How I Became a Certified True Colour Expert

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Are you interested in becoming a Certified True Colour Expert?

In April 2018, I had the incredible opportunity to attend Maria Killam’s Color Workshop at the Allegria Hotel in Long Beach. Maria is a True Color Expert and Blogger of Color Me Happy.

Originally planned in New York City, the workshop moved to Long Beach due to the need for a hotel venue with optimal lighting. As it turned out, Long Beach is just twenty minutes from my home—a sign, I thought, that I was meant to attend.

In this post, I’ll take you through my experience, what I learned, and my thoughts on attending.

This post is all about How I became a Certified True Colour Expert.

READ MORE>>> Home Design Inspiration On Inspired Design Talk

maria killam live color workshop long beach ny certified true color expert
Class Photo- I’m sitting next to Maria in my design bubble full of unicorns and rainbows!

An Investment Worth Every Penny

Enrolling in this three-day course was one of the best decisions I’ve made for my business. Maria shared her knowledge and the techniques she developed over many years.

Though I had read Maria’s eBooks, I wasn’t a regular follower of her Color Me Happy blog. Some participants who were avid blog readers seemed more familiar with the concepts, but the course was beneficial for everyone.

What is a true colour expert?

A Certified True Colour Expert is a professional with extensive training and expertise in color theory and its practical applications in design and decor. They have in-depth knowledge of color from understanding undertones to how colors interact with each other and with different lighting conditions.

They can create harmonious and aesthetically pleasing environments by selecting and combining colors effectively. True Color Experts help clients avoid common design mistakes, such as mixing incompatible colors, and provide personalized advice to achieve a cohesive and timeless look.

They stay current with color trends and use various tools to illustrate and test color choices in real-life settings.

maria killam color wheel lesson certified true color expert
Lesson using Maria’s color wheel with the nine undertones shown.

Key Takeaways: Certified True Colour Expert Workshop

Understanding Undertones: Maria’s method is grounded in nine undertones. Coming from a background in designing children’s clothes, I initially saw some undertones differently and had to retrain my eye throughout the course.

Clean vs. Dirty Colors: Maria emphasized the importance of not mixing clean and dirty colors to avoid creating a room that looks off and is unpleasing to the eye.

Trend Timelines: She walked us through trend timelines (which typically have a lifespan of 10 years):

  • 2000s: Tuscan Trend (my original house situation)
  • 2010s: Charcoal Gray Trend
  • 2020s: Black as the new gray, with Black & White trending, along with art gallery white walls and pops of color in neutral palettes.

Establishing a Design Point of View: Maria stressed the importance of having a distinct style and point of view to stand out as a designer. She referenced prominent designers like Kelly Wearstler, Tobi Fairley, and Caitlin Wilson.

maria killam color scheme lesson certified true color expert
Lesson pulling a color scheme together.

Designing a Space: The Right Starting Point

One of the most valuable lessons was the order of choosing elements for a room.

Color Palette: Contrary to popular belief, paint color should not be the first decision. Instead, start with jumping off to set the tone for the space, such as artwork, a rug, or a duvet cover.

This will help you create the “look and feel” of your living space. She recommended starting with pillows when building a color scheme since artwork or a rug can take some longer to figure out.

true colour expert color palette with paint and fabric
Group lesson on creating flow between rooms

Fixed Elements: Before designing, consider the fixed elements like countertops, backsplashes, cabinets, and fireplace stone, as these are more permanent and costly to change. This is especially true when designing open-concept spaces since rooms flow from one another.

These are more permanent and costly to change. Design and color choices should be based on these items.


Hard Finish Examples


  • Living Room– fireplace stone, wood floor, or carpet is a fixed element.
  • Kitchen– countertop, backsplash, and cabinets
  • Bathroom- countertop, tile, and vanity.

Creating Flow: In open floor plans, begin with the living room and work out from there to create a cohesive flow. This is the most used space in a home and often the central hug when entertaining guests.

TIPS

  • Walls in a Tuscan-trend kitchen cannot be painted gray!
  • You must first understand the undertones in your space and then work your design from there.
  • Ivory or cream white would be the better choice in a Tuscan kitchen because it’ll create a softer look and be more pleasing to the eye.
  • Bright white will NOT work in a Tuscan trend room.

The Benjamin Moore Color Wands

Another lesson during the Certified True Colour Expert course was on the Benjamin Moore color wands. Maria explained that the BM Color Preview wand is brighter than the Classic and Historical and is typically used for kids’ rooms or commercial spaces. The classic wand has been reduced down and many of the unused colors have been removed.

