Take Risks with Your Decor Rather than your Clients

Two years ago, when we lived in our townhouse downtown, I chose the wrong fabric for my new chair and ottoman. I was so embarrassed. That's why it's taken me this long to tell you about it.

Take Risks with Your Decor NOT your Clients

I had my yellow sofa (above) and that was an easy choice for me to make. I love yellow. But I was having trouble actually committing to a second colour.

Designers hate making decisions on their own house. Something more fabulous could walk in the door with the fabric rep next week, or while sourcing for a client, we might see something even better than what we bought last week.  Most of us would rather leave the decisions for our own interiors until the end of time. But, I couldn't do that, I have a blog.

Terreeia likes black and white so when I found this sundial pattern, I thought, 'It's kind of Colour Me Happy' so I shipped it to my upholster.

Take Risks with Your Decor Rather than your Clients

When it arrived on a Friday, my housekeeper was there that day and she said "Maria, where black was the accent colour before your chair came, now it's the main colour". 'I know', I said, horrified.

Take Risks with Your Decor Rather Than your Clients

The most interesting part about this mistake was that I could literally FEEL all the black in the room. The area rug was black and white, my vintage outdoor dining set (above) was black and white, my entertainment console and now the black and white chair. I have never actually felt any colour as profoundly as I did that day.

Well, I couldn't stand it.

Monday, I immediately shipped it back and ordered this green fabric from Robert Allen instead.

Take Risks with Your Decor Rather than your Clients

And here it is and I was very happy.

In our new house, we didn't have room for it in the living room so it's now happily sitting in Terreeia's office.

So here's the lesson of the day:

Do NOT let something you don't love hold your decor hostage. Mistakes are a part of life especially in the world of custom. And if you're a designer, the place to experiment and take risks is your own house.

How many dinners, weekends, flowers, and trips have we spent money on and it's gone. But suddenly we make a decorating mistake and we operate like we have to live with it forever because, well, we paid good money for it, and look, you can see it, it's right in front of you. That's harder to do with dinner or flowers.

Better to have the space be empty than live with something you hate is all I'm saying.

I really love my green chair now. It's why I sell colour over neutrals as often as possible to my clients.

PS. After I finished writing this post today, I decided not to publish it again (because I was worried about looking bad) but then I got a call from my workroom saying that the fabric for my bedroom drapes was all crooked and was not lining up. After I spoke to my fabric rep for 40 minutes and she assured me that the look was 'relaxed' and wasn't designed to match, we decided that instead of taking 3 hours out of my day to drive to my workroom tomorrow to look at them, we'll finish having them made and install them and see what we think. Then we got to talking about how hard it is to decorate your own house and she told me about a chair and ottoman she recently sold a friend because she found a better one for her living room somewhere else.

So I figured, it's a sign, I'm posting this even though it makes me look bad.

Related posts:

Managing Client Expectations

Authenticity. . . The Currency of the Future

What to do Before you Get Fired from your Corporate Job

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, become a client. On-line or In-person.

Download my eBook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It's All in the Undertones to get my complete step-by-step system on 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 how to choose colour with confidence, become a True Colour ExpertVancouver in September and October in Toronto. 

71 Responses to Take Risks with Your Decor Rather than your Clients

  1. Lynne says:

    Maria, I heard about you from my sister in upstate New York who consulted you on her fab kitchen renovation. I was not such a fan (undertones that don't go together?). But your simple honesty and straightforwardness have completely won me over. You are so refreshing, I will now listen to what you say about undertones and decorating in general! And I have to admit, my sister's kitchen is a pretty wonderful advertisement as well.

  2. Kathy says:

    Thank you for so much for posting this. It doesn't make you look bad. It makes you human like the rest of us and helps us "decorating novices" to know we don't have to be perfect and afraid to try if even with experience, you can make mistakes. I find I am so afraid of making a mistake, that I don't begin. By seeing even you, "the expert", try something and still need a "do over", I know that the many mistakes I made are just learning experiences, not proof that I really don't know what I like or what I'm doing. Thank you for being "transparent" and risking. You are brave.

  3. Nancy says:

    Oh Maria… Thanks so much for sharing. It know it wasn't easy but really, you've just shared that even us decorating professionals know how hard it is to make decisions when it comes to decorating our homes. When we make mistakes we can relate when a client feels that same sinking feeling when they know they've made a mistake. Which usually is when they call us and come over with understanding and new samples.

