Skip to main content
One bad decision pays for the designer

Vancouver Colour; Why you can’t Afford NOT to Hire a Colour Expert

By 01/21/2010February 21st, 201721 Comments

An expert is someone who has made all mistakes possible in a narrow field of expertise. Albert Einstein

Whenever I have learned the most about the business of specifying colour, is when I’ve also made the biggest mistakes. Here are the two most important lessons I’ve learned:

1. I used to think it was my job to pick a new colour for every room.

Flow? What the heck was that? I had no idea. Transitioning the colour from one room to the next? Huh? Once I learned how it was done, I was surprised that it wasn’t more obvious to me in the first place!

image source

The first time I chose a tuscany yellow (which the client requested) for the entry and stairwell of a high end home, I cringed when I walked in (later) because it screamed like a ‘laundry room’ yellow. Yikes!

I had yet to learn that most colours get twice as bright when they go up and what makes a yellow chosen by a designer different from one someone else might choose is we know that.

We also know that a pretty paint chip doesn’t necessarily give you a pretty paint colour.

Image source

2. The first season that I specified exterior colour, I would leave each call feeling completely inadequate. I felt lucky I’d just been paid for my time.

Looking back, I was like Vanna; holding up colour chips like an idiot, “Do you like this one? How about this one? I know, this one is even better”. Why these colours worked or not I certainly couldn’t tell you back then.

Southern Living

I tell my students all the time that you are paid for your intuition. This is true to this day, however when you are new you don’t have enough tacit knowledge yet to be able to express why your suggestions are correct.

And this does NOT mean your suggestions are not right or that your talent isn’t enough. It simply means the more you can articulate what you know, the more your client trusts you.

The definition of Tacit Knowledge is knowedge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it.

Image source

A person who possesses tacit knowledge with food can open a fridge and turn leftovers into a gourmet meal. Those of us (like me) not gifted with that talent, throw away the leftovers and order sushi!

You know what makes me sound like an experienced designer/expert when I’m in your house?

Kishani Perera Interiors

1) I have the answer to the question why?

Why out of 600 colours is this flooring the right one? Why out of 40,000 fabrics is this the one for my sofa? Why in your paint kit of over 2000 colours is this beige or colour correct for my space? As I talked about in this post, you are paying for the answer to this question.

Image source

It’s the answer to the question why, that will enable you to sleep at night, confident that you have made the right decision. There is nothing worse than the sinking feeling of watching thousands of dollars of tile, granite, drapery or furniture being installed and then realizing the colour is wrong.

Kishani Perera Interiors

2) I usually have a story to tell that illustrates or confirms why the choice you are making is the right one.

This is the biggest piece of Tacit Knowledge and it’s also the reason why you can’t teach it to anyone.

It comes with years of experience.


Need help choosing the right neutral or colour?  My How to Choose Paint Colours: It’s all in the Undertones ebook takes the hundreds of choices down to 9 neutral undertones along with list of all my other go-to best grays, broken down into 3 undertones, green, blue and purple. The beige undertones of pink, yellow, green, gold, orange and taupe along with the best greens and blues. 

My bonus book of  colours is worth the price of the ebook alone but you will also get my system of understanding undertones so you can stop making mistakes when sourcing tile, carpet, countertops, etc.

The only way to choose the right colour every time is to combine my system of understanding undertones with the most indispensable colour tool available. You can purchase your own set of my curated large colour board collections here.

If you would like to transform the way you see colour, become a True Colour Expert.

Related posts:

Why is it so hard to choose yellow?

The Three most Important Words in a Colour Consultation

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity?

New to this Blog? Click here ; Subscribe to my Monthly Newsletter

While you’re here, subscribe to this feed so you don’t miss out!

28 pins


  • Lovely Laura says:

    I am so ecstatic that we chose you to help us turn our empty new house into a warm home. It is hard to trust someone else's intuition but we are pleased that we made that leap of faith. I'm so glad that we found each other, Maria.

  • Lauren @ withTWOcats says:

    Choosing paint colors has definitely been quite a journey for my husband and me! We were so excited when we purchased our first home that we went out and chose a different paint color for each room (a red, a yellow, and two greens) And I mean BRIGHT colors!

    What we were thinking I still have no clue, they just looked pretty on the paint chips.

    Needless to say we have learned a lot and have done a lot of repainting. We still love color, but usually choose something two shades lighter and two shades more neutral than the first one that jumps out at us.

    It would have been nice to have had a color expert to steer us in the right direction from the get-go!

  • house things says:

    I agree completely. I've never regretted hiring a color expert.

    By the way, I've been seeing that Mitchell Gold aqua sofa a lot. Such a pretty design.

  • DesignTies says:

    Ahhh {I sigh while fondly reminiscing} Reminds me of Colour Theory class!! 😉
    Great post as usual Maria! Now… to work on my OWN tacit knowledge!!

