The Shocking Truth about How Most People Choose Colour

Fashion Translated

Most people shop for ANYTHING house related the way I shop for fashion.

I was thinking about this the other day because I have been desperate to find a local stylist to help me with my clothes. Especially, when I have to come up with 12 different outfits to pack into a 3 week trip that includes three courses for 3 days each, PLUS outfits for High Point Market. I certainly can’t pack 12 pairs of shoes, haha.

Of course, I do this when I’m travelling (below) but I need a fresh eye to help me.


I haven’t been able to find a stylist who is willing to come all the way to Chilliwack where I live. Either that, or I look at their Instagram account and their outfits are just too neutral. I need a stylist who understands colour.

Anyway, back to my point. Because I don’t have a stylist who has conducted a review of my wardrobe and created a list of clothes that I might need, I shop BLIND.

Because I don’t really know what is missing.

So I come home with random purchases that I have decided I LOVE in the store, or they were ON SALE, and then, sadly, many of these items of clothing become orphans. They are rarely, if ever worn.

And that is exactly how most people shop for tile, or countertops, or sofas or dining chairs.

Recently, I was in a furniture showroom sourcing fabrics for a client. As I walked around the showroom, I noticed a woman who appeared to be in the process of choosing a fabric for her sofa.

She had about 5 or 6 fabric samples and she had laid them out on the sofa style she was buying, while she proceeded to hold them up, individually, looking at them in different angles (as if this would help).

Do you know how many readers or clients I have spoken to who said “It looked grey in the showroom but when it arrived in my house, it went taupe (or green or blue) and totally wrong in THEIR interior with THEIR existing furniture”. And now you’ve got a custom item in your home that you cannot return.

Another couple I recently consulted with, simply drove to the furniture store, looked through the available fabric samples, and placed a custom order (no returns) for almost $10,000, on a full set of upholstered dining room chairs and counter stools for their kitchen.

When I asked to see a fabric sample of the chairs, they did not have one. It had not occurred to them to ask for one (I made the same mistake the first time I bought a sofa years ago).

When you shop like this, you are making the exact same mistake that I make with fashion.

Not only are you likely to end up with the wrong colour, you think that it actually helps if you LOVE it in the showroom.

I get emails all the time from readers who have half renovated a space. They’re done, but something bothers them, and they don’t know what it is.

For example, they have replaced their countertops with white marble but left their patterned, earthy floor tile installed.

So they email me and ask for my opinion.


Every single time, they are quick to include “But I love my backsplash, or I fell in love with the countertop” and this statement especially breaks my heart, “Everyone who comes over loves it!” because validation from your friends, who don’t want you to feel bad, is not very accurate.

Bottom line, LOVE is always a part of these emails.

When clients work with me, and they make a countertop choice for example, the rest of the conversation is then about which colours or finishes ‘works best’ with the countertop (that they love). I am not constantly asking “Do you love this one?” or “How about that one?”

But I certainly asked those questions often when I was new. And the reason I did that is because I really didn’t know for certain, which one was right, or even if I did, I didn’t know how to explain why my instinct was correct.

I just hoped that they would choose because then I would be off the hook.

Now that I’ve conducted literally thousands of consultations, even if my client claims that they are in fact MADLY IN LOVE with that charcoal 12″ x 24″ tile, or that charcoal hardwood floor, I will try my very best to talk them out of it.

Because everyone is always in love with the current trends, but that will not leave you a classic and timeless interior.

When you consult with me, you are buying my classic and timeless aesthetic. And I’m super bossy (in a charming way) about it. Your aesthetic does not need to be the same as mine, but if you’re reading this then it probably is a little bit. Otherwise, it’s easy to click and find another designers blog who does have your aesthetic. And, there is nothing wrong with that!

Learning how to choose classic and timeless finishes and colours is the foundation of my colour training workshops.

Because you’ll learn how to choose and specify colour, and at the same time how to view design choices through the lens of classic and timeless. It’s much easier to work with a client or choose finishes for your house when you have a place to stand. Otherwise you really don’t know which one is right or why, so you end up shopping for your house the way most of us also shop for fashion.

We waste a lot of money without a plan and a vision in our heads for our wardrobe or our house.

Often students will approach me in my courses and tell me how their house was bothering them, and they hired me for an eDesign consultation and then after they followed my advice, they loved their house more.

So they register to attend my colour workshops because they want to learn more. They want to learn how to do it themselves.

