Color is not just color, White is complicated and other things I've learned

I've just returned from a seminar learning about color from the expert herself, Maria Killam of Colour Me Happy.  Even though I've been doing this for several years now, I'd never given much thought to color, other than how to use it in ways that brought a space together and/or alive, depending.   

In three short days, Maria changed all of that.

I learned a lot from Maria and the other participants, but the three key things I took away from her workshop were as follows:

1- There are 9 neutral undertones in the world and once you have a gradation of them (from light to dark), you no longer need to sift through hundreds to find the right one. They are: 

  1. Blue Grey
  2. Green Beige
  3. Yellow Beige
  4. Pink Beige
  5. Orange Beige
  6. Gold Beige
  7. Taupe
  8. Green Grey
  9. Purple Grey

2- You can't choose color from a paint chip the size of your thumb (I think we can all relate to this one!).  Maria has developed large boards that rather than being printed, are painted.  It's enormously helpful to be able to hold these up to a wall in your space or to a sofa to determine its undertone. She sells them here, if you're interested in buying your own.  Alternatively, if you're just looking for paint colors, my friend Vanessa from Color Moxie NW has them and can help you choose the perfect wall color in no time. 

3- You can't choose color without using a "control" -- a white piece of paper behind the color board is the only way to accurately determine the undertone.  I was amazed at how many times I guessed a color's undertone incorrectly until I held up a white board or piece of paper as a point of comparison.  

If you're a designer or just a "design enthusiast", Maria's classes are well worth the investment. You not only leave as a certified color expert, but a whole new appreciation for the colors of the world around you. 



Houzz "Room of the Day"

What fun to check my email and see that my latest project was featured on Houzz!   Thank you to my clients Virginia and Kevin for allowing me to showcase their beautiful home. 

From the article:

"Every now and then, a house hunter is lucky enough to find a home that needs only a few cosmetic updates. Siefkin’s clients were just that lucky. The home they purchased for their family was in great shape, with previous updates that included vaulted ceilings and skylights, features many traditional ranch houses don’t have. 

That said, the home’s layout is a bit unusual...."

Click to read the rest

My Oprah "Ah ha" Moment

Hi All,

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted an update. I can attribute this to three things:

1-    I have been so busy with my amazing clients

2-    My work with a business coach on the rebrand of my company

3-    When I am not working with my clients and my business coach, all this crummy weather has made me want to sleep!

Let’s talk about #2. You may have noticed over the last few weeks, I changed my name from Ideaspark to Interior Design Alchemy.  This was a result of an archetype exercise I went through.  It revealed that my primary archetype is “alchemist.” To be honest, I only knew of alchemy in a scientific context, so when I read up on it’s definition, I was floored.  According to, it is “a seemingly magical process of transformation, creation, or combination.” I transform spaces by either creating them or combining things in a different way!  As Oprah would say, it was an “ah ha” moment for me. 

Not only was it incredibly fun, it was also really illuminating.  I walked away with a lot more information about who I am and what makes me tick.  I genuinely believe that this knowledge will help me be a better designer. 

Speaking of transformation, I participated in a photo shoot the other day and boy is it a process!  There’s a lot of illusion and perspective involved in photography.  The image below is of my photographer John Valls doing HIS magic.  Wait until you see the transformation of this space! 

If you’re ready to have your modern, midcentury or contemporary space transformed, head on over to my revamped web site and request a complimentary phone consultation.  I’d love to hear about you and what you would make magically disappear from your living room if you could? 

Get Out of the Dark with Good Lighting

Today was the shortest day of the year, and while it will get progressively lighter from here, I’m sorry to say we still have a long way to go here in the Pacific Northwest.  

One thing that can help significantly is having good lighting in your home.  In my opinion, good lighting is one of the single greatest contributions to good decor. It not only enhances the function of a room, it also enriches the appearance. A well-lit space is more functional and more attractive.

To achieve good lighting, you need to follow a few simple rules:

1- Layer

There are three types of lighting and you should be using all three in a space. General, or ambient light illuminates an entire space but does not need to be overly bright. Task lighting creates focused points of light over work areas, such as desk, table, bedside or reading chair. As a general rule, task lighting should be three times brighter than the ambient light. Accent lighting is mainly decorative and gives a room a finished look – think table lamp here. By layering all three types at least once in each room, you create a more welcoming and usable space.

2- Use Light, Shadow and Reflection

Ambient and accent lighting work best when the light bounces off a nearby surface, such as a wall or ceiling. Bouncing light helps balance out ambient lighting, and can be used to add drama. Use uplights behind large houseplants to cast dramatic shadows and add interest to an otherwise dark corner.

3- Vary Light Levels

Installing dimmer switches is extremely easy and is one of the best ways to give you control over the way a space feels. Dimmers allow you to create a more customized lighting design and alter the mood of a room. Dimmers are particularly effective in dining and living areas.

What about lighting stumps you?  Do you have a good lighting resource?  Tell me about it!

