Interview with a Color Expert: Maria Killam

published Jan 13, 2012
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I’m sure some of you understand: often, keeping up with my blogroll feels like a full-time job. With so many great sites out there (and only so many hours in the day), isn’t in nice when you find one that always delivers? A blogger who leaves you feeling not just inspired, but smarter, too? For me, Maria Killam does just that.

Follow Topics for more like this

Follow for more stories like this

I discovered Maria’s blog Colour Me Happy about two years ago, when I was first considering a career change into interior design. It’s quite unique in that she writes many posts aimed toward helping her fellow designers, but not to worry- there is plenty here for the design-mad homeowner or color enthusiast, as well.

Through more than ten years of design experience and thousands of consultations, Maria has honed her eye for color like you wouldn’t believe. After developing a system which groups colors according to undertones, therefore making it easier to specify the “right” shade, she began to teach it to others. I’ll admit, I’m dying to take her workshop one day, but until then, I’ll have to be content with her new ebook, How to Choose Paint Colours – It’s All in the Undertones. I bought my copy at the end of last year, and have been pouring through it ever since.

I recently contacted Maria to see if she’d share some of her color know-how with Apartment Therapy readers, and was delighted when she agreed.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

So Maria, what’s this “Color Expert” business, and how did you get into it?

When I first started my decorating business I received an inquiry from a client who said “I’m trying to pick colors, I see all these different undertones and can’t figure out which one is right for my house, can you help me with that?” I had no idea what she was talking about back then, but I started searching for the answer. That was how my passion for color began.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Your blog, Colour Me Happy, is unique in that you seem to be on a mission to educate and help your fellow design professionals. Many designers tend to hold their processes and ideas quote close to their chest, so I imagine that this was a conscious decision on your part?

I think it was, I had some wonderful mentors throughout my career and there were other things I learned painfully through trial and error. It’s also part of the way I’m wired, I’m quick to jump in with an answer if I think I can help, anywhere in my life, so giving advice on my blog came easily.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What’s the most common mistake people make when choosing paint colors for their home? How can they avoid it?

Not understanding how to test colour properly. Paint companies usually show four colors printed on the middle of a small piece of paper, which does nothing to help you determine how those colors relate to the fixed elements and furnished items in your home. Context is key in finding the correct color for each room- starting from scratch with an empty house is actually the most difficult way to choose color.

In a perfect world, you’d select all fabrics and furnishings first. However when you don’t have those items as inspiration, know that unless you love the color all by itself, you probably won’t be as excited about the colors you are selecting, simply because they don’t relate to anything yet.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

What color will be big news in 2012?

When I came back from the Colour Marketing Group conference last September I was seeing lots of orange, so it was great validation when Pantone announced their Color of the Year as Tangerine Tango. It’s nice to see people moving away from the “safer” greens and blues, which have been predominantly what I’ve been specifying for the last two years.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Is there any colour or trend you’d like to see the back of this year?

The overuse of the current “trendy neutral of the moment” is what I’d love to see go away. I was a newlywed when forest green was considered a neutral, I remember thinking that buying a sofa and loveseat in that color was the “safest” way to go.

Then that trend morphed into black sofas, then brown and now linen. What’s more neutral than linen, we ask ourselves? Everything goes with it, right? But that trend has a limited life, just like my forest green sofa, and the dying brown trend. Buying too much of any “neutral” color will date your house much faster than anything else.

Working with your favourite colours combined with the trendy neutral du jour will go much farther in having your space fill you with happiness when you walk in the door.

Images: via Maria Killam