Kind of like the old Proverb, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

After all, how many $2000 colour mistakes do you already live with in your house? The course is a bargain when you think about all the colour choices you’ll start making, understanding WHY it’s the right choice, instead of guessing and crossing your fingers and hoping that it just ‘turns out’.


Most of us can easily add up $2000 worth of fashion choices that were wrong as well. But at least if you buy a jumpsuit that isn’t as fabulous on you as it seemed to be in the fitting room or on the model online, it just sits in your closet until you give it away (hopefully to someone who appreciates it so you don’t feel like you’ve totally wasted your money) or ship it off to the thrift store.

When you make a bad colour decision on tiles or granite or sofas or chairs, you have to live with it in plain sight for sometimes a VERY LONG TIME.

So I’d just like to save you from that.


It really upsets me when too much money is spent on something that is just plain wrong.

My philosophy when it comes to your home, is let’s try to have it all. As much as we can.

The list of updates and items that you need for your home is often so much longer than the budget will allow.

So let’s spread your money around so you can have many beautiful things instead of just one.

After all, new, very expensive dining room chairs will still not give you a look and a feel. You’ll still need lamps, artwork, a rug and some accessories before the room will fill you with happiness when you walk in the door.

So please, whatever you do, DO NOT spend all your money on just chairs.

Or just the sofa.

Or the biggest house on the block.

And most important of all, bring your samples home FIRST, before you make a decision.

You can’t shop for finishes and furniture the way you shop for fashion, snapping up whatever catches your eye.

I’ve learned that when shopping for clothes, it’s a good idea to take it home and try it on with a few things to make sure I can get at least a couple outfits out of any new piece.

I would never ever commit to a fabric or line my walls with a tile that I hadn’t taken home a sample of first to test and scrutinize with the rest of my house.

One unrelenting truth that experience has taught me, and that I like to share, is that the each design element is in the service of the bigger picture.

J. Crew

I guess fashion is the same, the cutest skirt ever is not going anywhere without the rest of the outfit that works perfectly with it.

Over to you my lovelies, what’s the biggest colour mistake you’ve ever made? You’ll be in good company, because we’ve all made them!

Related posts:

Ugly Costs the Same as Pretty

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Designers



leave aREPLY

  1. My BIG expensive mistake was putting Uba Tuba granite on my kitchen cabinets that are 1950’s boxes which were resurfaced with cherry veneer and new drawer fronts and doors. Then topping it off with glass mosaic backsplash. This was before I found this blog and read never to put stone (expensive) countertop material on top of old cabinets. They are still 1950’s cabinets under that expensive countertop. I so wish I would have picked as nice formica and a classic subway backsplash. It would have cost much less and I wouldn’t be living with what turns out to be glass countertops that show EVERYTHING. It is a constant battle with a spray bottle of glass cleaner to keep them looking decent. We will be building our forever home and I want to love it for the rest of my life so I will see you in Chicago in May!

  2. Such a short post to have so much useful advice:
    “everyone is always in love with the current trends, but that will not leave you a classic and timeless interior”….bam
    “We waste a lot of money without a plan and a vision in our heads”…spot on
    “let’s try to have it all. As much as we can.”…but of course!
    “each design element is in the service of the bigger picture.”…preach it!
    Thanks for being “bossy”, Maria!

  3. Hi, Maria!
    Dressing well takes a lot of time and effort. Being limited by travel makes it especially frustrating. I recommend mailing your complete outfits to the locations where you will be wearing them. That way you don’t have to compromise on the right shoes, bag etc. because you are limited on space in your luggage. It might seem expensive, but so are checked luggage fees. It’s a pain to mail it home, but such a relief not to have to carry it around after you don’t need it anymore. I’m sure your volunteers would take your already worn outfits to FedEx at the end of your seminar to mail home for you as you travel on to the next location, where your clothes are waiting for you at the home of one of the new volunteers. She can drop them off at your hotel before you check in.
    I also recommend two grat books which helped me dress better.
    Staging Your Comeback by Christopher Hopkins, The Makeover Guy
    How Not To Look Old by Charla Krupp
    Let me know what you think!

