above and orange accents (drapes, pillows etc)?
    Sorry for the looooong post, but think your ideas, and rooms I have seen are fab – keep up the great blog!!

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Anonymous
    Since your sofa is a beigy greeny colour and your carpets are pink, here's where you need to choose and in your case I would work with the sofa and go with a colour or more neutral that has a green undertone.

    Seashell is so pale it will work with all of it.

    I don't know of a colourist in Toronto but I do on-line consults, so email me for more info.

  • Erin @ The Impatient Gardener says:

    Whew … I feel a lot better after reading this post. I've been going through your blog, reading a variety of posts and you keep mentioning flow throughout a house. And I was thinking … well, I'm screwed, because I have a white kitchen, a living rooms with white and gray walls, a red couch, a wheat-colored chair, and a blue, red and wheat rug, a back room that I was hoping to go orange and turquoise in and gosh knows what else.

    And I was thinking that seems all wrong (and maybe it is) but there are so many great colors and great color combinations out there that I don't want to just pick a couple colors to do my whole house in (and it's not open concept anyway). But now I understand that color flow doesn't necessary have to mean the mean colors in a room, but picking up an accent of that color in an accessory or a piece of art. OK, so maybe the orange and turquoise doesn't belong at all, but maybe I'm not as far off as I feared I was.

  • chanteusevca says:

    Maria, Your posts always make me think and understand so much better how color works together. I have always wanted either a white slipcovered sofa or a red sofa. I don't think I've ever wanted any other colors for solfas although I have had or inherited sofas in other colors. If 10 years ia the life span of a trend, then I'm way overdue. I've had the custom made sofa that I'm sitting on for almost 20 years now. Yikes! And I hate it more every day. I totally missed the brown trend in 2000. And I'm more than ready to skip right into the happy color "trend" that I've dreamed about throughout the last years of my children being home until now. More than trends, I've always wanted to have decor that expresses my personality and tastes but can still evolve with me and my lifestyloe. I think that way, it would never feel outdated — at least not for me. outdated. I am very close to being ready for you to work some happy color magic on my rooms!

    Oh, and it looks pinkish to me.

  • Haike Tremblay says:

    Hi Maria, my sister worked with you recently and just got me onto your blog which she raves about. I can see why, so much great information in a way that anyone can understand. I would love to pass it on to my clients (I'm a professional organizer) in my June newsletter. Hope that's OK. Thank you for a wonderful blog.

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice post! I love the round rug in Suzannes condo! Where would I find one?

  • Maria Killam says:

    IKEA sells this rug, hopefully they still do!

  • Anonymous says:

    I think I'm learning from your posts, but maybe I think I may be color challenged. I painted my kitchen walls Georgian Green which at night looks like a deep, saturated, woodsy green and then during the day (not a lot of natural light) the color is a lighter yellowy spring green. I can't undersand how this relates to the violet you used in the bedroom. Aren't they contrastining colors? – the violet more pinkish than green? Darn, I will never get this color flow thing!

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