Our world is a kaleidoscope of colour – blue skies fill us with optimism, red lights warn us to stop, green packaging extols a product’s eco-sensibilities. Every time we see a colour, it conveys a message or evokes an emotion – even if we’re only vaguely aware of it.
The study of this phenomenon – how colours impact and influence human behaviours and emotions – is called colour psychology. It’s used by artists, designers and interior decorators to manipulate our emotions and moods, and create ambience. It’s also used in advertising and retail to compel us to buy. Ever wondered why ‘sale’ signs are often red? Because it creates a sense of urgency. It’s also known to stimulate the appetite, which is why so many fast-food chains incorporate red into their visual branding.1
Colours fall into two dominant categories – warm and cool – which inform their broad psychological effects. Warm colours such as red, yellow and orange are associated with comfort, cosiness and sunshine; but also danger and anger. Cool hues of green, blue and purple spark feelings of calmness and serenity, but also sadness.2
By applying the basic principles of colour psychology when decorating your home, you may be able to enhance your mood, energy levels, creativity and productivity. While your interior colour palettes will be informed by current trends, your furniture and the style of your home, consider how colours appeal to you on a more emotive level. Introduce colours that support the purpose of each room (e.g. studying, sleeping, socialising) and the mood you’d like to create.
Following are some of the attributes of each colour, and the rooms they might be suited for use in.
Green is associated with nature, balance and good health. Pale, springlike shades are soothing, while the vibrance of lime-brights is considered energising. Soft greens, such as sage and avocado, are said to help stimulate focus and creativity. Researchers have found that green can improve reading speed and comprehension3; it is also a symbol of fertility.
Use shades of green in: the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and home office.
Purple combines the qualities of its two parent colours: the stability of blue and the energy of red, and is at once calming and stimulating. Rich, saturated purples have a regal quality, conveying wealth and extravagance. Deeper shades such as aubergine are dramatic and sophisticated. Purple is also associated with mysticism and magic, and can promote creativity.4 Accessorising with purple will add depth to your colour scheme and create a bit of visual intrigue.
Use purple in: children’s bedrooms.
Blue is the colour of relaxation, calm and tranquillity, and can evoke feelings of stability and reliability. It is said to lower the heart rate and body temperature. Research has shown that people are more productive in blue rooms.5 It is also associated with freshness and cleanliness, and may reduce the appetite. Crisp, pale blues may be a touch too frosty for dark or south-facing rooms; dusty shades are more versatile and pair well with white and grey, or go for jewel-bright teal or aqua.
Use shades of blue in: the home office, nursery, teenager’s bedroom or bathroom.
Red is associated with energy, strength and passion. Dramatic and glamorous, but potentially overwhelming, red can excite the emotions and motivate people to act. It signifies leadership, power and ambition – but also danger, and can create feelings of irritability. A dash of red will enliven any space and is said to stimulate the appetite, enhance metabolism, increase respiration rate and raise blood pressure.6
Use red (sparingly!) in: the dining room, kitchen, living room.
Pink is red’s softer, more easygoing sister. Pink is about sweetness, innocence, love and femininity. Surprisingly versatile, you can use soft, powdery pinks to create a peaceful, calming ambience, or pack a playful punch with darker hues such as magenta and fuchsia. Pink feels nurturing and adds visual warmth. The potential pacifying effect of pink has been the subject of intense debate over the past few decades. In the 1970s, research scientist Alexander Schauss famously claimed that a particular shade of pink could quieten and reduce the physical strength of prison inmates. While that theory was debunked, Swiss psychologist Daniela Spath conducted a similar study in 2011 using a different shade of pink, and found that prisoners in pink cells were less aggressive.7
Use shades of pink in: bedrooms, home office.
Orange combines the best of red and yellow; it is energising, fun, and promotes conversation, conviviality and enthusiasm. Orange is also said to help us find our inner drive and motivation in difficult times.8 Use bold pops of pumpkin to make a statement, dress up a neutral palette with terracotta, or swathe the walls in a soft wash of peach or apricot.
Use shades of orange in: the dining room, living room and home gym.
Yellow is the colour of sunshine and positivity. Whether you prefer zingy citrus or mellow, buttery hues, a burst of yellow is welcoming, energising and uplifting, and helps to encourage communication and creativity. Curiously though, this cheery shade could turn smiles upside-down when used in large amounts. In the late 1980s, colour researcher Carlton Wagner claimed that people are more likely to lose their temper in a yellow interior, and babies cry more in yellow rooms.9
Use yellow in: the entranceway, kitchen, living room.