Color is a fundamental building block of interior design.
Colors impact the experience of a space by creating different feelings and moods. Cool and neutral tones tend to favor calm and contemplation, while warmer tones tend to be used for stimulation and to energize a room.
Keeping a room’s purpose and desired mood in mind, the next step is to define which colors will help you achieve this, and to do so, being familiar with some basic color theory in design is key.
This article aims to help you understand the psychophysiological effects of colors within a space to create a mood that tells a story and leaves an emotional impact.
Red is a striking color choice that adds energy, intensity and excitement to any room.
It is the color of passion, love, fire, strength, power. It makes a strong first impression guaranteed! At its most saturated, it is fiery, bold and flamboyant, while a red with brown undertones is warm, rich, and enveloping. No matter which one you pick, it is a real balancing act between using too little or too much. Red is known as the most physical color in the spectrum, and it can quickly be overstimulating and overwhelming. The key is playing with a variety of shades, and having a great dose of confidence.
It is a great color to make a cool room look and feel warmer, and it is said to increase appetite, so it is a great choice for kitchens and dining rooms. It brings a sensual vibe in the bedroom, and it is undeniably cheerful in a playroom. It is however not a recommended color if you favor minimalistic interiors because red is visually dramatic. Use it in small doses unless a bold statement is what you are going for.
Orange is associated with joy and sunshine. It is fresh, modern and bold, and it is a go-to color to create a happy home and a warm, cheerful mood.
Since ancient cultures, orange is known to be invigorating and to increase energy levels. It motivates, encourages activity and stimulates conversation, so it is great for spaces used for entertaining, fun, or socialising – Kitchens, dining rooms, exercise rooms and playrooms.
In small doses, a bright, saturated orange will be vibrant and exciting and provide a great pop of color. It is however often overlooked in our homes because of its intensity. I suggest going for a muted shade, like apricot, saffron or terra cotta, for a lively yet more relaxing look.
Fun fact: Orange is the easiest color to see in low lighting, low visibility, or next to water, hence its popularity for use on boats, bridges, life jackets, traffic cones, signage, and ‘black box’ flight recorders.
Yellow evokes joy, happiness, optimism and energy, and it is a sunny, eye-catching color.
It has uplifting powers, and it is said to increase liveliness, encourage innovation, and raise emotional temperatures -So much so that some studies show that people are more likely to lose their temper in an all-yellow interior, so it should be used sparingly. A desaturated hue is softer but still warm, with all the positive psychological qualities of a more vibrant version.
Yellow is great for kitchens and dining rooms, as it encourages communication, and it feels welcoming in entryways and hallways. It is a cheerful color that lends itself perfectly to study rooms or home offices because of its stimulating effects -But remember, easy does it.
It is not the most popular choice when it comes to creating a Scandinavian-inspired home, but with the growing popularity of ‘wheat’, a rich subdued shade of yellow, you are likely to notice it more and more.
Fun fact: Yellow is the easiest color for the human eye to see.
Reminiscent of deep forests and meadows, green immediately brings nature to mind and is often perceived as the color of life.
It is considered the most restful color for the eye, evoking calm, security and well-being. Fresh and versatile, it is a go-to color for balance and harmony, and lends perfectly for monochromatic palettes. Green is also suitable for every room in the house.
Dark, deep shades like emerald or hunter green add intensity and elegance, while light sage or pastel stimulates focus and creativity. Green is generally a relaxing and soothing color both mentally and physically and communicates peace.
Fun fact: Green is the most seen color in the world.
Blue tones inspire trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, and truth.
It looks very soothing and elegant when used in monochrome design schemes, and it inspires confidence when paired with warm, energetic colors. Pale blue walls open up small spaces, make them look more serene, and convey purity and peace. A stronger nuance brings an energizing vibe.
Blue is a great choice for any room of the house, especially for bedrooms, bathrooms or home offices if your goal is to alleviate stress. It is known to slow down the metabolism and transcend a sense of calm. Blue can however make a room look cold and gloomy, so make sure to neutralize the effect with lamps that provide a warm light, candles and cozy textures.
This timeless color is a safe bet when choosing a palette, and it is easy to integrate into most existing décor. Many colors can be beautifully combined with blue, making it a versatile addition to any room.
Fun fact: It is the most popular color in the world.
From lilac to lavender, plum, mauve or aubergine, purple makes a statement. It is a color historically associated with luxury, creativity, royalty, and spirituality. Being a combination of red and blue, the emotional impact of purple is a balance of the two. It can uplift or calm depending on the shade:
- Light and soft: Restful, soothing, clean and fresh. Can soften large, masculine pieces. Keep an eye on lilac, an increasing trend in interior design.
- Bright: Vivacious and bold. Encourages creativity. Works well in working or learning areas.
- Dark and deep: Mysterious, dramatic, rich, sophisticated, plush and relaxing. Looks beautiful with dark wooden tones.
Purple is a popular choice for kids’ rooms, as studies have shown that nearly 75% of pre-adolescent children choose purple over any other color.
It pairs beautifully with greys and blues.
Pink evokes compassion, nurturing, and love. It can be soft, delicate and romantic or glamourous, bold and dramatic. But whether you like a strong, saturated hue or its palest and delicate tint, pink is a color for a warm, feel-good atmosphere with a touch of feminine flair. Muted blush has been increasingly popular in interior design in recent years, and it isn’t going anywhere soon!
To avoid falling into an overly girly look, keep the rest of the room simple, with clean, sleek lines and rich fabrics. Small accents in a subtle tone of pink can perk up a space and make it look sophisticated.
It is a great choice for bedrooms, dressing rooms or powder rooms.
Brown is a color that evokes nature, a sense of strength and security. It is warm, down-to-earth, inviting and comfortable. It will make any space feel homier in an instant.
It is less harsh than black, while still being robust, grounding and versatile.
Decorating with browns is relatively easy because it pairs well with every color on the color wheel (more on this useful tool in an upcoming article). For instance, you can create a beautiful tone on tone look, or use a contrasting shade of blue for an enliven design scheme.
However too much brown can be bland and drab, so make sure to vary the shades and play up your browns – Add wood tones, leather, and other natural elements.
Grey is a mix of black and white. It is the only color that doesn’t have positive psychological properties, although it is often associated with a sense of belonging, acceptance, and security. It is said to be a color to avoid in bedrooms or where creativity is required, and that it doesn’t have a personality of its own. Ten years ago, The Guardian once called it the “drabbest color in the palette“… But of course, things changed.
Greys provide a fantastic backdrop to art, furnishings and decorative accessories when white is not an option or desired. Greys are versatile, beautifully moody, enveloping, and refined, whether you go for warm or cool undertones.
Choose a shade that resonates with you, and make sure to add plenty of textures for depth and interest. As with any color, balance is key and, of course, how it makes you feel.
The study of color is a complex subject, with various theories. Keep in mind that the emotional effect of color is impacted by lots of factors like culture, religion, age, and mostly, personal taste – YOU have to live in the space, so pick colors that feel right to you.
* This article is part of a series on the power of colors – Revisit ‘Six Interiors, One Color Palette’ and ‘My top tips for choosing a wall color with confidence’ for more.
Photos: Montana Furniture