• 23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam {via pinterest}

    This post is really fun because I asked all my True Colour Experts™ to give me their best advice and this was the first tip that arrived in my in-box, it might be the best one yet:

    Measure your furniture BEFORE you go out to shop for coffee tables

    "Okay, so you're going out the door to the store to buy new ned tables and a coffee table, STOP RIGHT THERE! Get out a notebook and measuring tape, measure the height of the sofa arm or chair arm you want a tables beside, you will need this measurement to find an end table.

    Measure the width of the seating area of your sofa (between the arms) and measure the height to the seat, you will need these measurements to purchase the right width of coffee table and height.

    Follow these guidelines:

    End tables should be 1 to 2 inches lower than sofa or chair arm.

    Width of coffee table is no more than 3/5 th 's between the arms of sofa.

    Height of coffee table is not lower than 3 inch difference to height of seat (if not the egonomics of the pieces will be off and feel and look wrong)

    Most clients come into our store with no idea of what they need. I think more buy the wrong size and height and have to live 15 years with their mistake, no one and I mean no salesperson will tell you to go home and measure and come back so we can find you the right piece, because you might not come back!

    So you'll just buy something that day and might never know what's wrong, you'll just know that somethings not right with your room"

    Interior Designer doing measures for Lazboy, Carol Ann Makely 

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    {Too high and coffee table a little too small, windows more than make up for it}

    If you find that you have end tables that are too high, move them at least 5 inches away from the sofa.

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    {Lovely space–coffee table slightly too low, flowers totally distract you from that fact}


    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam {Just right}

    Inexpensive art might be sitting in your house


    Vintage magazines and old books often have neat drawings that when framed in a grouping provide instant character and originality. . . and it won't break the bank!

    Paint your low ceiling black


    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    {via pinterest}

    Painting your low, exposed basement ceiling black, it helps it to recede, think night sky. This black hole background will provide emphasis on all other light coloured elements in the space. You want people to notice your furnishings, art, statement light fixtures–NOT your ceiling height (or lack there of).

    Kathy Zaeske, Your Favourite Room

    Love or just like?


    "You don’t have to love every element in your room on its own. The wall colour might look drab on the chip; the area rug may not seem interesting enough; the pattern for the accent chair might feel too bold. Remember that none of these items has to carry the space on their own.

    It’s important to pull back and look at the big picture and see how they will work together to make your room look fantastic."

    Carol Standil, Carol Standil Colour & Design

    Create a Plan and Stick with it


    "The number one secret I tell my clients is to have a plan and don't deviate from it. Whether they want to renovate a room or simply spruce up a space, I suggest they go to Houzz or Pinterest and find an inspiration room.

    Refer to this image as each decision is made whether it is choosing a finish or purchasing a lamp. If it doesn't provide the same look and feel as the inspiration room, then make a choice that does." 

    Jodi Pear, Jodi Pear Designs

    Light Switches and Thermostat Locations


    Think about where to put your light switches and thermostats when completing electrical work and renovations. 36" off the floor instead at eye level and NEVER in the centre of a wall. They too often get in the way of hanging art.

    Eugi Triandos, Triandos Creations

    Best Tip for Coffee Table Styling


    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    "Here's my secret for styling a coffee table. Just divide it into equally-sized sections first.

    A rectangular table is three sections, a round or square table is divided into four.

    What to fill the sections with? A stack of books, a plant or a vase of flowers, a piece of sculpture or a unique basket, a tray with a collection of related items, a pretty bowl with or without fruit, or a great box (that can also hold your TV remotes). This is a great place to inject colour into your room.

    An oversize square table can often fit a fifth section in the center. Put the tallest item there. Top your stack of books with a pretty decorative object and you're done!"

