If You’re Not Still Learning, You’re Dead

Schoolhouse Electric

So wow, I had no idea my post about pulls vs. knobs would generate such reactions. Some of you thought it was condescending, so I freaked out and changed the language immediately (one hour after the post went up) and apologized in the comments.

Some thought I was introducing a new way of specifying hardware (not the case), but again, I wasn’t clear.

Then I wrote, “Hey, if you’ve recently renovated, you might not want to read this post because once you’ve drilled holes in your cabinets  there’s nothing you can do to change it,” and again, I offended some of you.


I meant to write in a helpful tone that let you know, “Hey everyone, here’s another, easier option for those of you who are overwhelmed by all the hardware choices in the world,” instead of in the tone in which it landed.

So I thought I would write this post to help clear up the last one.

First, you should know that with every post, I find I’m writing to at least four different audiences.

Sometimes that’s hard to do without slightly annoying one or two or even three groups of readers when all I want to do is help every single one of you.

I think most of you will fall into one of these four groups. If you fall into a different group, I would love for you to post a comment below so I can meet you too!

The novice

The novice is someone who knows what they like when they see it (or you at least know for sure what you don’t like!) and knows enough to know they have NO IDEA how to make all the millions of design decisions they need to make.

I have such a soft spot for these readers when they make all the normal easy-to-make mistakes that a novice can make.

I’m writing for you, to save you from expensive mistakes.

There’s nothing to feel bad about if you fall into this group. I’m not an expert in everything (nor should I be), so there is no shame in landing here.

You may be in the middle of renovating your home, or looking to decorate and update your living spaces, or be lucky enough to be building your dream home. 

And what you really don’t want is to waste money on your way to getting the home you’ve always wanted.

My focus for you is to help you get it right the first time so you can love your house forever.

Atlanta Homes

When you’re a novice, you find it hard to visualize how your design decisions will look once they’re installed. And it’s not until that point that you can either be doing a happy dance or you can feel disappointment kick in.

Because, if you’re feeling disappointed, you can see where automatically choosing accent tile gets you, or how choosing a 4″ (or even worse, 6″ or 8″ pull) and installing one on every single door and two on each drawer will look. Or how choosing your favourite patterned countertop and pairing it with your favourite patterned tile may leave you feeling unfulfilled.

When you’re a novice, you might also have been bossed around by a hired designer.

Obviously, as a novice, you are not trained in design (and that’s why many of you end up in my workshops) and since you fall into this category you didn’t know how to push back when your designer had a vision and a plan for trendy stuff for your home, maybe leaving you less than happy with the end result.

The non-professional with a great eye

Atlanta Homes

The non-professional with a great eye is someone who is a big design enthusiast and has the knack to take their ideas and bring them to life. Their house is tastefully and beautifully decorated and everyone loves it.

I have such love for these readers, because they are right where I started and I remember how it feels to have a whole new world of colour and design open up.

I’m writing for you, to help you keep up with the trends and learn new tips and tricks to make your home even more beautiful.

Some of you attend my workshop because you might have experienced a colour mistake or three and then obsessively painted your walls a couple of time over to get it right, or called the contractor back to rip something out, and then took to the internet to get some help.

And you landed here.

When you found my blog (and this probably applies to many of you no matter which group you’re in) you finally realized you were not crazy. You knew your floor tile had a purple undertone and no one, not your spouse, your designer or your contractor, NO ONE else saw it but YOU.

There are literally thousands of comments on this blog from this group (well, from every category) who appreciate my no-nonsense, classic and timeless approach to design and choosing colour.

When you’re a non-professional with a great eye, you can easily get flooded with requests from friends and family to help them with their rooms and it may just lead you to becoming part of the next group.

The new designer 

Lauren Delroach

The new designer is someone who is in love with design and is filled with enthusiasm and a huge appetite to learn everything they can about the subject. They may have taken courses to increase their knowledge as they start a journey of making their passion their career.

I have such energy for these readers and am cheering them on as they learn to hone and sharpen their skills in the world of colour and design.

I’m writing for you, to give you help when you’re stuck with a colour question, and to save you from some of the earlier mistakes I made. Like thinking it was a good idea to combine five different fabric patterns because I could coordinate all the colours or being convinced that accent tile was an obvious and necessary part of any bathroom or kitchen installation.

When you’re a new designer, you have everything to learn about making the right choices for your clients and also, how to explain the answer to the question “Why?”

I want to give you all the help I can when you’re stressing in the middle of the night over a paint colour you specified and you’re holding your breath hoping you made the right choice.

There’s always lots of you in my workshops and it fills me with joy and delight to hear your questions and to spend solid time with you unwrapping the mysteries of colour and how it works.

The seasoned design professional

Atlanta Homes

The seasoned design professional is someone who’s been in the colour and design business for years. They know what they’re doing as they’ve got experience to back up their natural talent.

