Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

Have you ever had this happen to you? You hire a designer, consult with them on all the decisions you need to make. All is well. They leave, and then the contractor, painter, tiler. . . in other words the trades who will be executing your project, arrive on the scene.

You tell them what you want and they say “That can’t be done or that’s a bad idea, or I’ve never done it that way before”. . . and then, you change the decision you made with the designer because you think maybe the person who installs it every day must know better.

Or another phenomenon happens. You have this great guy taking out your bathroom and installing a new one.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

You see him every day.

You buy him coffee and donuts.

You’re pals.

After all, you want him to like you, you want him to think you respect his opinion because you want him to do a good job for you.

So you ask for his point of view. After all, he knows this is not your area of expertise.

And he gives it to you. The designer is not around, so you go with your contractors opinion.

And then, in the end, it’s not as perfect as it should have been.

Well the same thing happened to me, except I know the pitfalls and I know exactly what to do.


This is what you say when your contractor, painter, tiler, hardwood floor installer offers up  his opinion.

You say “This is the way my designer wants it done”.

The end.

That’s how you get what you want and at the same time, still be pals with the guy getting the job done.

Make the designer the heavy. It’s perfectly fine. It’s the way it should be done.

The trades will roll their eyes because the designer is not the one actually doing the job, therefore, she/he has no compassion.

It doesn’t matter, it still ends up looking the way that it should if you listen to your designer.

If you don’t do that, it’s just your opinion, vs. his. The guy who does this every day. It’s harder to win that one on your own (maybe).
Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

In the Spring of 2013, we installed a brand new garden.

See this concrete above and this bald spot in the cedar? Well we had a huge Rhododendron sitting in the middle of the backyard (above right) and my LA, Mary Anne and I had decided the best solution to cover this area was to move it right in front of the big empty spot that you see here.

Before we hired Kyle Dupuis, the awesome landscaper who did our installation, we had other contractors come by to give us quotes and discuss our project.

After we told one contractor what we were doing with the Rhododendron he said:

“If you move that shrub over to the area where the concrete was, it will kill the Rhododendron!”.

“Oh really? I said, “I’m really glad you told us that”.

So then I called MaryAnne and told her what happened.

She said “How long has that concrete been sitting there?”

“About 7-8 years”, I said.

“Well any lime that will have leached out into the soil will be long gone, how many Rhododendrons have you seen sitting beside concrete walls or beside sidewalks? she asked.

“Oh. Well good”. I said.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

Before the vegetable garden fence was installed.

Danger: The Designer has Left the Building

Here’s how it looks now. It wasn’t always this pretty. When the contractor who did the demolition moved it, I was out of town leading my Colour Training in Toronto. 

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


When I came back and saw how it had been installed (above), I asked him to come over with his excavator and move it again.

It took probably around 1 1/2 hours to get it exactly right. As you can see by the first image, it’s the size of a tree so the only way it could be moved was using a bobcat. And It was actually three shrubs that had grown together and that’s the way I liked it.

So that’s the way it looked in the end but it wasn’t without a little drama, haha. He was totally great about it.

Why was it so important that it be positioned just perfectly?

Because we look at it every single day from the family room and kitchen which face the backyard.

You might think something your contractor is doing is “No big deal” in the moment. But trust me, you pay hundreds and thousands of dollars and it ends up being installed wrong or it’s the wrong colour? Now you’re cranky.

Much easier to live with something ugly that you inherited from the previous homeowner, rather than something ugly you’ve paid for with your hard, earned money.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


MaryAnne says you look less like a farmer if you install a fence to define your vegetable garden from the flower garden. Not that there’s anything wrong with looking like a farmer. I’ll save that for my next property. Everything is so visual from the house here.

Our Brand New Vegetable Garden: Before & After

The fence had just been installed when I had some clients arrive to work with me in my studio for the afternoon.

They asked if the shed in the corner of the garden was a guest house. No one asked me that before the fence was installed ; )

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building

These are Knockout Roses, they bloom until Christmas. Terreeia complained that we didn’t have any colour in our white garden so Maryanne said, “Get the yellow ones”. We love them!