Getting on the Same (Design) Page with your Partner



One of the most frequent scenarios I encounter with my clients is this:

Partner A calls me to ask about my services.  We agree to meet, see the space, talk about goals and objectives and so forth.  After being assured that the Partner B doesn’t have any interest in the outcome of the space, I begin to design.  I return to present the design – generally to Partner A and B – and Partner B is none too pleased with what s/he sees.  An argument ensues. I have to scrap my design and at the client’s expense, go back to the drawing board.

This happens ALL the time.

Don’t assume your partner doesn’t care.  He/she DOES. They may not know how to articulate what they like or dislike, but they do have an opinion.  This questionnaire will help him/her find the words to describe their preferences and give you the tools to communicate them.

The other scenario I encounter often is that I am brought in to settle home decor disagreements - or worse, asked to side with the initiating party.

Take heart; much of the time, misunderstandings around interiors are more about communication of one’s needs for a space than an actual difference in style preference. 

By doing this brief exercise in advance, you can get to the desired goal a lot faster and avoid unnecessary aggravation.


Print out two copies of this post. Each of you will need to take this survey.  It is important that you do it separately so as not to influence one another’s responses. So much of interior design is intuitive and about feel, so have fun, answer honestly and don’t overthink your answers!


  • Which room(s) are you interested in addressing? (If more than one, answer the questions below for each).
  • How do you use the space currently? (i.e. watching TV, eating, sleeping, reading etc.)
  • Are you happy with the way it is utilized or would you change that in some way?  If yes, how?
  • Approximately how many hours a day do you spend in this room?


How would you describe your preferred style?

  • Modern
  • Traditional
  • Transitional (between modern and traditional)
  • Eclectic
  • Rustic
  • Industrial
  • Other

How do you want it to feel? Circle the three that most apply:

  • Formal
  • Relaxed
  • Casual
  • Peaceful
  • Unique
  • Inviting
  • Happy
  • Minimal
  • Collected
  • Elegant
  • Other

How do you NOT want it to feel? Circle the three that most apply:

  • Formal
  • Relaxed
  • Casual
  • Peaceful
  • Unique
  • Inviting
  • Happy
  • Minimal
  • Collected
  • Elegant
  • Other

What is your biggest priority?

  • The way the room looks
  • The way the room functions
  • The way the room feels
  • Other

What colors do you tend to prefer?

  • Cooler tones (greens, blues, greys)
  • Warmer tones (oranges, reds, browns)
  • Neutrals (whites, browns, blacks)
  • Other

Which room(s) in your home do you most like and why?


  • How much are you willing to spend to make the space what you want it to be?
  • How will you be paying for the improvements (checking, credit card, bank loan etc,)
  • Are you willing to put in some elbow grease or do you want someone to do it all for you?


  • When do you want the room to be done?
  • Are you willing to wait if you can get an item for less money?


Rank the following rooms in terms of appeal (1= your favorite 5 = your least favorite)

Source: Houzz

Source: Houzz

Source: Home Decor

Source: Home Decor

Don't like any of the rooms you see?  Hit the Web and search sources like Pinterest, Instagram and Apartment Therapy.  There is an endless sea of inspiration and ideas out there.  Don't be limited to what you see above.

All done? Sit down together and review your answers. Even better, work with an interior designer who can help review and decipher your answers and make the appropriate recommendations.

Lastly, CONGRATULATIONS on taking the first step toward understanding your personal style and learning how to marry that style with another person with whom you presumably live -- or perhaps you plan to live.



Paralysis (Over)Analysis


Last week, my husband and I moved from a nearly 3000 square foot home in north Portland, to a 2000 square foot place in southwest Portland.  Since it’s just he and I and our two dogs, we decided it was time to move to a smaller space.  We have no children, but I’ve always thought moving must be a little like childbirth – you only do it again because you forgotten how painful it was.  This move was no exception.

This is my first move since becoming an interior designer.  To say that it’s been a humbling experience is an understatement.  I’d decorated my homes before, of course, but there’s something different about it this time. My expectations are higher and my fears are greater. 

When I walk into a client’s home, I know pretty quickly what it is that the room “needs” – a warmer paint color, a larger area rug, more art.  When I walk into my own home, I am instantly paralyzed and it’s absolutely vexing. 

An example: No joke, I’ve taken home, tested, bought and returned more than a dozen area rugs for our living room.  Questions I would ask my clients swirl unanswered in my head – “How do you want the room to feel?  How much traffic will this area get?  What colors do you prefer?”

In the end, I will figure it out.  I always do, but I just wanted to share with you that when I say, “I feel your pain,” I’m not just paying you lip service!



Our new, smaller home. pre-purchase. 

Our new, smaller home. pre-purchase. 

Before You Cut a Rug: What Size Works Best for Your Home?

Before You Cut a Rug: What Rug Size Works Best for Your Home?