I have such respect and admiration for these readers—my peers—and value their comments when they write. I’m flattered they read my posts and return the compliment when and if they write one of their own.

I’m writing for you, to drill down to the minutia of colour in a way that contributes to your business and your clients’ happiness with you. And just for the record, you’re not the type of designer I was talking about in that post.

You may or may not even love my aesthetic but you follow me because you continue to learn about this elusive world of undertones in colour. Because you get on-going free training and no-nonsense articles about this topic that you can’t get anywhere else in the world.

You don’t always agree with me, but for the most part, you do. Which is why you continue to follow me.

There are probably three of you in each of my workshops. Dressed well. Making good money. With valuable contributions to make in the class.

You know enough to know that as soon as you stop learning, you might as well be dead.

Melanie Turner

So there’s who I’m writing to and writing for. You might be a hybrid of one, or a couple of them. But I believe I know you because I have been all of you at some point in my life.

Which leads me back to the point of this post.

Lots of you who read my posts are moms and all of us have (or had) a mom. And most of us have the experience of reminding or being reminded to, “Take your jacket,” “Eat your vegetables,” and “Finish your homework.”

And what’s underneath all those reminders is, “I love you. I’m for you and on your side. I believe in you and want you to be more than okay. I want you to be the best version of who you can be.”

And that’s exactly how I feel here on this blog.

My last post was written in a hurry. I simply didn’t take the time to make sure that while I was writing about  the world of hardware, you could hear that I’m cheering you on in your journey in the world of understanding colour and design.

Boy, do I regret that.

As I said in one of the comments, I wanted to run and hide under a bed with some of the feedback I was getting, haha.

Some of you came to my defense because you know me. You’ve been reading this blog for a long time and you know that my mission in life is to save you from the bathroom or kitchen that the next homeowner simply can’t wait to rip out.

Or save you from wanting to do that the minute it’s installed. Thanks so much, I really appreciate you!

But for those of you who were (even mildly) insulted and felt condescended to, I am sorry. Truly. I’m even thankful you gave me feedback. Really.

Thank you for spending time and sharing your thoughts on this blog. Every day is a new opportunity to receive feedback about how we are in the world, and, like I said above, if I stop learning, I may as well be dead.

So I’ll keep learning and do better, AND I’ll still continue to be bossy yet charming 🙂

Related posts:

When Should You Rip Out Brand New Tile?

How to be Smart in a World Filled with Dumb Colour Advice

Trendy or Classic, Ask Yourself these 3 Questions



leave aREPLY

  1. Maria, I love your post because you do have a clear opinion! I don’t always agree (OK maybe once I didn’t :-)) but I ALWAYS appreciate your honest take on everything and enjoy every post – including the last one. Thank you for generously sharing your creative knowledge with us!

  2. Maria – I have followed your blog for several years. Because of your can-do spirit and efforts to evolve as a person, colorist, designer, photographer, teacher, blogger and businesswoman – your approach, blog and website have become more professional, comprehensive and accessible. Part of your success seems due to your honesty about yourself and design. I have always welcomed your direct, candid communication. Occasionally, it’s seemed a little blunt, but that was OK, because (1) your readers are clear about what you think and (2) your readers know that your goal is to help us become knowledgeable, and to grow and share ideas, so we can learn and possibly make better, more informed decisions. Our choices may differ from yours, but that’s design. There isn’t one perfect way (though after mistakes, other ways seem like they would have been far better…). I appreciate your willingness to step back and redirect some of your comments, but I most appreciate your message with the personal, invaluable, usable and creative information that you share. We can take that in, then do what works best for our unique projects. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for sharing your heart Maria. I am so grateful for what I’ve learned and continue to learn from your books and blog posts and online classes. I hope to take your class someday. Getting an eDesign from you was one of the best decisions I ever made and has helped immensely in the last 1.5 years of renovations. I have gone from novice to a homeowner with a decent eye in the past few years, and you are a big part of my learning! So thank you for sharing so much to help us all learn.

  4. Maria, I love the sentence, “If I stop learning, I’d rather be dead”. It is soooo true. I once had a new designer sitting next to me in a seminar and she ask, how long had I been a designer? I told her 15 years. She said, you should know it all by now!!!! She shocked me, I told her, I would never know it all!!! Now in business twenty eight years, I still don’t know it all!!! I tell my clients I learn something everyday. I go to classes, markets, webinars and read magazines and books!!! In fact, I will see you in Corte Madera in April.., second time….

  5. Wow. How gracious of you to write this post! Anyone who has been here a while knows that you want to bring happiness; and as you’ve mentioned before, that sometimes means ignoring things (whether they are posts that would cause discontent or a fixture you cannot do anything about right now).