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


See the burgundy leaves from the Japanese plum tree? This corner of the garden is North and the huge purple tree just made it darker in the winter. Last fall when Terreeia and I were raking and raking and raking the leaves, I said to her “Do you like this tree?” She said “No, I hate it”.

So I emailed MaryAnne and asked her if we should just have it removed. The subject line of her return email said “Off with her head!”

It looks so much better gone. Since we removed the tree I noticed that almost every house I drive by has a burgundy tree in the yard so one day I asked her “Are purple trees to you like espresso brown sofas are to me?” She said. yes. And then wrote a post about it here.

Our Brand New Vegetable Garden: Before & After


MaryAnne designed the garden bed to go around the existing maple tree. She does not draw circles around trees. I love the curves she designed all over my garden. She says she’s obsessed with them.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


This corner used to be full of mossy grass because it doesn’t get any sun in the winter. Now it’s a lovely garden bed with a little pathway to the gate at the side of the house.

Our Brand New Vegetable Garden: Before & After

See this wrought iron obelisk? I’m currently getting two made that look like this these (below). One will replace the black one and the other is 7 ft tall and it will stand in the garden.

Danger: Your Designer has Left the Building


Accessories for the garden MaryAnne says.

When you see the before pictures of our front and back yard, you’d have thought I had this vision before we bought the house!!

But I did not. Luckily, MaryAnne did have vision.

You can contact her here.

Related posts:

The Three Most Important Words in a Consultation

How to be Smart in a World of Dumb Designers

Ugly Costs the Same as Pretty

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk up to the front door, become a client. On-line or In-person.

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. Having the vision to create a gorgeous yard like you now have is terrific. Also great is having the resources to make it happen 😉 Some of us have the vision, know how to make it happen but have to wait years to get ‘the look’. Why? Cuz we have to start with teeeny tiny baby-sized plants that are more affordable than larger sized ones. But that’s OK too cuz we watch them grow into the grownup sized ones as we make the house a home 🙂 Maria, I LOVE LOVE LOVE your yard! If my budget allowed I’d be ripping up just about everything we inherited and starting from square one…or maybe square two..since I do love some of the plants ‘as is’..Haha! Thank you so much for showing your landscaping project…great inspiration!

  2. This is one of the prettiest yards I have ever seen done! You have added exponentially to the value of your house–better put a high price tag on when you do (if ever) decide to sell. The side yard, w/the vegetable gardens, reminds me of the historical gardens at Williamsburg, VA. I have Landscape Envy!
    This was, indeed, a better investment than any piece of jewelry. What a pleasure it must be to walk outside and enjoy Maria!

  3. The garden looks wonderful. Congratulations! And what an idea, when all the other projects are done, you can turn the shed into a guest suite!

  4. I am amazed that your garden is so mature so quickly. The fence is beautiful. Have you considered painting your raised beds?

  5. That is such a lovely transformation! You have worked so hard on this house I can’t believe it’s the same one you started with! I will also chip in “Amen” to your discussion today about contractors. I have learned that also being a woman there are many contractors who automatically look for my husband when making decisions and I’m like “HELLO, I’m over here, I’M the one making all the decisions!!!” So I have decided not to work with anyone who won’t take me seriously and that has made it SO much better! I hope you’re having a beautiful summer and you get to enjoy your yard!

  6. Maria,
    Your yard looks so beautiful!! It’s an amazing transformation. Frankly, (and I’m not asking) all I can think about is how much all that would have cost here in Syracuse. We paid $8000 a few years ago for landscaping on the front and one side of our house, and what you’ve had done looks like a lot more. Plus the fence, and the raised beds, and all the sod that was laid! Your Mary Ann is definitely a wonder woman–you are very lucky to have found her.