  • Mrs B says:

    Wonderful post Maria as always. I find your pictures illustrate your point perfectly.

    mrs B xx

  • Annie @ The House That Jade Built says:

    You have the most gorgeous pictures on your blog that completely tell a story on their own! I totally can understand why colors are hard to pickout. I think we painted my daughter's nursery 3 times before we found the right pink 🙂

  • pve design says:

    Why is it that any other field, ie; Doctor, Lawyer – n'er a question is asked about price. Just today, I answered an e-mail to a client who had "no idea" that my artwork would command such prices.
    I do quite a bit for free, for charity, but this is my work, my hand, my heart and soul goes into each work of art. Just as you make the right selections for your client, I too feel that this is so important to put out here in blog land. I am figuring out a post along these lines.
    Thanks for this post.

  • The Blasphemous Fiendess says:

    I love the pieces in the last photo, with the round mirror, but am puzzled about the colours. To me the floor tile is pinky beige and grey, while the wall is a pale yellow/green. Why are they together?

  • Maria Killam says:

    Hi Fiendess,
    I loved the image so I posted it, you are absolutely right though, good eye!

    And it might be that the camera didn't pick it up correctly!

    Can't sneak anything past my readers 🙂

  • Marlo says:

    I do need more tacit knowledge! I wish you could just beam some over to me Maria so I could skip the experience part…or not. Maybe the journey of learning is the fun part. 🙂

    I totally agree about paint chips that look pretty but not so pretty on the wall. I had the opposite experience where I didn't like it on the little chip or the big chip(reeeeally didn't like it) but loved it on the wall. Just love it!

  • The Blasphemous Fiendess says:

    I know what Marlo is saying; I've had that experience before. I'm sure it is because the paint colour is right for its context. On a paint chip it isn't n context. That's why some of those mud and sludge colours can look good in a room. Maria could probably design a room based on mint green and I would like it, or at least admit that the room as a whole looked good, even though I will go to my grave swearing I loathe mint green.

  • Karena says:

    That sofa color is gorgeous. I would love to use that delicious shade!!

  • Annie, bossy color says:

    Ah, that elusive combination of tacit knowledge and formal education! I used to be kind of sheepish about the fact that I have good color instinct. I thought, "Why should I charge so much for something that comes naturally to me?"

    The answer: because it doesn't come naturally to everyone. Thanks for another great post, Maria!

  • Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner) says:

    Another fascinating & brilliant post… This idea of tacit knowledge applies to everything! It can't be "taught" and it makes any professional that much more valuable.

  • Ruthie's Renewed Treasures says:

    Perfectly said Maria. I also want that last picture to be my house! Beautiful!


  • thewelcomehome says:

    I love your blog. Your posts are well-informed and well written. I also appreciate your advice for bloggers. I have resolved to use better blogging ettiquetts thanks to you!

  • Between you, me and the Fencepost says:

    I order sushi all the time anyway . . . xo

  • MicheleB says:

    There is nothing like experience (good and bad) to give you that tacit knowledge. I am reminded of this with each new client/project I work on. Even choosing paint for my own walls has taught me lessons that I apply to my business. Great post Maria!

  • stylisholmes says:

    The stairwell is gorgeous like woah!

  • Laura Trevey says:

    Thank you so much for ALL of your sweet comments, and have a wonderful weekend!!

    xoxo Laura

  • Charlotte Poetschner says:

    Been wondering how to jump in so thought I'd respond to the tacit knowledge thing. Might have to say something about rainbows, too.

    What do you do with a person whose colors are all locked inside. I have a deep love for color and a wide treasury of colors in the memory bank, but I have not been able to see for over 20 years.

    I do have favorite colors, but have no clue whether a sales person at a clothing store or a color consultant at a paint store names colors the same way I do. There are colors I love and can see in my mind's eye which I am not sure how to describe.

    Tomorrow I sit down with an interior designer in the hope that flooring, paint, and a color scheme can emerge … for a family room with limited natural light, a low ceiling, and nothing to use as a go-to inspiration since no area rug or upholstery has yet been selected.

    Intuition and language will have to do a dance with inspiration and trust.

    All I know is that I want something rich enough in color on the walls to create warmth and casual elegance. For some reason I'm imagining an orangy brown terracotta? But then I stop. If I say "terracotta", which means "burnt earth", what color will the other person think I mean?

    Then somewhere my brain pulls up a buttery cream … but there are so many ways that could be interpretted.

    Oh, maybe I should just let the decorator do it … Can't see the colors, but the colors in my environment do matter to me. I've avoided the inside of my house for years, trusting the choices of the previous owner although they weren't exactly what I would have picked. I went into the garden instead and learned how to grow plants and create color palates for containers.

    Sorry this is so long … Just musing along on a Sunday afternoon.

    Your blog, by the way, is quite captivating even for a reader who can't see the pictures.


Leave a Reply