The First Mistake a new Colour Consultant will Make Every Time

Today is my birthday and I’m 42! We’ll get to the colour lesson at the end when I show you the first place I ever decorated for my baby sister, but first a little trip back in time:

This is me at 4 years old already wearing one of my favourite colours and don’t forget the pearls to dress up my summer bathing suit! I see my mother also missed the left side of my face when she cut my hair. . .

My first birthday party. I was 7 and my whole class was invited. Everyone got a necklace as a party gift, I see mine coordinates with my outfit nicely 🙂 That’s my mom in the background!

At 19 I went to modeling school. Alas my career never took off because the first time I auditioned to be in a fashion show I did not make the cut because I didn’t walk like a model. Apparently, according to my sisters, I still don’t.

My very first apartment. I was 21 years old. Actually it was a cottage, my rent was $200 a month (cheap even for then–it wasn’t THAT long ago). You can tell it was the 80’s with the black and white look I had going on! My favourite magazine was Architectural Digest and I loved nothing more than a fresh copy to dream about being in one day. . . Click here to read my article on Decorating with Yellow published in BC Home and Alberta Home magazine.

In the early days, before my design career, I was a Sales Manager at The Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel and [above] I’m standing next to my Director of Sales, Tamara Gibson at a Christmas party. Look at me with my 80’s perm—those were the big hair days! Red lipstick was my go-to colour in those days – NOT any more!!

My ex-husband Scott. He was a big sailor. I was not.
This is me at 33 with my nephew Luukas.

My first official decorating job many years ago. My baby sister moved into this little bachelor suite. We immediately replaced the awful white curtains with IKEA wood blinds, painted the trim cream and bought the furniture on installment from a big box furniture store.
Photo by Maria Killam
As she was renting, we didn’t want to paint the entire room because it had to go back to white when she moved out so to add some colour we just painted halfway up the wall.

So here it is, the first mistake a new designer will make when picking colour. We look around. . . desperate for some inspiration. . . in this case, nothing here but a few primary colours in the wall hanging (which was no longer a wall hanging after I was done), so what to do? I look at the floor. The fir floors have an orange cast to them so what colour do I choose? CC-420 Maple Syrup.

I specified a lot of CC-410 Boardwalk (which is the lighter shade) in my early days of colour consulting when I walked into an empty space or one with black leather furniture and zero inspiration until I discovered the many different shades of beige.

When I used to talk to people in the paint store about colour, they thought it was so important to tell me the colour of their dresser or bed or dining table when really unless it’s cherry or mahogany and you are painting the walls red (even then it’s not that you shouldn’t do it, just make sure you pick one that doesn’t fight with the wood), it’s generally not an issue. The colour of your wood furniture is like a pair of jeans, they go with everything.

Just to be clear, its not that the colour didn’t work in the room, but at the time (because I was new) I didn’t even consider any other options. And as I said, it’s a common mistake we all make in the beginning. And if you are reading this and have no idea what I am talking about because you have never made this mistake. . .leave a comment and let us know what yours was because that is why we blog, to learn from each other and to get who we really are.

And since it is my birthday, please leave a comment, that’s all I want, and you’ll get one back, kind of like 2 presents really.

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  1. Happy Birthday! It's the first time I viewed your blog 'cause Awesome Sara told me to 😛 I love your precision in layout (on the right hand side, which I am going to check out, now).

  2. Happy birthday, Maria! Loved the walk down memory lane and as I've said before, I absolutely adore your blog — just so much info I don't get anywhere else.

  3. Happy Birthday, Dear Maria!
    You are so generously giving and so open-hearted. You are full of so many surprises and you are fabulous. Enjoy your blog immensly and can't wait to open it daily. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. You're such an inspiration for all those ships in the sea. God bless you!
    Natalie Toronto

  4. Tiaa @ EYInteriors

    Happy Belated Birthday!

    Your posts are always so delightful to read. You have been a true inspiration to me and I'm sure many others too! I hope you had a FABULOUS day!

    EY Interiors

  5. I hope your most colorful years are ahead of you. Your early pics seem to indicate some are born with style! Hope you had a lovely birthday.