  7. So is your next project turning the ‘shed’ into a guest house? Sign me up! I’m sure your neighbors absolutely love you and Terreeia right now — what a huge improvement. Even from a distance I’m enjoying the beauty <3

  8. I love the flower beds and the fence! Did MaryAnne tell you how to keep the grass from growing into the beds? I’m just wondering because we did curbing and it still grows into our beds. I hate it more than I hate weeds.

  9. Best sentence I’ve heard in a long time: This is the way my designer wants it done.” The end. I’m going to empower all my clients to say that!

  10. Everything is just beautiful Maria & Terreia. Maria you are so right about contractors/builders there are some great ones out there (those are GOLD), but there are others that just wont listen when it comes to design and doing things differently. Ten years ago I chose my kitchen guy because he was the only forward thinking one open to doing a different design – a white painted kitchen with a stained wooden island (cupboards one end & open at other end with french farmhouse style table legs). I think he was secretly dubious until it was fully installed, because be stood back and said “wow that looks really good.” It’s stood the test of time & even now is the centre-piece of our house. We must stick to our guns when we know what is right or wrong. At the same time we did the kitchen also did additions & the brick layer messed up the position of a window so that it was off centre to the middle of the room by quite a bit. The builder suggested that our new curtains would cover the mistake – we said “NO deal” then he faked an asthma attack. We still didn’t relent & he finally agreed to fix it when we said we would tell visitors asking about the strange off centre window that the builder refused to fix his contractors mistake!!

  11. Your new garden looks wonderful. Great colours and design and just wish I could grow some of those plants here. The number of hellebore I’ve managed to kill doesn’t bear thinking about!

    P.S. Since becoming an addict of your site I’ve become very critical of other interior decorator sites.

  12. The yard is so beautiful! I love the fence. Good to know how to stick to your guns because things like that happen all of the time!!
    what a beautiful transformation Maria. Great post. Thank you once again.

  13. Great post, thanks for keeping it real!

    (climbing on my soapbox now…) Most contractors and installers are men, and most of us who make style decisions in our homes are women, and they are used to being The Boss and we are afraid of being The Bitch.

    Get in touch with your Inner Bitch 🙂 She doesn’t have to be rude, but she can be assertive. She can get what she wants, and she can smile if you feel better. It’s OK to get what you want!!!!!! Pretend like your daughter is watching, and show her how to get it DONE!

  14. I could really really really really use MaryAnne in my empty pit of a garden.
    But…i live in Greece 🙁
    Where everyone is installing grass for pete’s sake!!
    In sunny, no water year round Greece everyone seems to suggest grass for the gardens! No thanks!!
    See…i could really use you MaryAnne should you ever take a vacation in greece :)))

  15. i agree with most of this but one word of caution sometimes the builder trade person such as the cabinet designers do know better how things will come together. We did a kitchen reno for some people and followed the designers specs to the letter. In the end she had spec’d a fridge that does not work with a custom panel on the front now it looks like a mistake as it sticks out. Fridge was a custom order and could not be returned. Lots of money spent on cabinets and I didn’t even want to take a picture when it was done for my website.
    But yes generally when it comes to what works with what the designer is usually right

  16. Maria
    First off love your yard beautiful!
    Yards are like the icy on a cake can make a home or break .
    Second you are so right.
    Best not to let some one else take u in another direction .
    It just never works out.
    When we starting adding the white to our house
    The white cabinets / subway etc.
    I had people say ohh that is to much white. I stayed focused and explained the whys.
    Now that they see it they are like oh I get it now !
    I do have to give you the credit from all your great post and the help of your white is complicated !!!!
    I love all your advice and your great post !!!
    You are the only designer that I know if that can actually save a person money
    Cause your advice makes sense long term , !!!!thank you

  17. Absolutely beautiful! Totally, totally love the fence you put around your veggie garden. I’ve never seen a fence like that. Pinned for future reference! Thanks for sharing your home with us.

  18. Hi Maria, I have followed your blog forever. We are finally renovating our exterior and I am just in love with your fence! Would you be able to tell me the brand/style or any info at all about it?