The Psychology of Color and What It Does For Your Decor"
Solutions at Hand, February 2007, by Elaine Rogers
Eye-popping colors are a fun surprise in a powder bath where designers say
you can enjoy them without having to live with them all the time. The
decorative mosaic tiles in the photo are by Sara Baldwin of New Ravenna Mosaics.
The color wheel comes in handy when it comes to making design decisions. Active
or warm colors reportedly inspire positive, energetic, confident feelings while
the passive or cool colors are credited with promoting feelings of calm, trust
Whether you view the world through rose-colored glasses or spend too much
time singing the blues, the element of color has clear ties to our views, perceptions,
and emotions. Psychologists have long theorized about the interplay between
hues and moods, noting that we feel colors more strongly than we see them.
Yet, the color/mood connection isn’t as simple as having strong feelings
about what you like and don’t like, since research also suggests, that
individual color preferences are not necessarily fixed and may even vary within
a given day-depending upon your frame of mind and the framework in which they’re
“How color affects people depends a lot on who they are,” says
Ted Pearson, senior designer with Baltimore interior design firm, Rita St.
Clair Associates, Inc, “It’s very individual, but factors like
age and cultural background come into play and have a lot to do with natural
In terms of an impact on home design, specialists believe that people tend
to gravitate to rooms that fit their moods. For example, if you want
to hibernate for a while, you may find yourself drawn to a room with darker
tones. But if you want to be uplifted, brighter rooms will have more
appeal, “Darker colors are comforting,” says Debbie Zimmer, color
and decorating expert with the Philadelphia-based Rohm and Haas Paint Quality
Institute. “They warm up a space and envelop you. It’s
almost like putting on a warm blanket.”
Decorative painters, designers and architects frequently note the effect color
has on our emotions. For instance, a soft pastel green would be a good
choice for hospitals, a place where one wants to promote a sense of well-being.
On the other hand, restaurants favor the use of vibrant red because the emotive
color reportedly stimulates the appetite, drawing people in, getting them excited
about the food and then driving them out because most of us can only stand
the intensity for so long.
On the residential front, Pearson says red is similarly dramatic and popular
choice for dining rooms. “It’s an appetite enhancer,” he
explains. “Red dining rooms are kind of classic, and I’m
a fan, even in it does mean some people may not want to linger too long over
coffee.” For those who may view it as too passionate a color for
dinner parties and slow, multiple-course meals, he notes that alternate choices
like hunter green are also considered appetite enhancers.
Among individuals, color preferences often comes on strong, although Pearson
says most people have more intense feelings about colors they view negatively
than the ones they like. “It’s kind of interesting that to
most people don’t have that many color dislikes, but they feel really
strongly about the few they have. So if someone says, ‘I hate green,’ or ‘I
never wear green,’ we’ll know to avoid the obvious when it comes
to designing a room for them.”
Even so, he and Zimmer both note that negative feelings about color frequently
vary according to how the hues are used in décor.
“If you hate fire-engine red, maybe a cherry red will work instead,” Zimmer
says, “Or, a brick red may be the answer, as long as you don’t
use an overwhelming amount of it.”
“Quantity is the biggest issues,” Pearson adds. “A
rug may have some colors in it that aren’t your favorites, but if there’s
not that much of them, or if they’re mixed with colors that appeal to
you, that will make all the difference.” He explains that it’s
eye enough to emphasize the positive by using the favored colors of a rug as “the
starting point for a room’s design,” and says clients typically
find that rugs or furnishings with color schemes they think they don’t
like often become newfound favorites after a bit of this type of color coordination.
Designers point out that adding new accent colors with pillows, window treatments
and other extras is the fastest way to try out a trendy color and gauge the
emotional temperature of how the new colors may make you feel about a room.
And Zimmer says new wall paint has a tremendous impact in terms of the color/mood
connection – yet it’s conveniently not permanent if it doesn’t
yield the desired effect you were hoping for.
“The beauty of painting is that you can produce such dramatic results,” she
concludes. “But if it doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped
you don’t have to live with it.”
When considering color changeovers in a room, homeowners may enjoy the visual
assistance of the Color Designer, a hand, free, online tool offered by the Paint
Quality Institute (www.paintquality.com).
Offering a selection of 100 different images and hues, the program allows viewers
to experiment with paint colors and envision the effects of changes without ever
picking up a paintbrush. In addition, for a minimal fee, photos of individual
rooms may be uploaded, allowing access to the color designer tool and a more
realistic test of color options.