    Allyson Paris Design

    Best Tips for Hanging Artwork


    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    {via pinterest}

    "1. Off-centre the small piece of art on a wall and connect it (group it) with a small piece of furniture such as a reading chair or a console (instead of plunking it in the middle of the wall)

    2. Off-centre the small piece of art in relationship to a sofa.  Balance is then created by carefully placing decorating elements such as pillows and throws on the sofa, together with the empty space on the wall on the other side of the art. The empty space then becomes part of the entire grouping (sofa/ art/ empty space/ decorative items on the sofa)

    3. Group small pieces of art together on one wall instead of spreading them around the room. In this way, they become one bigger piece, creating impact. The empty walls now become a place to rest the eyes, which is important to have in a balanced design."

    Livia Drennan, Your Story by Design

    Hooks Instead of Towel Bars    

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam


    Instead of a towel bar, mount 3-5 nice hooks 68" high for your towels.

    Gwen DeBruyn, Bayberry Cottage

    Remember, You're the Boss

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    "I’m always amazed that clients feel that thier color decisions need to be made on a painters timeline. I advise clients that if they are not sure about the color or have not taken the time to sample, do NOT feel rushed to make a choice because of a painter pressuring you! Nicely, ask the painter to push your job back a bit. He may not be happy but not as unhappy as you will be when the wrong color goes up on your walls."
    Diane C. Golin, Color Harmony Consulting

    Size really Does Matter

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
     Ensure your new furniture will fit through the doors, or the elevator, BEFORE you purchase.

    Keep the Plumbing in the Same Place

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    If at all possible, keep your plumbing in the same place, when renovating. It's very expensive to move and you would need to move vent stacks (hidden in the wall) as well.
    Jil Sonia McDonald, Jil Sonia Interiors

    The World is NOT Your Oyster When Decorating

    "Every decorating decision you make impacts every subsequent decision and shuts the door on some options." 

    Down/feather vs. Synthetic Pillow Forms

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    "You can find great fabric at budget prices, but don't skimp on pillow
    forms. A down/feather mix or synthetic version of down will elevate any
    pillow (plus you'll be able to do the karate chop if you so desire!)"

    The Real Scoop on Recessed Lighting

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    Please do not rely on recessed can lights to light up your room! They
    cast unflattering shadows on people's faces (and are even rumored to
    accentuate the look of cellulite!) A mix of sconces and lamps is best, but
    at the very least invest in a pair of large scaled lamps (around 30" high
    or more).

    Get your Television to look like Art

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    {via House of Turquoise}
    "A clever way to work your "over the fireplace TV" into the design. Use it as art! . You can upload your favourite  photos (or buy professional ones off the internet)  to your Smart TV. When the TV isn't being used for it's intended purpose,  you just switch over to your photo selection. Voila! no more black hole."

    Need Inspiration? Look in your Closet


    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    "Are you lacking inspiration for your space?  Feeling as though you don’t have direction?  Start  in your closet, yes I said your closet.  After some analysis of the things you wear you will gain some insight into your design aesthetic.   For instance, is your closet full of color or neutrals,  prints or solids, modern or or classic, tailored or laid back?
    Analyzing your closet will bring you clarity on where to begin in designing your space. The things you choose to wear are a good indication of what surroundings will feel the most comfortable, that is unless you are a nudist."
    Melissa Clark, In Chic Order

    Create a Conversation Area

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    When staging a home, one of the things that always makes a quick, huge impact is to move the living room furniture away from the walls to create a conversation area.  Move 2 chairs opposite a sofa, for instance, with about 8' between them. Put the coffee table in the center. I like to center this grouping in front of a focal point like a fireplace, or windows with a view. Instant coziness for the room whether you are selling or staying!