  4. Great blog post! It’s true! Without proper planning and a savvy plan fashion and interiors fail! We need a plan with fashion the same as we need a plan with interiors. Before shopping for clothing shop your own closet, see what is there that you still love and what you need to throw out, think about the looks you want to wear each season then make take a strict accounting of your wardrobe to see what is missing, then only shop for those pieces. Everyone needs a good crisp white blouse, black pants, jeans in both denim and black, a good blazer, coat, raincoat, etc. you know the basics. Buy the best you can afford so you appreciate the pieces and love them and feel good in them when you wear them. If you see a piece you weren’t shopping for that you absolutely love, buy it and see if you if you still love it the next day and if it still gives you the feels. if not return it. In interiors, you have the right attitude, as with your wardrobe. Classic and timeless add the trend in the accessories and shoes. Buy good pieces for the base in home and decor and always choose to add the trend in small doses. You are amazing at what you do and how you write about it! And like your interiors, you always look smashing wherever you go!

  5. Maria Happy Easter to you & Terreria! Please give her a hug for me! I think if you both often. I follow your blog and Instagram and really enjoy your posts. In case you don’t remember me, we met at a Brene Brown course led by Anita.

    Anyway, I’m writing because I personally know a wardrobe consultant who I’m pretty sure isn’t afraid of colour. She lives in North Vancouver. She wrote a book “First Impressions” and has dressed many high profile men and women (former premier included)
    Her contact email is: [email protected]
    her website:
    Good Luck! And keep posting your inspiring thoughts on colour, life and creating home.
    Dianne Hawkins
    (from the Comox Valley)

  6. Hi Maria, House Beautiful recommended this app recently and maybe it could help you? Looks like a lot of start up work but has good reviews 🙂
    When in your situation, I try to limit color to one neutral (simplifies shoes) and then go wild with accessories. Also, typically pack clothing I can roll without concerns re: wrinkles, then hand wash/line dry to freshen. (Dream = attending one of your workshops!)

  7. Have you thought about “capsule dressing”? Where you start with a print and pick your colors off
    of it and then make sure that your tops and bottom colors all go together? You could do it
    really easy with your knowledge of colors. There are a lot of articles online about it. That way you can take less clothes and have more outfits. I started it when I went to Italy for two weeks years ago and have been packing that way ever since. So easy once you get the hang of it. If you think about it coordinating your wardrobe isnt a whole lot different than coordinating colors in a room. Same concept…..You can do it!!!!

  8. Perhaps from being a hobby sewer; IMHO I believe that fashion and interior design are much the same in so many aspects many of which you have preached yourself Maria that should be taken into consideration not only to dress yourself but your home as well. i.e.: Colour, pattern, texture, quality, scale, accessorizing and the list goes on. That said and briefly; when selecting either I feel if one has a few key pieces of ‘classics’ you cannot go wrong as they will serve you for many years. For example; do I dare admit some of the blouses that I wear and get the most compliments on (namely because of their quality fabric, workmanship and classic styling) are at least fifteen years old yet they can be readily mixed with current pieces. Whereas; most of my furnishings are traditional (or antique) and are upgraded periodically with new upholstery. Also shall add; you are spot on Marie about samples as lighting definitely affects colours and the lighting in the majority of stores is just downright horrid to begin with! (The same applies in fabric stores where I’ve seen myself drag a whole bolt of fabric to a storefront window to view it in a natural light, before I even have a sample cut … lol!)
    Now to answer your question; ‘what’s the biggest colour mistake you’ve ever made?’ In fashion; mistaking a deep navy blue for black (an all-weather coat) and in interior decorating many years ago, choosing a paint that was navy blue but had so much of a purple undertone that I drove them crazy at Benjamin Moore until it was tweaked to my liking since I had purchased two gallons of it. Apologize for being so long winded.

  9. Maria, have you ever looked at Dressing Your Truth? It is a system based on dressing so people can tell who you really are, before you even open your mouth. It covers everything from color (A LOT of color!!! No “blandness” here- unless it suits you), texture, fabrication, etc. I personally consider that undertones are taken into consideration, with the system being based on hues, shades, tints, and tones. It is self led, but you get the tools to do it right. My mom has gone from a fashion drop-out, to FABULOUS, confident, amazing style! I mean, this is a mere half step below miracle-hood. You can see the system before you pay a single penny now too. I can’t attach a link, so here’s what I’ve got:
    A Happy DYTer

  10. Have you gone Janice Riggs? She writes The Vivienne Files blog. I’ve learned SO much from her about putting together a cohesive clothing plan. Naturals, color, it’s all there. ?

  11. Dear Maria, What you need is a stylist who understands the undertones in skin tones. Exactly like you understand the undertones in paint, fabrics, and hard surfaces. Usually they are trained in the “Color Me Beautiful School”. From what I can see in your photo with yellow and clear blue clothing, it appears that you are a “Spring”. This is a great hair and skin color combo because it will keep you looking youthful well into your 70’s if you wear the right colors.