  4. Carrie says:

    Thanks for this post, Maria! I'm most certainly not a designer but I do tend to wait on purchases because I'm not certain that I won't find something that looks better. It's nice to hear that even designers have these issues!!

  5. Anne says:

    It doesn't make you look bad, it makes you look human, and it makes people able to relate to you more easily.

  6. Oh Maria,

    Thanks so much for posting this, we've all been there and it doesn't make you look bad at all – just human. Thanks for your insight and honesty!

  7. Bridget says:

    I LOVE this post. We all make mistakes. When we make great choices we are empowered.When we make mistakes we learn. Both enable us to grow personally and professionally.

  8. Ginger Kay says:

    I'm glad you posted this. Seeing that even the professionals make mistakes makes it less intimidating for us do-it-yourself-ers.

  9. I'm glad you posted it, too. It makes me feel better about the huge, gorgeously patterned Amy Butler rug I got for our living room that turned out to be a disaster because none of the colors relate to anything we own or aspire to own.

  10. Sunday Wilson says:

    Thank you so much. I paid 1300 per chair and liked the swatch but the chairs were hideous and I can't even sell them. I put them in the guest room where I don't have to look and them and have yet to replace them.

  11. The black sundial worked, IMHO, and don't see how it made you look 'bad'. You just liked the green better. :>

  12. debbie says:

    Thanks for sharing Maria. I hated my red sofa 2 weeks after it was in my home. You put it into perspective. Now I can get rid of it.

  13. jamie says:

    So, I've been in love with your work, blog and style for a while and then I read this post http://www.mariakillam.com/my-one-big-secret-you-dont-know/ and fell in love with you even more. And now this! Thank you for being authentic, true to yourself and an amazing designer. Your work is about problem solving; it goes without saying that comes along with some trial and error. There is this untruth floating around that artists don't make mistakes. They just throw some things into the air and beauty is the result every time. Because of your honesty, you have just inspired countless people to take a risk. Fear is the enemy of creativity and if we're all a little more honest about our flops, we encourage others to approach life courageously. As a result, this world could end up being an even more beautiful place!

  14. Ellen says:

    Pretty much any designer will make a misstep once in a blue moon. We learn & tend not to make it again. Sometimes they are good examples for clients, who have "analysis paralysis" and can't make a single decision.
    It proves we are human & can only anticipate so many possibilities… in the hundreds if not thousands of decisions we guide folks with everyday.

  15. BillP says:

    I don't find the chair objectionable, but would have put a different pillow on it. Glad you like the green better.

  16. StagerLinda says:

    Love the green chair and ottoman. Thank you for giving a voice to what designers struggle with in their own homes. I am still a being held hostage by some errors of judgement. I may take a deep breath and try to correct the biggest mistake! Thanks so much for sharing Maria! You don't look bad–you look like a hero.

  17. It doesn't make you look bad…it makes you human. Your honesty also increases your credibility and earns you the trust of your audience.

  18. Jill McDougall says:

    It really is so dang hard to design your own house! I've been driving myself crazy the past year as we've gone through our building process- obsessing, waking up in the middle of the night in a panic, second guessing my decisions, and the best one of all- having the the entire interior painted ultra pure white because I'm too afraid to choose a color!! There, that's my admission as a designer, very embarrassed about that one.

    I do appreciate your comments about getting furniture with color as opposed to neutral. I'll push myself in this direction!

    Thanks for sharing. Right there with ya.
    xoxo,
    Jill

  19. Jennifer says:

    Not bad Maria – human! I agree, it's nearly impossible doing your own house when you are in the industry. We know too much and we always think there may be something better. I lived with a bare bulb above my dining room table for 5 years because I could not find and commit to a light fitting.

    When I renovated my house, I was driving my designer friends nuts consulting with them on many decisions. But in the end it all works out.

    Jennifer xx

  20. It's so true about how we live with mistakes for one reason or another. Thank you for putting this issues in perspective. It's as though you've given us permission to move on when something doesn't work.

    • Alicia Stavropoulos says:

      I wholeheartedly agree. And your analogy about the money we spend for pure enjoyment on a regular basis, and which cumulatively far exceeds the cost of recovering a piece of furniture is a great one! Why shouldn't we give ourselves permission to change something that we don't end up liking? Great post! Thank you for sharing.
      Alicia

  21. Melanie says:

    All I can say is thank you for taking the risk. As you have read no one thinks you look bad. Your post has just saved me – well my decor anyway. I too have black accents and was thinking about getting a black chair occasional chair and that would have totally done to my room what your chair did to yours. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Melanie

  22. Monique says:

    Oh Maria, you are adorable! Love this post for the same reasons everyone else has said. LOVE the chair in green, it definitely is more you.