    Use Mirrors to Extend a View

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    "Mirrors are a great way to bring light in and make a room seem larger, but don't forget to take into account "the view" that's reflected in it. I think they are a missed opportunity if you hang the mirror in front of a blah tableau (blank wall, boring door etc) Think of it as an opportunity to multiply light, color and interest in a room!"
    Leslie Ann Huntley, Roost Interior Design

    Edit, Edit, Edit

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    "When a room isn't working, many people make the mistake of bringing in something new, when really they should be doing the very opposite — taking things away. Edit! Edit! Edit! Best to start by stripping the room completely, then add back one piece at a time (starting with the largest pieces) getting the room in balance and working with the architecture."
    Susan Hargraves, Rooms that Work

    Secrets to being on Time and on Budget 

    What I have noticed when a client wants to have some design work done there is often a fear of it costing too much and taking longer to complete than expected. 
    I always tell clients when I begin a project that I have a "trades day". Meaning,
    I have one day when I schedule every trade working on the project to come to the site in 30 minute intervals and I go through the project with each of them. They are engaged right from the beginning, they can see the big picture and I can establish a timeline for the project. This is my secret for being on time and on budget!

    Measure colour with Paint Samples

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    I personal shop for clients frequently and one thing I have found  to be very helpful is to “measure” color with paint samples.  This works in a few ways.  If I am consulting at the home of a new client and know that I will need the exact color of their sofa but they have no swatch to give me, I open up my box of paint samples and find the closest possible match to “measure” it.  I immediately make a note of it and put the actual sample directly in to the file.  Although I do also take a photo of it, I prefer not to rely on the photo for actual color representation.
    Similarly, if I have purchased an area rug for a client but my shopping is not yet complete, I will use paint samples to “measure” all the various colors of the rug , clip them together , label them, and put them in the file to continue my shopping.  This way I can make sure I have a perfect representation of the rug right in the file while I am shopping for pillows, accents, etc.   This is so much more convenient than trying to haul around large bulky items while you shop!

    Maximize your Exterior Curb Appeal

    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam

    "Once a home’s exterior painting is complete, maximize the curb appeal by adding BARK MULCH to top dress garden beds (on the West Coast, I recommend 2” of composted BLACK conditioning mulch) to create a neat tidy appearance. The added benefit: you won’t have to weed or water as much in the summer. This is a super tip to make your landscape beds look high end."

    Catherine Kennedy, Trio Colour | Landscape | Staging

    If your'e in Vegas for Market, come join us at the gala awards dinner below:
    23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You | Maria Killam
    As I told you last week, I'm nominated for an education award along with some other amazing women. I really love the Withit community and can't wait to see them all again next weekend!
    There's still spaces left in my Specify Colour with Confidence™ course in Vancouver in February!
    Here's what Carol Ann Makely said about my course:

    "Maria Killam's class on colour changed how I design… how I see colour, pull fabrics together and pick paint… I see colour differently everywhere I look after being in her class, bad combinations I might not have noticed before stand out now!  I feel like a better interior designer, somehow I know I am doing a much better job for my clients since taking her classes. Her colour boards have been amazing to use…her books have been so so helpful.

    PS. I took the class twice, just wanted to be with her again, she is very inspiring to be around and listen to… her way of seeing colour changes how you feel about your job, taking Maria Killam's class is worth it every penny… including my flight from Calgary to Vancouver, hotels & taxi's twice!"

    Carol Anne Makely, interior designer Calgary AB

    "I took Maria’s TCE training after following her blog for a couple of years and hiring her for a personal consult.

    I am NOT a decorator consultant.  I am the owner of a couple of homes that I want to feel good in – I want the furnishings and finishing to not be fighting with each other or screaming for attention.   Being up with the latest trend and constantly on the lookout for something I should buy, covet or change is FAR from my strength or area of interest.  And what I love about Maria’s advice and training is that it worked for me as well as the professional decorator.

    Firstly, it is practical and honest.  Maria’s training shows you how to break the decision making into manageable components- differentiating between fixed and trendy elements, identifying priorities, and understanding what will boss you around no matter what other great decorating decisions you might make.  This has really helped me handle being overwhelmed or intimidated in the decision making process.  Maria is not a decorating snob – she gives straight shooting advice, has a sense of humour, and can acknowledge where she has made mistakes."

    Kathy Bestwick, West Vancouver, BC

    Register here to become a True Colour Expert in 2015!

