Last week I had the privilege of attending Maria Killam’s True Colour Expert(TM) training course. The three-day course included presentations on Maria’s Colour Confidence System, as well as many hands-on exercises. This allowed students to put the new information to use with case studies, paint chips, fabrics and hard surface samples. The room was filled mostly with Designers at varying stages of their careers, as well as a few overwhelmed homeowners, perhaps looking to heal their own design woes. Having been a trained and certified member of the Interior Redecorators Network since 1998, I was more than a bit skeptical what new tricks this old dog could learn. I knew my business of transforming my clients’ homes using mostly what they owned often did involve new color, and if I could quicken and simplify the process, perhaps this was the course for me.
There are so many factors that affect the color choices we make with and for our clients, but truth be told most Designers I know do this purely by instinct (or as the funny, sharp as a whip Ms. Killam would say, “Spidey Senses”). In other words, when a decorator stands in your home and confidently assures you that the 1 inch by 1 inch square of color they have chosen will magically make your old sofa be friends with your new rug, they’re not always sure why.
In the past I’ve used phrases like, “it pulls everything together” or “it marries the two palettes in the room”, or the even popular, “it will make your husband happy”. I’ve used words like warm, yellow-based, creamy, happy, muddy, muted, bright, pure, blue-based, cool, and sophisticated to describe color. Ms. Killam has developed a vocabulary and system to define, identify and diagnose colors that is clear, concise, and accurate.
Her primary objective when looking at color is to see what you don’t see at first glance. She uses the term undertone, and she identifies them in color as easily and as quickly as breathing. Undertone is the color under the color — the way a gray wall can look green at certain times of the day has less to do with the effect of the light on that wall, and more to do with the green undertones in the gray. Having had a long career working for Benjamin Moore, Ms. Killam knows of what she speaks. More than a few times in the seminar she would declare a color as having the worst of all undertones, the dreaded, “pink-beige”. In all honesty, I didn’t always see it. Her convictions, and spot on “after” pictures always proved her right, so one does at some point trust in her diagnoses while attempting to absorb her magical skills. I imagine teaching old designers such as myself with 20 some odd years of experience the new trick of undertones would take more than the 3 day seminar, which is why you leave her course with a pile of resources, both printed and online.
Why do undertones matter? Probably the biggest reason folks call a decorator is to fix a room that isn’t working, and often the client won’t know why it just isn’t right. Something is off, and that something is typically mismatched or unharmonious undertones in a room. There are often other issues in size, scale, proportion, floor plans, furniture arrangements, lighting, etc. but in this class, and for this training, we saw magic happen when the undertones were working with each other rather than against. A multitude of outdated lumpy sofa sins were forgiven when the colors in the room sang.
Ms. Killam covers some of those other design issues including avoiding or correcting outdated design trends, styling vignettes, and the business of color consulting. For the most part, though, this class is about understanding undertones and using color to elevate the overall design of the room. At a dinner with Maria and her team on day two of the course, we had the opportunity to get to know what a warm, funny, straight shooting woman she is. Although perhaps more well-known in her native Canada, she has gained success and notoriety as a designer in my opinion, because she has what all good designers have: she truly CARES about her clients’ homes looking the best they can. She is a charming, enthusiastic color missionary, bringing harmony to the masses. One undertone at a time.