The Psychology of Color: How to Choose Colors for Your Home

October 9, 2013

It has long been known certain colors can have an effect on the mood and behavior of people, especially children. As part of the custom home design/build process, interior paint colors will come up. Homeowners will, at some point, need to consider the paint colors they’ll use in each room of their home. Each color can negatively or positively affect an occupants’ mood and behavior and certainly affects the overall atmosphere of the room, which pairs the psychology of color with interior design.

Color psychology has become an influential force in determining decorative color schemes in your home decor. Although there is not much to work with in terms of scientific research, some of the research done so far has revealed that different colors affect our moods and emotions in different ways. When the right colors are used in decorating the home, your home can be an extremely therapeutic environment. However, the wrong color scheme can create an undesirable atmosphere and mood in a room. You want to make sure the colors you choose are open and inviting, enhance the room, and help provide a comfortable atmosphere.

The right or wrong color, however, can depend on a lot of factors. The psychology of color and color perception are subjective. Yes, certain colors do elicit certain reactions on an emotional or physical level and some colors have a universal significance. However, their effects will vary from person to person. The differences are based on several different factors, including personal factors and environments as well. For example, colors you may choose for a certain effect at home may be completely different than colors chosen for an office or an art studio or a restaurant. It all depends on the environment, the purpose of the room, and the overall mood/atmosphere you want to create!

Color psychology is not as new of a concept as it may seem. The psychology of color has been used in interior design, art, marketing, and several other industries for a long time. Hospitals and other healthcare institutions have used color therapy as part of a holistic approach to treating and caring for patients for years. Below are some common colors and hue types used inside the home and a basic explanation of how they can impact emotions and moods in a room:

Basic Color Psychology in the Home

The times in which home décor and color were considered a simple matter of aesthetics are a thing of the past. Careful consideration is given to what colors are used in specific rooms. Depending on the mood that you are attempting to set in a particular room as well as how much time will be spent in that room will determine the color scheme you want to use.

Factors like temperature, light, surroundings, and more can also affect how certain colors are perceived by a room’s occupants. Every person may react differently, so if a room will be used the most by one individual, as in the case of a bedroom, it’s important to take their personality and their opinions on colors into account. 

Red

Red is considered a “power color”. It grabs attention and often tends to elicit an immediate physical response. Red can increase blood pressure, which increases pulse rate. This can be perceived as exciting, lively, and stimulating. However, it can also activate the “fight or flight” instinct, which can make some more prone to anger, anxiety, and irritability. Red can sometimes get a bad reputation in the psychology of color, but lighter shades of red often relax the muscles and it’s also considered the “color of passion”, so it’s not all bad.

Orange

Orange is a warm color associated with comfort, food, security, and fun, among other things. It is known for focusing the mind and body on physical comfort. As such, it can sometimes have positive effects on feelings of self, the digestive system, and overall sense of safety. On the other hand, orange can also make the mind focus on deprivation. Too much of it can come across as too frivolous. 

Yellow

Yellow is a warm primary color often associated with happiness and sunny dispositions. Since it is a bright color, it can increase alertness and energy, uplift the spirit, clear the thinking process, increase memory, sharpen judgment, and increase optimism. Granted, these effects tend to be reserved for brighter, lighter yellows. It’s advised to avoid too much yellow and dull yellow colors as these can have the opposite effect, focusing our emotions more on the negative side.

Green

Green goes with nature and is considered an earthy tone. Because it is associated heavily with nature, and the presence of water and food in nature, it often creates a soothing and relaxing atmosphere. It relaxes and helps to balance the body, which can help your heart, soothes emotions, and triggers a sense of comfort and calm. On the negative side, green can convey stagnation which can sometimes result in a sense of boredom or blandness.

Blue

Blue is a cool primary color and is often associated with the mind. Blues are known to soothe the mind, which can help lower blood pressure, and elicit a cooling, calming, and relaxing atmosphere. It can be a popular bedroom color, sometimes attributed with soothing occupants for a restful, quiet, and relaxing night’s sleep. Blues are also known to aid concentration, which can help inspire and help aid creativity. Too much blue or too dark of a blue can sometimes be perceived as cold and unemotional, conveying an unfriendly or depressed atmosphere.

Purple

Purple is a rich color often associated with royalty and quality. It’s commonly used to signify power, elegance, luxury, nobility, and also ambition. Purples are also often used to convey a sense of wealth or wisdom. Violet, or purple, can sometimes encourage introspection and deeper contemplation, which allows for a higher awareness of thought and helps to balance mind, body, and spirit. However, too much of it or the wrong tone can sometimes pull people too far into themselves and can also appear gaudy if excessive or unbalanced.

Black

Black is a strong, powerful color. However, because it is so intense, it can quickly become overpowering. It’s commonly associated with mystery, sophistication, prestige, and formality. A potential downside of black is that it also has a negative connotation because it is associated with death, evil, fear, disease, and is a symbol of grief.

When used excessively in a room, it can make it appear smaller because it absorbs light instead of reflecting like lighter colors do. Black can tend to be perceived as weighty and serious, which can create a sense of gloom and heaviness in your room. When done right, your room can be perceived as elegant and sophisticated, even offering a sense of security or emotional safety. 

White

White can also be an intense and powerful color to use in your interior design. Instead of absorbing as black does, white reflects completely. It can make a room appear bigger and more open due to the reflection of light. White is often associated with perceptions of cleanliness, purity, peace, simplicity, and sophistication. Too much white can be overwhelming and your eyes can sometimes feel strained attempting to take it all in. When paired with warm colors, white can be harsh and make the other colors appear garish. This is why pure white is often used as an accent and off-whites, eggshell, or creamy white colors are used for larger decoration.