  6. Maria,

    Happy Happy Belated Birthday! With many more colorful years ahead of your time too! Thanks for all you do. Creative intelligence lights your path along the way.


  7. hey girl…

    well i already sent you a couple of birthday wishes yesterday (twitter and facebook) so i hope you had a really fabulous day! and since we are in our 'more mature' days and don’t celebrate as hard, we are aloud to celebrate longer! – any plans for friday?

    my business coach was also having a birthday this week, and since she’s in kelowna until tuesday, i will make her a clafoutis on friday ( and we’ll probably do a little picnic and sip some sparkling shiraz (maybe just sit in my garden)… would you like to join us?

    i have a meeting with mike mahannah at 6pm (i’ll be his course leader support for the CPC)… so we picked 7:30ish for our gathering.

    let me know if you can join us…

    ps. was there a colour theme at your birthday party? because it seems everyone is wearing something red!

  8. Emily from

    I love your blog. It's like taking a color theory class in my spare time. It has got me thinking about how I pick colors and confirmed that I made a poor choice in my bedroom! Have a lovely birthday!

  9. Diane Hoeptner (hep-ner)

    Happy Birthday, Maria! I'm a year ahead of you and I can tell you life keeps getting better. Thanks for sharing the most awesome pictures, I remember big hair!!

  10. Happy birthday Maria & sorry Im late!!! You look gorgeous (as usual) in all your pics and luukas has really grown up since that pic!!!

    ok, here's my big first color mistake, OH LORDY. I will send you a link to the pic so you can see just how off i was!! Luckily, the client absolutely loved it– eeeek… it's the bottom picture with orange (they were supposed to be gold!!!)walls

    happy birthday!!

  11. So sorry for the belated warm wishes, just been trying to get caught up on things around here and with all the rain we've been having – I couldn't let the opportunity to do 'in-door' work go by when the weather is dreadful outside.

    So . . . Happy Birthday! You have a real talent with so much passion and I wish you continued success, health and happiness with your endeavors.

    – KBN

  12. Happy Happy Birthday (belated, oop)
    though I'm surely your least fashionable or color coordinated reader, I keep coming back!!!
    (my biggest color mistake? 18 mths ago, I started painting my loft 'Vintage Map', & hated it so much that the room is still unfinished. Mid-wall…)

  13. Belated congratulations and a big hug!

    (I'm catching up on your posts from my email subscription.)

    I've learned so much about color by reading your blog. I've become confident about following my own color preferences and choosing color schemes. And I've having a blast decorating my nest. Thank you!

  14. Happy Birthday! 42 isn't so bad.;-) 29's better though. I'm not a decorator and struggle with decorating, but I've learned so much from your blog. Thank you!

  15. Ok this is really funny, I'm a home stager who dabbles in color consulting just because I do get asked for recommendations, but I have NO training. So guess what color I just recommended for a kitchen transformation? Maple Syrup! They said it needs a third coat to cover the previous yellow and yes, the reason I recommended it was the golden oak cabinets and the lack of anything else inspiring (including the rosy countertops). I haven't seen it yet. Should I prepare to hide my wincing?

  16. Maria – thank you so much for this wonderful post and your amazing blog! Its now a go to read for me! This post was great, it reminded me (I am just starting int. des. school) when I doubt myself that as I gain experience I will also gain the confidence to step out of the box! Thank you!

  17. Happy Birthday on Thursday! I just found your blog about a month ago, at the tail end of a remodeling project. 🙁

    Love it so much and having a great time reading through the archives.

  18. I’ve never considered the furniture color in my wall color selection. whew (wipes brow), but I’ve seen “on TV” suggestions to match the oak cabinets or furniture. Thanks for the clarity.

    Since this Post is originally from 2009 …. you’re 45 now. I turned 45, February 20th this year. Welcome to the Club!

  19. Dear Maria,
    Happy Birthday, hope you enjoy a year full of creative surprises. I loved your ebook and it has changed how I look at color in a good way, thank you!

  20. Have the happiest of birthdays, Maria. Thanks for all you do to help those color-challenged among us to make our surroundings happier. Thanks to you, I now know why a few things in my home have always bothered me and I am on the road to fixing them.