Area rugs – sometimes called carpets -- have a way of making a space feel and look more like a home.  Whether it’s the texture or the unique design, rugs can really make a room seem more inviting.  However, knowing the right rug size to choose for your home can be tricky.  With lots of different options out there, and limited space to use them in your home, how do you know what size will look best in what areas?  By following these simple guidelines you can master the art of knowing what rug size work best in the three areas of a home I am most asked about.


The living room is the space where you and your guests spend a great deal of time socializing and relaxing.  That being said, you want your living room to look good.  Here are some tips when it comes to what size rug you should use in your living room:

  • Large Space: Bigger rooms are great, but they also mean you have more area to cover and need to do more to make it feel cozy instead of cold. In these instances, I recommend looking for a rug that is big enough to “float” all of your furniture on.  In other words, all your main pieces fit comfortably within the perimeter of the rug leaving equal distance all the way around. This technique makes the room look cozy and comfortable, yet still polished.
  • Midsized Space: In an average sized living room, you can go a little smaller with your area rug provided that you always make sure the front two legs of all of the pieces in the grouping (sofa, chairs, loveseat etc.) are on the rug.  This brings the furniture all goes together telling the homeowner and guests the purpose of the space.
  • Small Space: In a very small living room, such as an apartment, condominium or many of those classic bungalows of the Northwest, space is at a premium.  By placing an area rug under a coffee table between your seating area, you can actually trick the eye in to believing you have more space than you do.  This technique is also good if your budget is tight and you can only afford a smaller sized rug.


Hallways tend to be small and narrow, which doesn’t leave a lot of options when it comes to rug placement.  However, if you have furniture in your hallway that can change up your rug placement.  Here are some tips when it comes to rug placement in a hallway:

  • Homeowners with narrow hallways should look for “runners” that have 4 to 5 inches of flooring visible on all sides of the runner. For example, if you have a 3ft wide hallway (most halls are about this width), I find that a 2'3" wide runner is a comfortable width. The good news is, most standard runners come this width, or close to it. Or, and this one is a little unorthodox, but try placing furniture to one side and the long runner on the other.  This can make a small hallway look and feel bigger with the runner rug to one side.
  • For wider hallways, a long rug with furniture (such as a console) on either side can keep the space from feeling cavernous.  Just be sure to keep the rug out from under the furniture and let the rug lead you down the hallway.


Much like the living room, a dining room is another space in to which we bring guests to entertain and socialize.  Unlike all other rooms, the technique for a dining room rug is actually very simple: everything should be on the rug.  With the table in the center, the chairs should have plenty of room to be pulled back away from the table and still remain on the rug.  This is one area of your home that is better to get a bigger rug rather than a rug that is too small.

In the next blog, I will address rugs in the bedroom and entryway or foyer.




A fun example of using Flor Carpet Tiles as a custom runner. 

A fun example of using Flor Carpet Tiles as a custom runner. 

Mastering the Skill of Pillow Mixing

Throw pillows are a simple and unique way to add some color and personality to your home or commercial space.  With the right colors, pattern and strategic placement, you can make a room stand out.  However, knowing the right colors and designs to choose for your home can be overwhelming.  With so many different ideas and design strategies out there, it can seem next to impossible to find the right pillows for your home.  Have no fear!  With these tips and tricks, you can become a master when it comes to understanding throw pillow mixes. 

1 Pattern and 1 Solid

This is one of the most simple throw pillow mixes.  You can choose pillows with simple pairing colors for a nice and simple look, or even take two colors like blue and orange for a nice pop on a white or cream couch.  Choosing this strategy also gives you the opportunity to be unique with pattern choices because it will not clash with the solid pillow.  With this simple technique, you have the ability to experiment a little more when it comes to your throw pillow choices.

1 Large Pattern, 1 Small Print and 1 Solid

Varying the size of your pillows can really add some dimension to your furniture.  By using a large bold pattern like floral, a smaller print pillow with stripes or polka dots and a solid colored pillow, your furniture can look fresh and unique.  With the two different patterns mixed in with a solid color, you can add more texture and a personal style to your home.

Pick a Pattern Theme: Batik, Stripes and Geometrics

While mixing and matching different patterns can be fun, it might be a good idea to stick to one particular theme pattern to make your home come together.  If you like to experiment with different colors, a batik pillow style could be ideal for you.  Different colors can still work together because of a common dying technique, which gives you a lot of room to experiment with color.  A striped pattern design can be great when you’re looking to add a dash of color to your home without being overwhelming.  Geometric patterns are great if you are going for a polished and clean look in your home, meaning that you like a more cohesive pattern type. 

Choose Your Colors

Choosing a color for your pillows is one of the most difficult aspects of throw pillow mixing.  One technique you can use is to only choose colors that are within the same color palette.  By staying within the color palette guidelines you can know for sure that the colors you choosing will look good as a whole.  Paint stores are a great place to choose a color palette that seems to best fit your home and style.

The key to throw pillow mixing is to not overthink it.  By using these tips and going with what looks and feels right for you, you’re sure to have a great looking home.

If you're still intimidated, start with neutrals.  Below are several that would work together due to their subtlety.


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