  6. Hello Maria,
    I haven’t posted a comment in a long time, but I felt compelled today. Partly it was due to your sincerity, partly because so few people take responsibility when they unintentionally hurt or offend someone, and partly it was the way you spoke about mothers and what their underlying message is, however they might actually say it. Pulled some heart strings there… You took the time to explain and apologize over, well…knobs (I know it wasn’t really about the knobs). I respect you for doing it, not because I think it was necessary or that you need to change (it wasn’t, and you don’t) but because you felt a need to reach out to those who not only read and disagreed with your post, but who were somehow offended. It shows character and strength to recognize and admit when you might have done something better. I was lucky enough to find your blog, maybe 10 years ago now? It’s the only blog I read on an ongoing basis, not because I agree with everything you say or the way you say it, and yes, you can be bossy:) but because it resonates with me. It is exactly because you express your strong, precise, and well earned opinions that I find you refreshing and interesting. I find you quite brilliant in many ways, actually, and I have long admired the way you’ve grown your blog and your business. I can’t help but notice when things don’t match or look good, am genuinely disturbed by it, and you do indeed help me feel less crazy. I can’t help the way I see the world, I can only control how I respond to it. I think the way you respond, as you have demonstrated, is with consideration and class.

  7. Maria – There was nothing wrong with the tone of your last post. You presented it as an option that you’re starting to see being used. You called the beginning of a new color trend six months before I started seeing it in the Home Design magazines, but now it’s everywhere. I’m betting you right about the knobs to. Big dominant pulls have been a trend for a long time. They might be on there way out. I put pulls on my drawers, but followed your advice and chose a finish the blends with the cabinets so they wouldn’t be too “bossy.” You tell your readers what trends you see. As an individual owner, I can decide for myself if I like the trend, (I hated Tuscan brown from the beginning.) but at least I’m making an informed decision. I love your blog – please keep calling them like you see them!

  8. Maria, you definitely do not have infantile readers and you don’t adapt or coddle them nor do you need to. I do see this post and the one you referenced in your hardware post “Rules are for Amateurs, Exceptions are for Professionals” (which can sound a bit condescending to some of us until you read it) and perhaps several other posts being used as part of an informal teaching project (as a world-renowned color expert and professional designer, your teaching abilities are unparalleled, I think). Perhaps just a little box on your web page: “Recommended readings if you are new to my blog” and a list of those posts? I still hold, as I’ve stated before, that I find some point of value in every blog you post even if the subject matter is unrelated to anything in my life. It helps that I’m an eternal student so hopefully I won’t be dead for a long time, but eternal students must have eternal teachers and you are one in my books!

  9. I love how you write . . .I am an amateur who could be easily misled in the overwhelming world of choices. I am a teacher who knows sometimes you take your own knowledge for granted and it slips into the far recesses of your brain.. . and you need to renew your toolbox – with a reminder from a peer. (you for the pros who follow you). You serve and instruct all those who follow you.

    I am not in the kitchen re-do time of life right now, but I know where to get a great color consult – I have done that with you.

    I really appreciate that you took the time to write this post. Taking ownership of things that go “wrong” is a mature attitude, a life lesson, and a reminder for people of all ages (the reader groups).

  10. Maria,

    It makes me sad to hear others thought your last post was negative. You are a fantastic teacher and I look to your posts as more of true guidance and mentoring. Even the best mentors upset mentees. Thank you for being so transparent and loving while you teach us newbies.

  11. I am boggled by how anyone can misconstrue your wording as I find you to very succinct at all times. So there.

  12. Hello Maria!

    I am somewhere between the new designer and the seasoned professional, and I love your descriptive writing! I don’t always agree with everything you say ( I ALWAYS recommend pulls for my cabinet clients, especially for drawers! ) but I love the way you authentically responded to the feedback! You are correct, I follow you for a multiple of reasons, the biggest being, I can’t EVER stop learning, even after 30 years of being in the design industry in some form. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to take your class, #1 on my wish list, and I have a plan for the future! Don’t ever lose your sparkle!

  13. Being offended is a choice. I choose not to be, so I always come away with great information, not great irritation! Thanks for carrying on – GIFTING us with free information! -… and not hiding under the bed, haha! ?❤

  14. No worries here Maria, and no apologies necessary. Everyone should be allowed to have an opinion and a voice without others taking offense. We know that you truly want your blog to be helpful and educational, and it is! Design, like so many other things (art, music, fashion, food) is subjective. Not everyone likes the same thing. And aren’t we thankful for that?! How boring would it be if everything was the same, uuggg! So let’s all be mature and self confident enough to know our own tastes and not feel insulted by someone who likes or believes something different please.

  15. Well, I missed the post & all the drama, but I’ve never been offended by any of your blogposts! That was very nice of you to write this follow up post. I often feel bad for bloggers because people these days are sitting behind their keyboards with pitchforks!! With all that’s going on in the world, who knew that door hardware would create such an uproar. Let’s not forget that being kind, open minded and quick to forgive are great qualities that last a lifetime, perhaps longer than your home décor.