Gray

Gray is generally considered a neutral color. It is often associated with independence, separation, and sometimes loneliness. Gray is the fine line between white and black. When used excessively or in the wrong tone, a gray room can feel depressing and encourage hibernation, which can cause a feeling of suppression and lack of energy. When used in the right tone, you can provide a neutral, and slightly uplifting, background for your room to give off a calming atmosphere.

Bright Colors at Home

Bright and lighter hues of colors at home help people manage stress by keeping them calmer. Decorating with color is an enjoyable activity for many. Color can provoke many emotions, some can bring an aggressive look towards a room, and another can make it seem soothing. Bright colors can help to chase away stress, energize occupants of a room, and enhance creativity, which is a great reason to use them. When used excessively or in the wrong combination, they can be overwhelming; sometimes it’s best to keep bright colors as accents or accessories in a room.

Pink

Pink is a bright color and a lighter tint of red. It is often associated with concepts like friendship, love, and romance. Because of its association with red, it does tend to elicit physical responses. Pink can often create a soothing and nurturing effect, which can generate a more passive state of mind. Too much pink can easily be overwhelming and also physically draining.

Yellow

Yellow is one of those bright colors that bring sunshine into a room. As a warmer, lighter color, it reflects light, which works great for small place needing a bit of expansion without changing the room. Bright yellow curtains and walls are an easy way for a room to feel bright and full of wonder. Much like pink and the other bright colors, there is a chance for “too much of a good thing”.

Green

Green is a great color for any room. It tends to relieve stress and bring a welcoming tone to a room. Place this color in any room in the house and it gives a comfortable or energizing feeling depending on the hue.  A lighter, brighter green that falls more in the neutral or pastel category blends with almost any color and works with any decor. A brighter, more intense green can work well as an accent wall or integrated throughout accessories to add flair to a room.

Blue

Blue is the color of the sky and very restful. Living areas, bedrooms, and bathrooms tend to fair well with blue. These, of course, are the lighter shades. Blue is a nice color that mixes with greens, darker mixtures of blues, and white. A brighter, lighter blue room can provide a soothing and serene atmosphere. Much like with the other bright colors, you can also go with a bright, more intense blue as accents or in accessories to electrify your decor.

Earth Tones at Home

Earth tones are usually considered to be friendly, contemporary, and inviting. They are a mixture or tonalities of browns and tans, which can include richer colors containing some brown, such as orange, red, green, yellow, purple, and blue. They tend to more muted and flat colors. Earth tones are also considered to be more appealing and functional and tend to be perceived as warm, reassuring, and settling.

Earth tones are most commonly used in areas that are frequented a lot, such as living rooms and family rooms. They often provide a warming and inviting mood that does not agitate individuals and does not make the room somber.

The right mixture of earth tones has the power to create a utopian environment. Earth tones vary a great deal, and finding the right combination for your home may require a bit of experimentation. The key is not to become too rigid in making your selection; allow the color to move you and set your mood, then make a decision from there.

Dark Colors at Home

Red

Red can be a color that provokes aggression and agitation if it is not complemented right. Darker reds are often associated with war, anger, danger, and wrath. However, they are also associated with strength, determination, passion, and courage. Deeply dark colors tend to absorb light and can give a heavy atmosphere to a room.

Blue

Generally, blue is considered to promote stability and depth. It also tends to symbolize loyalty, trust, confidence, truth, and wisdom. Blue often creates a calming effect. Because of the calming effect and sense of clean, it is a common color for bathrooms. Blue also has an incredible tranquil impact, making it a great color for adult bedrooms as well. As you move into darker hues of blue, like navy or royal, they can be overbearing as the color for an entire room, but tend to make great accent walls or themes for decor.

Purple

Purple is the combination of the stability you find in blue and the passion and stimulation that you find in red. Darker purples can convey a sense of royalty and elegance, while also bringing balance to a room. As with blue, darker hues of purple like eggplant, wine, or raisin can become overwhelming as the main color of a room.

Black

Black is a unique color in that it provides an aura of power, authority, and works great as a contrast or accent to other colors. Too much of it, however, contributes to a darker, more depressive or oppressive atmosphere. 

The thing to note about any of these colors is that too dark of a shade or too much of it tends to diminish a room and set a gloomy, heavy atmosphere.

Pastel Colors at Home

All colors may fall into one of three main categories: active, passive, or neutral. However, pastels occupy a class all their own. They can be considered bright or even somewhat neutral in terms of decoration. For clarity, pastels can be defined as any color with a lighter hue. Pastels do less to elicit emotion, but still carry a personality. Being more soft-spoken than their louder and more expressive relatives, pastels aim towards a softer and more intellectual spirit. They are more muted, subtle colors, which convey sophistication while also highlighting other aspects of your home.

For example, you may not want to paint your entire room a bright, fiery red, but still love the color and want to include it in your decor. Finding a complementary pastel can soothe your room’s environment while still allowing for certain areas to pop and sizzle with that red fire. Make a new furniture piece stand out by propping it against a pastel background. Children’s rooms are another place where pastels can aid in development, reinforcing a comfortable and safe environment with their calm tones. Pastels can also be coupled with neutral colors or earth tones to issue a modern look that adds dimension to your home.

In the end, it’s always up to you in the color you choose. Even when you’re feeling indecisive and stuck, consider this – pastels are light enough to be applied in multiple hues, which gives you the opportunity to paint your home all the colors of the rainbow, without it looking like a unicorn was in charge of your interior design.

Color can elicit feelings in all of us to varying degrees and depending on several factors. Keeping the psychology of color in mind while determining your interior design ensures your custom home feels exactly how you envisioned.