    Which Tip is your favourite?

    Related posts:

    What it Looks Like to be in a Private Forum

    Is This the Year You'll Transform Your Dirty Little Secret?

    How I Became a True Colour Expert


    25 Responses to 23 Things ONLY a Designer will Tell You

    1. Mary Wallace Poole says:

      Congratulations on your upcoming award, Maria!

    2. Maggie S says:

      Great post!
      I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that you will the award!

    3. Cherie says:

      Great summary of useful designer tips! I use almost every one – except the black ceiling. I've done black walls, but have never tried it on the ceiling. I have seen it on a high ceiling in an eclectic space, and it was a gorgeous accent.

      Congratulations on the award nomination!

    4. Kay says:

      Great tips, Maria.

      Could you explain the use of the term "width" in decorating? I'm often confused because my understanding has always been that width refers to the shorter of two dimensions and length to the longer. When you say that a coffee table should be no wider than 3/5 of the distance between the arms of a sofa, I believe you're referring to what I would call length–but maybe not! And do you mean the distance between the inside of the arms (the seat length) or the outside?

      I'm rooting for you! No one else has helped me understand so much about color and decorating in general.

      • carol anne says:

        yes the width between the 2 arms is the distance between the inside of the arms… I use this … measurement of anything (between the arms) divided by 5 = ___ that number x 3 = _____ (the right amount in inches.
        width is 84" divided by 5 = 16.8… 16.8 x 3 = 50.4… the coffee table should be about 50" or so inches wide x 30"? …
        I use this for anything I want to know what measurement I need. Art over fireplace, art over a sofa, mirror over a console… and the measurement can be around that … in other words 48" to 52", gives me a guide for the scale of a piece to another piece… hope that helps Carol Ann x

    5. Mary-Illinois says:

      Better make room on your mantel for the award you'll be coming home with.
      All the tips you were provided with are great. But placing light switches 36" from the floor seems low to me.

    6. sandyc says:

      All my fingers and toes are crossed along with my eyes that the WOW education award for 2015 will sit on your mantel sometime Monday, January 19. I SEE IT THERE!

      Great tips and thank you and your True Colour Experts for sharing with us. I love Jodi Pear's advice about choosing an inspiration pic from Houzz or Pinterest, etc. AND her suggestion for using the pic – look for items that give you the LOOK and FEEL (rather than getting hung up on finding exact items). A lot more fun and often much easier. Also, love the use of hooks instead of towel bars. My toilet/shower "room" is tiny and, other than the one on the shower door, there's no place to put a towel bar except behind the door to the area which is awkward. I've had a 2-hook oil-rubbed bronze adjustable coat rack from Pier 1 for several years and it works perfectly in that small space (matches the small dark-framed window above the shower as well. Lots of other good tips here too.

    7. beckyqtoo says:

      very timely….as we are in process of buying new furniture and the info on measuring has assured us that we can get it through the door.

      Also wondering if the advice on end tables goes for night stands too?

      • carol anne says:

        yes pretty much, I think night stands can be an inch or two higher than the mattress … always at least the height of the mattress Happy shopping x

    8. JaneBIVL says:

      Now I know why my side tables around the living room sofa look so odd. I bought a coffee table from Pier One for my office that could NEVER work with any sofa, at it's height. I get it now. So I'll be on the look out for replacements. Brilliant post!

    9. Congrats on your nomination, bet you'll win! And, thanks for all the great tips. I really like the ones about measuring, which is so important. I think most people just choose furniture they like without thinking about space and proportion.

    10. traci zeller says:

      Those are fantastic tips, Maria! I'm so excited about your nomination; it is incredibly well-deserved. I just wish I could be there! I will add to the measuring tip. For some reason, round tables work fine if they are higher than the sofa arm. But square or rectangular ones never do!

    11. Lucy HAINES says:

      Maria, You are one in a million! You are bound to win the award. We will all be praying for you.

