Whether you’ve just moved into a new home and want to put your mark on it, are sick of your décor and need a refresh, or just feel like changing one wall in your house, it’s essential to get it right. When you’re creating a relaxing space to sleep in or a cosy place to snuggle up with a book, the colours that you use can massively influence the final effect.
By harnessing the power of colour and paying attention to the way that different shades make you feel, you can use colour psychology to enhance your living spaces. Pay attention to the atmosphere you surround yourself with and it can have a positive impact on your physical and mental health.
What is Colour Psychology?
“Colour is a power which directly influences the soul.” – Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art
Colour has long been an obsession of artists, designers and other creatives. The effect that colour has on the mind is respected by those who use it to create moods and “nudge” behaviours in different spaces.
Designers know the importance of colour psychology and how the clever use of colour improves places like public spaces. Intelligent use of colour can draw attention and influence emotions in people. We can use this when decorating our own homes.
A practical example of colour psychology is the way that we decorate ourselves in public. The colours that we choose reflect, whether consciously or not, our emotions and moods. Dressing in black clothing can be associated with power and authority, but also sadness, evil and sinister behaviour.
The same is true of the ways in which we decorate our living spaces. When decorating a room, you have the chance to make a bold statement about how you interpret the world. Paints and wallpapers are available in every colour imaginable, so use this guide to explore the colours you could use and what they mean.
When talking about colours, it’s useful to think about how they work with each other. Light is white, but when split with a prism it scatters across the spectrum and creates different colours on different wavelengths, hence natural phenomena such as rainbows and sunsets. White light contains all seven million colours that we can see with the naked eye, but we only see them when the white light is bent by something.
In the case of a rainbow, sunlight is bent when it passes through droplets of rain. Sunsets, meanwhile, are caused by blue light being bent when it passes through a thicker layer of atmosphere in the sky. These beautiful displays of nature help us to understand the positive effects that colour can have on our homes.
Cultural Differences in Colour
Factors such as age, gender, ethnicity, geography and climate impact that effects that colours have on us. Cultural attitudes to colours are very different in the West and East, for example, with some colours that are seen as pure and clean in the West, like white, symbolising mourning, sadness and misfortune in Eastern cultures.
In many Western cultures, the colour red is associated with passion, excitement and flamboyance, but also warnings and danger. It’s nature’s warning to us: do not touch. When used as a room colour, red speeds up the heartbeat and displays an intensity of emotion in bright light. Under lamplight, it can come across as sophisticated and deep, promoting courage and gallantry.
In Eastern cultures, red is deeply associated with good luck, joy and prosperity. Representing the fire element in Feng Shui, it promotes passion and excitement, but too much can be combative and cause arguments.
As a powerful and highly contrasting colour, red should be used sparingly or as a statement, rather than for all of the walls in a room. Consider an accent wall in a deep wine red to set pulses racing, or even skip the paint and use red furniture to add the fire element without boiling over.
Orange, the colour of fire. Associated with the harvest in Western cultures, it promotes good health, sexuality, joy, warmth and heat. Darker tones of orange are also associated with the changing colour of leaves in autumn, for a more sombre but still wonderfully natural outlook.
Orange is a deeply spiritual colour in Eastern cultures. Saffron hues of orange represent holy fire and are commonly found in Hinduism and Buddhism, burning away the darkness.
If you’re lucky enough to have a home gym, make sure orange features heavily to keep your energy levels high. As a hot and joyful colour, you could use it to brighten up a room that feels cold and uninviting.
This energetic and extroverted colour is probably not best suited to the bedroom. It’s often used in gyms to stimulate exercise, and even used in restaurants to nudge diners into thinking they are hungrier than they are.
Yellow is a magnetic colour found often in nature. It represents sunlight, warmth, brightness and happiness. Especially in Western cultures, it has a strong dual meaning, however. On one hand, it’s linked with joy and enlightenment, but on the other it stands for cowardice and even sickness.
In Eastern cultures, yellow has a multitude of meanings: in Thailand, it’s considered a lucky colour; in Japan, the yellow chrysanthemum flower is the symbol of the imperial family and represents great honour.
Used in the home, yellow is a warm colour that can make the most of poor light. As a bright and cheerful colour, it can be used to highlight features and draw the eye. Softer tones of yellow that are buttery and creamy can soften sharp corners and are a popular alternative to bright white on ceilings.
Studies have shown that babies tend to cry more in yellow painted rooms though, so avoid using it in the nursery.
Kitchens are a popular place to use yellow, where it provides a bright and sunny feeling to lighten your mood. Its powerful, mood-enhancing properties can make you feel in control. However, using a primary yellow in the bedroom stimulates concentration and could make it hard to switch off.
Green is the colour most associated with nature, purity, growth and healing. Green is on the cool side of the spectrum, replacing passionate and hot emotions with tranquillity and peace. Colour psychology tells us that because green is so closely related to nature, it helps us to feel safe and healthy.
For example, we often see the colour green in hospitals. This is no accident. It’s the colour that our mind associates with health and recovery. These are very much what hospitals designers want patients to think of when they’re in a medical setting.
As it’s the most restful colour to the human eye, green makes for a fabulous bedroom or living room colour. A green kitchen can help with anxiety, which is useful if you’re a less-than-confident cook! Especially in the Western world, green is a colour associated with money and prosperity.
