Introducing the Understanding Undertones® Colour Wheel

Well, it’s been a long time coming but it’s finally here! The feedback I received from the first agency I hired to design my new site was “You don’t have a colour wheel that shows your colour system, that’s the first thing you need”.

It’s taken a village to get this far let me tell you!

In the meantime, you can catch a glimpse of my new logo in the middle of this colour wheel.


Understanding Undertones® – The Colour System

Here’s how it works, the inner wheel represents the primary colour wheel, the next circle is slightly more muted (clean vs. dirty) then there is the darker circle of neutral undertones which includes gold beige, and the lighter circle of neutrals for a total of 9 neutral undertones.

The outer circles represent the most useful whites from blue white to greige with true white, the white you would use to compare to all the others, on the outside ring.

I’ve also uncovered another way of explaining the difference between regular colour theory and my Understanding Undertones™ system, this is courtesy of Irene Hill (my amazing freelance writer):

Do you remember studying the Periodic Table in your high school chemistry class?

In 1869 Dmitri Mendeleev organized and published the first widely recognized periodic table. He developed this table to show trends in the properties of chemical elements.

He didn’t invent these chemical elements. What he did was study them so thoroughly that he noticed patterns in how they were configured and how they behaved.

Ever since he published this table, scientists have been using it to understand and predict how chemical elements behave.


Introducing the Understanding Undertones® Colour Wheel | Maria Killam


My  system is the periodic table of understanding undertones: it gives you clear sense of how colours behave in every space.

This last section about Isaac Newton was added to this explanation by Tricia Firmaniuk my fabulous virtual design assistant:

Colour Theory isn’t enough anymore

Introducing the Understanding Undertones® Colour Wheel | Maria Killam

Sir Isaac Newton gave us the colour wheel, and many of us get basic colour theory – primaries, secondaries, complimentraries, etc. based on his concept. But he was trying to understand the spectrum, not how to coordinate fabrics, tiles and other finishes.

The colour wheel has very little to tell us about working with complex neutrals and whites in interiors.

Working at a paint store years ago, every time I spoke to an interior design student who walked in looking for help with their complementary or analogous colour wheel homework assignments, I would think to myself, “That exercise seems so useless”, because never once did I walk into a client’s home and say “Today I’m going to give you a split complimentary colour palette”.

And that is why my system works, because it’s fundamentally useful, and it takes the world of thousands of colours and turns it into a manageable and simple way to choose colour for  paint to fabrics to tiles and everything in between.

Over to you my lovelies, I’d love to hear what you think?

PS. I keep getting emails asking me when I’ll be in this city or that city with my workshop. So just to be clear, I’m NOT doing a full American tour every year.

So do not cross your fingers and wait for me to show up in the distant future. If I’m close to a city near you this Fall and all you need to do is book a hotel room, or take a short flight, now is the time. So much better than in the past where you had to come all the way to Canada.

This is the system for working with colour in interiors and exteriors and you won’t learn it anywhere else but in a live class with me.

So look, if you are a decorator, interior designer, stager, architect or colour enthusiast, you should join me this year!

Here’s a Video Testimonial from Karen Gray Plaisted and Samantha Ring from Design Solutions KGP who attended my Toronto Specify Colour with Confidence workshop this past Spring. Karen sent along this note to go along with her video with Sam:

“It was great and worth every penny. I gained a lot from it, and now I do not second guess my color choice because a client is telling me “but I really love this color” I WILL NOT BACK DOWN on what the undertones are telling me! And now I have the reasons WHY they should not settle either!” 

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Mobile users go here to view the video.

Register here.

Related posts:

There are 9 Neutral Undertones in the World; See them Here

What Everyone Should Know About Beige

What Everyone Should Know About Grey



leave aREPLY

  1. I really like how the outside relates to the saturated color in the center. Is taupe right? I thought it can also flash pink. Thanks for sharing!

    • You’re right, in actual fact it starts pink and goes pinker and more purple. . . I will adjust that! Good eye thanks so much! Someone else mentioned that the undertones should be larger and the whites smaller so I will be adjusting that as well!
      Thanks so much for your sharp eye!

  2. Fantastic concept Maria and congrats! Hope you sell a zillion of them … ☺. That said; do agree with having the Neutral Undertone section a tad larger also will add on my monitor the orange appears to be more of a Tertiary colour (yellow orange, rather than a secondary one) and perhaps the script for the gold beige should also be in black. Also, if you were to add the feature that it spun do you feel ‘a’ proper alignment indicator should be included on its corresponding wheel? (You would only have to do it for one and the rest would fall into place.) Just a few thoughts.

  3. You are pretty darned amazing. Paris, Palm Springs, high six figure income, adoring fans. You’ve obviously earned this life you’ve created. Now, show the rest of us how to create a life we love, on any level. We don’t all ‘need’ to have your life, as wonderful as that would be, but to just realize we can turn our passions into something we love to do every day, with a monetary reward at the end of that.. well. Thanks for all you do and share with us, Maria!!

  4. This is genius and I can’t believe nobody else has ever came up with it. Your system makes sense. I’ve read some color theory/ideas from consultants online that sound so in depth but doesn’t make any sense and isn’t at all useful. Almost as if the point is to confuse the reader.

  5. I love the color wheel! It would be awesome to see one with BM paints, as an example, and then use it to explain which ones go together and don’t and why. And once you get this completely sorted out, please write addendums for those of us who bought your books, explaining how it works!

  6. Absolutely love this!! I’m just returning to the field of interior design after taking a hiatus to stay home with my kids. I have been reading your book to freshen up on color theory and have found it tremendously informative!! This color wheel would be an incredibly useful tool to take on color and decorating consultations!! It will help give the client a better visual of what we are trying to explain as far as undertones go. Can’t wait to buy one!! Thank you!!

  7. Hi Maria, I am currently studying your color ebook. I will confess right now that I don’t yet have those undertones down, but I haven’t given up! My question is about the value of the paint color. I have a habit, and I suspect a bad one, of painting my walls the same value as the flooring. In fine art the quickest way to get a boring painting is to paint all the same value. Does this matter with walls/floors? Maybe not and the furnishing/wall hangings make up for it?