Benjamin Moore Color Wand Differences:

  • Color Preview Wand: Brighter colors, ideal for kids’ rooms or commercial spaces.
  • Classic Wand: Streamlined with fewer colors, maintaining timeless options.
certified true color expert paint tools
Benjamin Moore wands and books from my rep Toni! (on my pink beige countertop)

Certified True Colour Expert: Timeless Design Tips

Maria stressed the fact that everyone wants what everyone else has!

To create a timeless space, one should not go too trendy. If your larger pieces are neutral you can update them with accent colors in pillows, artwork, accessories, or rugs.

Maria usually specifies subway tile in kitchens because it is classic and timeless. She pointed out that most people choose a bossy countertop and a bossy backsplash which is a bad idea because you have to work with those elements and they also take away from having a star of the show.

Many homeowners make the mistake of trying to put every single trend in their remodels instead of focusing on one area to be the “star”. For example, if you have a bossy granite countertop it is best to select plain subway tile to not have your eyes all over the place when looking at the space.


Timeless Design Tips


  • Subway Tiles: Maria advocates for classic subway tiles in kitchen designs for a timeless look.
  • Limit Trends: Avoid incorporating too many trends; instead, choose one standout feature.
  • Neutral Rule: Limit neutrals in a room to one or two at most.
  • Color Rule: Limit the number of colors to three plus neutrals.

The other option would be a dramatic backsplash with a simple white quartz countertop. I made this mistake in my kitchen. We have a pink-beige granite countertop with a very bossy backsplash.

tuscan kitchen design
Tuscan Trend Alert!!! Maria can use this as the picture of what not to do lol!

Practical Exercises And Advice From The Course

Throughout the workshop, we engaged in practical exercises using Maria’s large paint boards, fabrics, and finishes. She went over her process for choosing a color palette and creating flow in a space.

The class would then break out into smaller groups by table and would work on the exercises. Maria would review each of the choices with the class and then approve or suggest a better option.

certified true colour workshop hard finish lesson
Lesson working with hard finishes

Wood Floors: Some of the valuable information she also shared was that your wood floors are like a pair of jeans and will go with any color palette. A medium brown wood floor is timeless and classic.

Design Trends: To be careful going too trendy. For example, if you put in a gray wood floor right now you’ll be decorating with gray forever and this design trend is on its way out!

Paint Colors: As a rule, the color Muslin or Pale Oak goes with pink beige. The transition neutral that works with dated finishes and updates yellow is Manchester Tan. It is also the answer to the Tuscan Trend.

A tip she gave for anyone trying to pull off the art gallery white wall trend is to remember you need to repeat the white in your furniture, pillows ect.

Neutral Rule: Limit the amount of neutrals in a room to one or two the most.

Color Rule: Limit the number of colors you use to three plus neutrals.

Tips When Choosing A Paint Color

Always remember you cannot pick a paint color for a room when it relates to nothing. You need the bedding, artwork, a rug, or something to base the “look and feel” of the room.

You must always compare when choosing a color. Contrast and compare! Put white behind your color boards when choosing a color or determining the undertone.

Lay your boards and finishes out in the direction they would go in the room.

large paint boards
Notice the white boards behind and the paint boards are horizontal.

The control color is always the one controlling the room, the bossy one. You can mix undertones as long as they go together.

Choose the correct white!

Maria’s Designer Tips

  • When remodeling pick your wood floor first then your countertop finish.
  • Subway tile is available in white, off-white, and crème.
  • For a classic kitchen that won’t go out of style go with white cabinets, counter top and subway tile backsplash. The backsplash pattern can be horizontal, a chevron pattern, basket weave, etc. Then update the color of your accessories.
  • Tablescapes and vignettes are essential to good design. Style your space to the max.
  • Use feather-down inserts for choppable pillows.
  • Study the current lighting trends.
  • Shop online to get the best possible result. 
  • Use blackout lining so drapes don’t change color
  • You must choose everything at the same time for a room.
  • Know your aesthetic!
  • Always have the homeowners leave during install.
  • When clients share a Pinterest image for inspiration make sure to ask what they like about the images.
  • It’s ok to fire a client if they don’t trust you (great tip)!
  • You must be able to tell your client NO when something won’t work.

Always take photos in natural light (turn off all lights) and square off the room. Line up the edge of your iPhone with a line in the room you are taking a photo of.

hotel lobby picture taking colour course
Notice I lined up the wall on the right when taking the picture.

Personalized Advice

My Kitchen Dilemma: During the breaks, between lessons, Maria was always available for individual questions. On the second day, I consulted with her about painting my cherry cabinets white.

