Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage Your Expensive Renovation

I was recently consulting with a client from Upstate New York. We were finalizing the colours and finishes for her kitchen renovation. As one last piece of advice, I told her to make sure she did not install the 4″ slab of granite on the backsplash so commonly found in kitchens.


She said “I am so glad you mentioned that, because my countertop guy said that my walls were crooked and I had to have it but I don’t like the look at all”.

One of my designer friends was looking for a new home in the suburbs last year and after touring house after house she said:

“The combination of finishes (tile/countertops/floors/stone fireplace) in 99% of the homes we have seen are so ugly and so bad, it amazes me that it doesn’t occur to people to hire a designer even to consult on what they are ABOUT to install. They would save all kinds of money because they’d be doing it right the first time and actually be happy with the result instead of upset once they see how it all looks together.”

Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage your Expensive Renovation





In all fairness, a good designer is hard to find but once you actually find one, hire them, if even for a single consultation.

If you are a do-it-yourselfer, a consultation is even more critical because your ideas will usually be based on the current trends and have little to do with what is appropriate and will actually coordinate with your existing house (maybe).

If you want free design advice, you’ll definitely get it, but it will be from all the salespeople or trades who do not have the entire picture of your renovation in their head.

Your builder or contractor will say ‘It can’t be done’ because they don’t want to do it or they don’t know how, or worse, they’ll tell you to do something unnecessary because they will make more money in the process.

The hardwood floor installer will declare ‘That room wasn’t square’ so that’s why you now have a transition strip at the doorway where there should not be one.

Your painter tells you he uses that colour ‘All the time, and it works in every house’.

The salesperson assures you that the colour of the tile or carpet you are buying ‘Is definitely perfect’.

The person selling you a product should be relied upon for their expertise regarding quality and availability. Conducting a poll with anyone who does not have the design plan for your home is simply foolish.

Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage your Expensive Renovation


I recently had a client who purchased all new living room furniture from a high-end furniture store. ‘The designer was free’, she said. What she ended up with was a sofa that was the wrong scale for her living room, chairs that did not coordinate, clashing undertones, the list goes on.

The designers job in a furniture store is to sell the furniture in their store, not anyone else’s.

Add all this to the free advice you’ll receive from your family and friends and the renovation you were so excited about from the beginning might just turn into a mess that’s too expensive to re-do and will bother you much more than the old finishes you inherited from the previous homeowner because YOU paid for it.

Danger: Free Advice will Sabotage your Expensive Renovation


Are you depressed from reading this now?


I’m trying to jolt you into understanding that a beautiful house, kitchen, bathroom or living room takes a big picture plan and cannot possibly ever happen with 50 different opinions and points of view.

Oh and by the way, there might have been one or more people in all the above possible scenarios who was right and had the correct answer to your design dilemma, but by now you’ll be too confused to be able to see the YOU ARE HERE neon flashing sign.

If your renovation was not expensive but you end up with finishes you don’t like, NOW it’s expensive because either you or the next homeowner will take it out again as soon as possible.

So either stick to your guns on keeping it simple and beautiful or find someone who can help you get to where you want to be.  Only then can you have a house that fills you with happiness when you walk in the door.

Related posts:

The 3 Most Important Words in a Consultation

Is Hiring a Designer a Luxury or Necessity?

What Would you Do? Advice for Designers/Consultant

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

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 Expert.



leave aREPLY

  1. I am so glad that I read this post again! I am not a decorator , but have always had gut instincts with what colors to use inside the home and colors in my gardens. I had to add to this “old post”, that when I was doing some updates to my kitchen in 2011, I took out mirrored back-splashes, and replaced formica with a light colored granite- the white cabinets were already very good shape as were the mottled cream floor tiles . Now the professional advise was to add small glass tiles above the 4″ granite backslash and then larger tiles up to the cabinets…or to use 2″ square tiles.all the way around ..or large tiles that looked like the size of my floor tiles and looked pinky beige! Long story short, my gut instinct was nice white subway tiles, no granite 4″ backsplash, and always I related back to why I liked simple despite the coaxing from the tile people. It was hard to stand my ground and say this is what I like and I know it will be classic and I wouldn’t tire of it!
    I am so happy that I purchased your White is Complicated so now I can fine tune my approach to choosing whites! Thank you for your continued spot on Blog…I am also a girl who likes white kitchens and bathrooms . Why I used to paint crappy old furniture white and amazing what that did!! Thank you again!