    However, the problem with being a “Spring” is that the Spring pallet is rarely considered fashionable. So people with “Spring” coloration usually have to have their wardrobes custom made.

    IF you might think you MIGHT be a “Spring”, try these examples: No black. It makes you look dead. Navy should have a bit of green in it. That is called Marine Blue. No pure, stark white. Use any shade of Ivory (not creme or beige) instead. Even the slightest hint of ivory will make a huge difference. For Red choose a tomato not cherry or Christmas red. No Orange (it is too strong) but Coral can look good. For blue, avoid powder blue, choose a clear blue with a hint of green like Cadet Blue. Indigo Blue is also great. No purple or eggplant but “Springs” look good in violet. Browns can be tricky especially as we get older. I never go any darker than a golden camel. Gold jewelry instead of silver. Pearls look best when combined with gold, and due to their luster, tend to pick up the undertones of your skin.

    I realize that you may NOT be a “Spring”, but if you are, that is probably why you have a difficult time find clothes off the rack.

    Best wishes, Carol

  12. My biggest color mistake was trying to decorate our newly purchased home from two states away and have it painted before we officially moved. I picked out the paint colors using small Benjamin Moore paint samples in the dimly lit house while there for spring break, then when we went to the paint store to purchase them my husband made me change paint brands from BM to the store brand because they were having a big sale and they only guaranteed their paint if you used their colors (not matching the colors to another brand). So in my ignorance I sat there in the paint store in a rush as they were trying to close the store and tried to match the already poorly chosen BM paint chips to as close a color as I could find in the store brand while my husband kept telling me to hurry up. He proudly bought all the paint for the whole interior of the 3,000 square foot house — including the trim — “on sale” that night.
    A month later when I arrived with the movers and all of our belongings, I walked into a house that the entire open concept main area was the color of butternut squash. The kitchen cabinets were gold beige, and the walls in the kitchen were a weird cream beige. The hallway leading upstairs looked like someone had peed everywhere — it was literally the color of bright urine. Now, Yellow is my favorite color. But I was about to cry it was so bright and it felt so wrong. It didn’t help that I had an entire brick wall in the main area that weeks later after secretly hiring Maria in desperation (hubby would not hear of hiring a designer) I would learn had a pink undertone that just made all the yellowish paint look even more putrid. I was expending so much mental and emotional energy every time I had to walk through my main area. It was horrible. My husband was scheduled to go out of town for three days on a business trip. I booked a painter to come during that time and had him repaint everything the Benjamin Moore “Muslin” Maria had chosen to tie in with the pink-undertoned brick. Before my husband left town, I told him that everything would “lighten up” when the “final” coat of paint went on. (He didn’t have to know it was the final “two coats” of paint of a whole other color.) It cost me several thousand dollars to correct that mistake. When it came time later that year to paint the exterior and deal with that same tricky brick, I secretly hired Maria with my own money and then ran the color “ideas” by my hubby as if they were my ideas. In addition to the lovely neutrals Maria suggested to go with the brick, she also suggested two color choices for my front door: a “safe” color Peaches and Cream and a “risky” deep eggplant color called Kalamata. I painted samples and “showed” them to my husband as if they were my ideas and let him choose, knowing they were both already Maria-approved. To my surprise, he chose the “risky” purple color, but then wanted to paint the entire exterior in that color!!!!!! hahahaha! I talked him down and the house looks great. Thanks Maria!

  13. Good post — there definitely are parallels between choosing home decor and personal apparel. As for a stylist for you, too bad you don’t have time to go to Seattle again and see Angie. I can’t think of a big home decor color mistake I’ve made, but I may have been oblivious to it 30 years ago. And more recently, I’ve either had help or been more thoughtful and conscious in my decisions.

    • Yes but without the ability to do a wardrobe review, we’d still be shopping blind. That’s what doesn’t work about a long distance fashion stylist. Thanks for your comment! Maria

  14. You should check out Adore Your Wardrobe. It’s a class on how to buy clothes for you and it’s all based on math and science! (BTW I do not work for them it just really helped me stop buying clothes I didn’t need!)

  15. Very wise words! I am absorbing them all because I suspect I might be one of the clients you’ve referenced in this post. You know the one with the creamy white marble counters and the old Tuscan inspired floor tile. I’ve bought both your books online and I’m working on a fix. But I won’t do a thing before I ask you!