She said a firm NO! That my cabinets were not the problem it was my bossy countertop and backsplash. Her suggestion was to change my countertops to white quartz and the backsplash to white subway tiles. She said that change would make a huge difference.

tuscan kitchen design certified true colour expert advice
Here’s another view in case you wanted an extra chuckle!

Since it always takes me a minute to accept something I don’t want to hear I tried to get Maria to give me another suggestion with the option of painting the cabinets white. No Shot! Maria wasn’t budging with her advice lol.

Though initially reluctant, I saw the wisdom in her advice and called my husband. He was on board with a kitchen facelift in the. future. One of the qualities I must say I love about him. He is always on board with change!

So, the future update plan will include painting the cabinets, and changing the counters, backsplash, knobs, lighting, and stove (since it is dying anyway).

On a side note if I wanted to get rid of the yellow walls today I could go with Classic Gray OC-23 (greige) since there are flecks of grey and black in my granite. I brought a sample of my granite into class and Maria did a mini-lesson with the class since I was obsessed as usual.

Designer Networking and Community

Beyond the education, the workshop was invaluable for networking. I connected with talented interior designers like Claire Jefford, Wendy Woloshchuk, and Jennifer Tampasis. These interactions were enlightening and fun, filled with shared experiences and laughter.

nicole delacruz jmaria killam certified true colour expert
Me beaming with happiness as I pose with Maria and my True Color Expert Certificate!

Aside from the education and learning I attained from the course, I must also mention the networking with fellow designers and classmates which was invaluable. I had the privilege of spending the three days with awesome designers such as Claire Jefford, Wendy Woloshchuk, and Jennifer Tampasis to name a few!

nicole delacruz jennifer tampasis certified true colour expert

It was awesome to be surrounded by such amazing talent and I felt like I was in a design bubble the entire workshop! I had a great time with lots of laughs! At lunch and dinner (on the second day) I continued to learn as so many of the designers shared their experiences and knowledge. On Wednesday night after dinner, I was even a part of Claire’s WIDWIL!! That was so much fun!

nicole delacruz claire jefford certified true colour expert
Claire and I

Continuing the Certified True Color Expert Design Journey

Encouraged by my peers, I started doing Facebook Live videos every Friday to document my journey and share insights. This newfound confidence and visibility have been instrumental in my professional growth.

Wendy is on every day and apparently, it’s a thing for Interior Design. Since I just do whatever my role model peers say to do, I did it!

The first one was pretty bad but they can only get better and I have pretty much convinced myself no one is watching. Since then I have done a FB Live video every Friday consistently to document my journey and share what I’m learning along the way! Thank you, Wendy!!

nicole delacruz wendy woloshchuk certified true colour expert
Wendy and I

Another former Children’s Wear designer I met was Elizabeth Delaney Burke who works at the Duralee showroom in Syosset, NY. I had never been before but the Friday following the course, I went, Elizabeth gave me a tour and I’ve since opened my account. Elizabeth helped explain the process which made me more comfortable and would not have happened if not for meeting at the course.

gal nicole delacruz and elizabeth
Gay, Myself, and Elizabeth

I have continued to keep in touch with many of my classmates and can’t wait to meet up with them at future events!

robin and nicole delacruz at maria killiam colour class
Robin and I both from Long Island, NY

Conclusion

For anyone considering Maria Killam’s Color Workshop, I cannot recommend it highly enough. The knowledge, practical advice, and connections I gained were priceless.

It was an investment that has significantly shaped my approach to design and my business.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about my experience, feel free to comment below. Happy designing!

This post is all about How I became a Certified True Colour Expert.

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Last Updated on June 2, 2024 by Nicole DelaCruz

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2 Comments

  1. Hi! This is such a helpful post. I’m going back and forth about attending Maria’s Palm Springs workshop in Feb. I’m just a home-owner, trying to figure out how to stage my home for sale, and how to decorate my new home. I am a diy person at heart, and always prefer to learn something myself rather than pay someone to help me. But it’s such a huge investment, and I have absolutely no experience in interior design, so it’s a little intimidating. Do you think I should go?? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kristin! It was such an amazing experience for me and I think you’d LOVE it. Maria teaches you how to make your home timeless and creative a “look and feel”. It would be super helpful if you are trying to stage for resale and in your new home when decorating. If you are able to invest in the course it would be invaluable in both of these areas. Plus you will have so much fun and feel like you are in a design bubble the three days you are in the class. Good luck and let me know what you decide. If you do go I’d love to hear what you thought as well! xo Nicole

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