  23. Mary in Ohio says:

    Great post.
    "How many dinners, weekends, flowers, and trips have we spent money on and it's gone. But suddenly we make a decorating mistake and we operate like we have to live with it forever because, well, we paid good money for it, and look, you can see it, it's right in front of you. That's harder to do with dinner or flowers."
    SO TRUE!!
    Thank you. I agree with Monique, the green is more you
    ;)
    Mary in Ohio

  24. Carol says:

    And I thought I was the only one! My husband and I moved two years ago. I've been held hostage by the placement of the cable outlet and our bedroom furniture arrangement has been dictated by the previous owners. I'm calling the Cable Guy today!

  25. Lori Fischer says:

    Maria!

    thank you!! being relatively new to this field, this is such a wonderfully, reassuring post! and you are so right–why do we feel like we have to live with something we don't love & can't spend the extra money, time etc to fix it. comparing your design expenditures to dinners and vacation really puts it in such a new light. thank you!!

  26. Linda says:

    I doubte there is a single designer or homeowner who can honestly say they never made a decorating mistake. We've all been there so you shouldn't feel worried about what anyone thinks. As I always tell myself, decorating mistakes are not brain surgery. No one is injured, just our ego is bruised.

  27. colleen wedge says:

    I vote with the many: this is a wonderfully inspiring post for all of us novices, DIY'ers, and decor challenged. Thanks for sharing, and I'd love to see more of these. It's reassuring to know that even a pro of your stature can't foresee absolutely everything! Keep it coming, I love this blog.

  28. Linda says:

    Maria thanks for being brave and sharing. I think we can make mistakes when we try please the rest of the household, sometimes it works and other times it doesn't – no harm done.

  29. Kathryn Mueller says:

    Thanks for validating what I have been feeling. Now I just need to get over my fear of committing to color………….I live in white, gray, black, brown world with a little yellow thrown in!
    May need to have my husband read this……..he thinks you should live with the stuff even if you hate it!

  30. PRyan says:

    Couldn't agree more about making decisions on your own house. I've been ready to repaint and get new chairs for a year…(Having a husband who doesn't like change is also a challenge!) Why is it we can convince a client to listen to you, but you can't get your significant other to? HA
    Love your honesty Maria

  31. annie thaler says:

    Totally relate to your dilemma! I become paralyzed with fear when I have to make a decision for my own home.
    There are reasons… it has to be perfect because that's what people expect, there will always be something better and newer in the next fabric or lighting or furniture collection and then I'll be sorry … why didn't I wait. It can drive a girl crazy!

  32. Aussie says:

    Doesn't make you bad Maria, makes you real. Still waiting for T's post.

  33. Kelly says:

    Bad? No. Human? Yes.

  34. Lauretta says:

    Great post. Thanks for doing it with pictures too. You're so right about how we spend money on things we just do once and don't worry about and then hang on to our mistakes – whether it is furniture, clothing, art, jewellry, etc. Your post is giving me the courage to let go of "stuff" that doesn't matter any more.

  35. Erica says:

    I think, as designers, we need to somehow experience these principles to become better designers ourselves. I know if I have a client that can't decide on a fabric, I'll tell her my experience with going with the safe, on trend grey fabric instead of the deep teal one that I think about every time I look at my sofa – until of course I replace it…soon :)

  36. Kari says:

    Love this point from your post: Why can we spend "good money" on special dinners, weekend trips, etc. – which are fleeting – but feel we have to live forever with decorating mistakes?

    Almost like we're punishing ourselves, "Well, you paid for it and now you're going to live with it."

    Bah, just fix it and be happy.

  37. Shar says:

    What I took away from your post is "if you don't love it then don't live with it–fix it!" No biggie.

  38. Kathi says:

    Maria, at least you didn't make a mistake on your countertops like I did. I found your blog THE WEEK AFTER my granite was installed! I was told it was similar to Kashmir White but less expensive, and I incorrectly visualized what it ended up looking like in my kitchen. After it was installed, I saw how blotchy it was which is not the look I was going for. I'm treating this as a learning experience, though, a mistake I will NEVER make again! With my white Shaker cabinets and white subway tile, I'm going to make it work (got on the subway tile bandwagon after discovering your blog, thank the Lord, ha ha)

  39. Norma Fournier says:

    Maria: I love your post and willingness to be vulnerable. It helps me even more than everything you get right! Thank you so much!