However, as the evidence of colour psychology has shown so far, there is an opposite meaning to most colours. To be “green with envy” is a well-known phrase about jealousy, so don’t let the “green-eyed monster” influence your room colour. Use the shades that you need: the fresh energy of lime tones can energise, while the relaxing dark green of ferns can release feelings of unity and openness.
Try a green wall in the bedroom, as its calming properties will aid relaxation, unwinding and sleep. As an ancient symbol for fertility, it could be the perfect colour for your growing family as well! In its lighter hues, green is a cool colour that can help to make a room feel more spacious.
The water element in Feng Shui is represented by the colour blue. It symbolises, among other things, luck and wealth. Its gentle properties help to soothe, and blue is even said to help lower blood pressure. If your heart belongs to the sea, then blue will help you relax and feel as if you are near to the water.
In colour psychology, blue has significant meaning in Western cultures as a masculine colour, associated with the birth of a boy, the colour of the police force and manual labour (blue-collar workers). The opposite could be said in Eastern cultures, as you celebrate the birth of a girl with this colour.
Different shades of blue can conjure up mixed feelings though. A cool light blue tone would suit a room with plenty of natural light, but in a darker room it could feel chilly and stark. On the other hand, darker blues like navy can be warmer and more inviting when used skilfully, but as it’s the classic corporate colour, it could make a room feel more like the office than home!
Sky blue conjures feelings of freedom and the open skies and the accompanying moods of trust and sincerity. As one of the electrical colours, sky blue is relaxing and relieves tension, which can allow creative thought processes to flow more easily, making it perfect for a home office.
Try to balance out a blue room with contrasting warm tones of yellow and orange to add warmth. Mixing blues with whites and greys can add a touch of class to any palette, but don’t forget the dreamy pairing of royal blue with regal golds.
In the colour spectrum, indigo appears as a dark and inky shade of blue, but it has a rich history that sets it apart from its primary colour neighbour. Named after the plant that was harvested for its dye in the 18th century, it was once traded along the Silk Road as a luxury item and rare commodity.
As a spiritual colour, indigo represents the sixth chakra and the third eye. Symbolising wisdom and deep inner knowing, it can promote the deep concentration needed for meditation and profound thought.
When it comes to decorating your rooms, you can take inspiration from its opulence as a dark blue, and pair it with highlights of mustard yellow, ochre and rich purples. The true complementary colour of indigo is orange; pairing these two will create a look that is both stunning and perfectly balanced.
The last of the seven colours in the rainbow, violet is otherwise known as purple, the colour of spirituality, imagination and royalty. Sitting between the heat of red and the cool of blue, violet is inspirational to artists and homeowners alike. It can add energy and life to a room.
Purple became the colour of nobility and royalty because it was the most expensive colour to create. Made from thousands of sea snails, it was incredibly expensive – affordable to only the richest members of society. Luckily, the price of violet has dropped enough to be available to anyone, but it still carries the sense of dignity and divine creativity.
Violet is a powerful cleanser in colour psychology and colour therapy. It can be used to clear a room of negative energy, as it has the strongest vibration of visible light. This makes it ideal for rooms that are busy and chaotic. The air can feel cooler, cleaner and fresher in a violet room, so use it to lift your mood in a room that might otherwise feel stuffy and airless.
Paired with millennial pink, violet can be part of a strongly feminine colour scheme. You can also pair it with indigo to magnify their electric colour properties (it’s best to do so sparingly). Use a violet colour scheme in the living room to create an atmosphere that’s perfect for daydreaming.
If all the colours in the spectrum are hidden within white light, why not harness its raw power to enhance a room and make a statement in your home? White is the sworn enemy of dust and dirt, but it also brings cleansing light into your home.
In colour psychology, white illuminates the mind and floods an area with purity, innocence and life. In Western cultures, it’s the colour of brides and doves (which symbolise peace). White has become a symbol for unity and hope. However, in Eastern cultures it can symbolise mourning, death and sadness.
Some feel that white is a stark and cold colour to use in the home, promoting a sense of loneliness. Others look to white’s clean light to clear the mind of outside troubles and promote rest. For practical reasons, designers often use white to create a sense of space in a room, making small spaces feel larger and airier. White can also make places like doctor’s surgeries feel sterile and clinical.
You could use these properties in your own home, to brighten a hallway or landing space that would otherwise feel tight and airless. As part of the metal element in Feng Shui, white can bring new energy to almost any space, or highlight other colours when used as a contrast.
White bathrooms are popular because of white’s association with cleanliness and health. Just don’t use too much or the room could feel cold and clinical. Try pairing white with almost any other clean colour; nurturing green or sky blue really stand out and lift your mood when used in the bathroom.
Colour Psychology and Your Home
When you begin to think of colours and shades as more than just names on tins of paint, they begin to take on a life and energy of their own. We may not consciously think about it, but the colours that we use can have an incredibly powerful effect on our mood throughout our homes and our lives.
We all have the ability to harness these positive energies for our own benefit. Whether you are a firm believer in colour psychology or not, by experimenting with colour you could create a more inviting home for you and your family to enjoy all year round.