      I have read so many tips on paint colors and designer tips on their favorite whites or colors. If they had your course they then would be able to explain why the colors worked for them (or in a lot of cases – did not work for them!). They act like there are tried and true colors that work for every project. Oh how your theory is needed by every designer.

      Best of luck winning the award.

      P.S. What dates will you be in LA? Would love to meet you.

    12. JoanneGizele says:

      Lots of great tips! I'm so much happier with hooks than towel bars. A haphazardly hung towel looks much nicer on a hook than a bar.

      Best of luck with the award!

    13. Carol-Anne says:

      Lots of great info here.

      (My only negative comment is that there are a few typos in this post….and that's really unusual for you!)

    14. Congratulations on your nomination! Well deserved! Great tips but one caveat to the "on time and on budget" tip: recognize that even a small design change can lengthen the time.

    15. megeranski says:

      Toes are wiggling, so excited about your nomination! I know I speak for all when I say, albeit corny, you have already won that award and others, in our HEARTS. And ALL of us have already voted you THE BEST! Holding breath, in hopes others see your talent as clearly as we do!

    16. Beth says:

      Congrats on your nomination – I know you'll have a fabulous time in Vegas.

      I love Beth Batke's tips of taking color swatches with you to the store – so much easier than carrying a big pillow around!

    17. Claire says:

      Loved hearing all these fabulous tips, I always learn something new in this fascinating world of design! Best of luck for the awad, you are already a winner in my book!

    18. tara dillard says:

      Went to new client meeting yesterday with contractor. It was his new client.

      They wanted sod, and privacy hedging.

      She knew what she wanted.

      Their home is older, with someone in the past having done a great job of stone walls, edging.

      She knew what she wanted.

      I chatted with her about a few ideas, choices, all easily done and inexpensive. They have 2 young sons.

      She knew what she wanted.

      The husband was chatty chuck, and helpful. With her back turned he whispered the beautiful planted pots were all she would truly do.

      My contractor, unaware of my conversations with her, suggested a few ideas to her.

      She knew what she wanted.

      I kept it light, kept smiling, and felt so sorry for her. She had 60 years, combined, of award winning talent/experience, honesty, teamwork, at her fingertips with a free consultation. It was my choice to tag along, free, with contractor, we were headed somewhere else afterward together.

      She knew what she wanted.

      She will get it.

      It will cost her more money than any of the ideas we tossed.

      She will no more use her space than she does now.

      She knows what she wants.

      Bless her heart.

      Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

    19. megeranski says:

      There are some TRULY AMAZING products out there, in the plumbing aisle. Moving MOST plumbing is not expensive anymore. (And moving a stack depends on the age of the plumbing. It CAN be more than a Big Mac meal, but if it is needed for the right solution, best to bite the bullet and do it. In my house, moving a stack is easy and cheap.)

      Moving all other plumbing is blissfully cheap and a do-it-yourself job these days (if you are willing). It is super easy, super cheap, and moving regular everyday stuff is something your mom can do.

      It is a myth, to say, in a blanket statement, that moving plumbing is costly. If you want to move non-stack stuff, and it is costly, find a plumber who is not gouging you. Or do some research and be delighted that you can do it, if you so prefer.

      The rest of the tips are keepers, am marking this post as a favorite!!

    20. Noemi Ramos says:

      Great post! This is really good published article. Such a great yet interesting post. Thank you very much for sharing this nice articles and your tips. Congratulations to you, God Bless!!!

    21. Kate says:

      Great tips (but don't think I would want light switches 36" from the floor).

    22. Anna says:

      Some great tips, but the tip about using your TV as artwork is problematic: the individual pixels on any screen (TV or computer) will be damaged if they're used constantly. That's the reason there are 'screen savers' which CHANGE the image frequently.

      If something similar can be setup for your TV which will alternate a couple of images, all is well, but if it's just one image be forewarned!

    23. Pingback: » 6 Quick Changes To Update Your Home In One Day

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