  40. samia says:

    I am so glad I am not alone in this.. but I still wish there was a magic wand that could fix everything.. and i really want to know if there was a way where I could make minimum mistakes and get away with it

  41. Susan@Susan Silverman Designs says:

    I can SO relate with you on this subject. Not only have I made colour mistakes in my own home but also furniture mistakes, or I see something I like better for myself when I take a client out. I call it an "occupational hazard". I'm going on my 3rd living room sofa in 8 yrs. of living in my new house. I wonder if my husband will notice lol.

    xo

  42. Lisa says:

    Maria, I'm so relieved to read that it's normal for decorators to have trouble with their own homes. I thought maybe it was just me. Thank you for sharing your "mistake" with us. It makes you seem more human and is a learning experience for everyone.

  43. Marcy says:

    I think this post makes you look good since you're willing to admit mistakes and I also appreciate the lesson on accent color – sometimes an example of what not to do is very helpful.

  44. What's that famous Goethe quote: "Be brave and mighty forces will come to your aid." (?) Something like that and by posting this, you've been brave and then rewarded by all the support here (and maybe new business). I love how that works. AND I'm amazed at how often I see experienced, interior designers make huge mistakes on popular, HGTV shows… so you're in good company and no one is judging :)))

  45. So my first thought is that we only learn from mistakes! (And we all know that we have to move forward from mistakes.)
    And then a story…I worked in a textile Showroom and every day a designer would come in and search for her clients, but at the same time search for fabric for her sofa…TWO YEARS later she found the perfect fabric. Reupholstered her sofa, put the house on the market, sold it with all the furniture…within a month! CRICKY! She then started the process all over! (You designers! I do sometimes give my head a shake!)

  46. Rochelle says:

    This post gives me such relief! I am not a designer, but selected a family room couch 6 months ago. Once I renovated the kitchen area in the same space, the couch looked terrible. I had it recovered after only 6 months. My husband thought it was nuts, but I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one — and even experts can have glitches. Thanks for posting this! (I think even more highly of you than before!)

  47. Susan says:

    This post does not make you look bad!! In fact, you have risen several steps in my book. Besides, don't you think we learn at LEAST as much from our mistakes as we do from our successes? I am currently reading your e-book on selecting colors, and love that you chose vibrant, happy colors for your home. I have been decorating for years, based on what is expected (neutral, dull), and am breaking out of that in retirement and doing what I want. Today I am painting my front door lime green. I am sure the neighboorhood busy bodies are buzzing! Too bad, because I LOVE it! Thanks for your honesty. It just makes you more real to us readers!

  48. SandyCGC says:

    Maria, totally agree with every comment above about you and looking "bad" – NOT. In fact, I think you can use this experience/post very well with new clients who seem fearful or hesitant or totally unsure and may be afraid to say anything other than OK because YOU are the designer. I think of the HGTV show I sorta watched the other day where the couple wanted a coastal look in their newly renovated home. When the designer brought in a zebra print for couch pillows and the husband balked, she smarted "that's what you're paying me for". In the name of all good designers, I sighed heavily. Sadly, neither he nor the wife had the courage to say they didn't want any zebras in their home. Everything about you, Maria, including your mistakes, just makes you approachable and, in the end, more successful.

    And the serendipity of the green chair – not the shade of green but I'm working up the courage to boldly go with the color green. By the way, I hope Terreeia is sitting comfortably in that chair in her office right now, reviewing her post on Italy to share with us!

  49. Tristan says:

    In the future could you talk about choosing and coordinating finishes for doorknobs, ceiling fans, faucets etc.? Are there design rules regarding these things? For instance, if doorknobs throughout the home are all bronze should all your light fixtures and bathroom/kitchen hardware be bronze too? Can you mix finishes and if so when? I greatly value your opinion.

    • Kay says:

      Yes, a post on that would be so helpful–too late for me, because I'm making all those decisions now. The kitchen mixes it up and works very well, which gives me courage to do some mixing elsewhere. In the new living room the painting over the mantel has an intensely gold frame, so I think I need gold sconces. But gold hardware will look bizarre on the cupboards and drawers in the built-ins, so I'll probably use satin nickel there. I've been stressing out about ceiling fixtures in the hall too–it's all very difficult. Thank you so much, Maria, for telling us about your mistake. Your willingness to be vulnerable is part of what makes you so lovable!