  2. Thanks for the great reminder, Maria. I often think I can do a project by myself but then when I try to get started, I find myself aimlessly walking around the store not knowing what the right decisions are. After too many mistakes and frustrations, I’ve learned that hiring the right professional will make my home be filled with loveliness.

  3. I will repeat what I said before….
    So agree with everything above, I am a interior designer working out of a store and do free measures, floor plan, space planning, presentation… I have to say no to clients all the time, they do not enjoy it but I will not spec anything that is wrong just to sell the piece… I drive management crazy somedays but they get me after 10 years…. but not everyone is me! Be careful that the designer like me is honest and will say no to you… and maybe been to Maria’s class (twice, lol)

  4. THANK YOU! A few months ago, renovations were the topic of a HOUZZ article and one of the pieces of advice was to listen to your contractor. I made the comment that you should not always do that and shared my experience of how when we were doing our renovation and in the midst of all that decision making I would sometimes ask our contractor (who did a fantastic job, by the way) what his opinion was. Every time we did that and we followed what he said, I regretted it (and still do because we’ve not changed those things). That’s because his interest at the time was not making sure that I loved every single detail of our renovation but that he got it done on time and moved on to the next project. If what I was asking about required something to be redone (even at my expense) his answer was always the opposite because he didn’t want to have to redo it.

    I got absolutely FLAMED by contractors due to my comment on that HOUZZ article but I still get plenty of other people “liking” that comment. Still it was amazing to me how horrible the comments from contractors were (most of them were something to the effect of “We know best”).

  5. maria, how do us- nondesigners tell that a colour expert is a good one or bad one?

    is there a way that we are not researching correctly and in the process get blindsided with bad advice only to see the awful results and live with it. it is crushing to see money poorly spent.

    • Well I would look for a True Colour Expert trained by me, there are now over 300 of them all over the US and Canada.
      And I think checking out someone’s portfolio is always a good place to start.

    • You hit the nail on the head for me. I feel as if I spin my wheels sifting in the sand looking for the right designer and contractor. Contractors and builders often have their own in-house designers. I recently had a bad experience where my (now fired) general contractor had me use his in-house designer. She never asked one single question about our lifestyle, needs, desires, favorite colors, etc. When I questioned her background and asked if perhaps I should seek outside help and bring a ready-to-go design to them, she was naturally insulted, but I felt I was getting no where with her. Her reply was that her help was “free!” My point exactly: “free” doesn’t mean much if the advice is poor or the effort lackluster. When I asked if she would be putting together a sample board of our ideas, selections, paint colors, wood tones, etc., she just said that took too much time and would cost more money. We had to fire the contractor for other, serious reasons, but unfortunately are now being billed for his design team’s (lack of) design time. Really a shame.

  6. I shared this post on my site, too.

    Just one thing to add about free advice from friends, neighbours and often in-house designers:

    “Free advice is worth what you paid.”

  7. I agree, but my difficulty is finding a trusted and talented designer who is affordable. i live in a small town about an hour east of Chicago. It’s very difficult to find anyone in my immediate area who isn’t a “fly-by-night,” self-proclaimed designer. I usually judge the person by the portfolio of work, if one even exists. I could work harder to find someone in Chicago or its suburbs, but I’ve found those individuals only work with very high-end clients…maybe even ones who have knockout kitchens, but don’t actually cook in them, for instance. I’ll take your advice to heart, though, and keep looking. In the meantime, I feel stuck in the process until I find that trusted (and affordable) person. I guess I need to realize paying more upfront for GOOD design is worth not paying less for bad finished spaces. My final concern is that I will hire an expensive designer, but still end up with design choices that doesn’t match my needs or taste; therefore, I will most likely stick to simple design elements that are hard to screw up. (e.g. White Shaker cabinets, white/off white subway tile, and light quartz countertops)

  8. Hey Maria, I’m am totally remodeling my bathroom after Hurricane Michael. I have chosen vinyl plank flooring in a neutral wood, white vanity and mostly white, gray and some black in my wet room. I was going to use matte black fixtures, but second guessing that decision since reading your blog on to much black in a bathroom. My second choice is the new champagne bronze. What is your opinion on this? Please help, I want it to be a classic bathroom, but not be boring.

    Thanks so much, Rhonda