      • mairi says:

        I third the above request! What about it Maria? The metal elements in our homes are unavoidable and costly to replace so we need to be duly informed.
        I am coming to this post late, still catching up old posts after vacation!

  50. Barb says:

    Thank you Maria, my thoughts exactly!! I have the hardest time making a decision for my own home. Its embarrassing!!

  51. DAS says:

    I worked part-time for a well known Beverly Hills designer. She was dead-on with all her choices, restraint and her design eye. One day she put up all these fabulous mirrors in her own home. Looked great, but another designer visited and informed her that her mirrors had to go. It really is hard for really great designers to sometimes add things their own spaces. I have seen a few of them waffle over things (which surprised me). This level of designer understand that a second breezy opinion from a trusted designer friend sometimes is helpful. We get embroiled with doing things "right" in our own spaces and our intuition can take a temporary leave; so much easier to make unfettered judgments for clients.

  52. Angela Taylor says:

    Maria, you always make me smile because you are authentic:)

  53. Fran says:

    Far from making you look bad, this post just shows your readers that even the BEST designers and color experts can make an occasional misstep.

  54. Mary says:

    If the decorating thing doesn't work out, you could be a great lawyer. I always love how you argue or defend your choices.
    I have to remember your thoughts on how we spend our money the next time I try to replace a mistake & my husband gives me grief.

  55. Joy Schumann says:

    Maria: If I could pay myself by the hour when I have to make a decision for my own house I would be a millionaire! LOL Either decisions come instantly (usually the best ones, too) or it takes FOREVER when it comes to my own house. All of us in design feel the same way, I am sure, but it is hard to let people see "mistakes!" Your post just proves you are just a real person and we all love you for it.

  56. Laxmi Khan Jacob says:

    Burnt yellow is more what I like , but from where I come from everybody LOVES color. They will mix color with out a second thought . Browns, greens, yellows, oranges, purples, hues and tones go with everything and they dont fret about or talk about it , because that is the only way they know. Having moved to the western hemishphere, I am quite the antithesis of where I come from – White, greys, browns is what I will easily pair in my closet , but in my rooms – Yellow once upon a time adorned the east facing wall and it is the best color , when the sun grays in NY for many months. The other colors that are paired with Yellow are – Various hues of Blue and turquoise with an olive grey sofa . Orange and Brown pillows with a jacquard pattern embraces the yellow . So chow !

  57. I've made mistakes with color too and found it embarrassing. Years ago I chose some cheery yellow paint for my bedroom, and thought I didn't need to make a sample board. But when I started putting up the paint, I was horrified by how bright it was!!! I had to stop immediately and go back to the store for something more muted. Later on I learned that yellow is the most notorious color for going too bright. Now I'm way more careful with yellows.

  58. Kimberly Wright says:

    It doesn't make you look bad, just real! Which is one of the things I appreciate about you. This story and your advice to not live with something you don't love (even if it's a loss) are both a breath of fresh air! I honestly feel freedom that I didn't feel before, so I'm so glad you shared.

  59. Mary says:

    "Do NOT let something you don't love hold your decor hostage." Listen up, everyone! Maria is absolutely right about that lesson; I learned it the hard way. For years, I forced my frugal self to live with a custom sofa I knew was the wrong color from the moment the delivery men walked thru the door. (The fabric swatch looked "perfect!") Over the years, I wasted far too much time, labor (painting and more painting) and – ironically, money (on wrong-color-coordinated furnishings ) in an attempt to make that sofa work. Absolutely futile. The very worst part: I felt bad every time I walked into my living room. If I could go back in time, I would consider the cost of that sofa tuition money toward my education in decorating. And I would move on.

  60. Suemi says:

    Hi Maria,
    Love your post and the fact that you are human.
    Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to learn from you changing your mind.
    All the best.

  61. Joyce says:

    You're absolutely right, Maria! There is no greatness or braveness to be stuck to something that we don't like or just hate. Specially if it's related to decoration or painting, no compromise with the beauty. Time and often, we make mistakes in choosing stuff, doesn't necessarily mean that still we will keep it. I appreciate your thought to change it for sake of beauty and truth. Cheers!

  62. Shelly says:

    Hi Maria: I like the mirrored fireplace doors. Where can I find them? (I'm near Washington DC) I've been looking online and don't see it.
    Thank you.

    • Maria Killam says:

      They were not mirrored, just glass but they do seem to be reflecting like a mirror in that picture. That would probably be something you'd have to get custom made. Maria

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