Color is so powerful that it can change our appetites, how we perceive others, and can even lessen pain. Since we spend so much time in the spaces we work and live in, the colors we surround ourselves with have huge implications for our well being. So, how can you harness the power of color psychology for interior spaces?

The Power of Color

Humans are able to perceive color through light sensitive cells known as cones in the back of our eyes. These cones send signals to our visual cortex, an area of the brain where visual images are formed. However, some of these cells also send signals to a different part of our brains called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for, among other things, regulating hormones, our appetite, body temperature and emotional responses. 

This discovery has led many to believe that there is a clear physiological reason that color has such a great impact on us. In fact, in some instances, this idea has been tested in real-world situations. In Japan and Scotland, blue street lamps have been found to significantly reduce both suicides and crime. Studies have also shown that green lights can reduce the frequency and intensity of migraines, and red lighting has been associated with higher melatonin levels and better sleep. 

Color Psychology Basics

Color psychology isn’t just about light and the mechanisms through which we see color. It is also the study of how colors impact your mood, behavior, and interactions. Much of the way we respond to color has to do with our culture and where we come from. For example, in some countries white is thought to represent purity and cleanliness, and in others it represents mourning and death. Sometimes color is subjective in this way, but often, especially in an insulated culture, certain colors have common meanings/associations:

  • Reddanger, strength, power and determination or passion, desire, and love
  • Pink – gentility, youth, innocence and optimism. 
  • Purple – royalty, power, luxury, and ambition. 
  • Green – growth, strength, serenity, and freshness.
  • Blue – peace, flexibility, and spirituality.
  • Orange – creativity, enthusiasm, success. 
  • Yellow – Energy, joy, and loyalty.
  • Black – power, elegance, and mystery as well as death and fear.
  • White – purity, cleanliness, and goodness (as well as mourning and death in some cultures).

There is more to color than just color

A big part of how we perceive colors has to do with their tint, shade, and intensity rather than just the color itself. Before you can properly choose colors for your interior, you have to understand color itself. Here are the basics of color:

  • Primary colors are true colors that cannot be mixed from other colors: red, yellow, blue.
  • Secondary colors are formed by mixing primary colors together: orange, green, and violet.
  • Tertiary Colors are formed by mixing a primary with a secondary: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-Violet, red-violet.

Color Properties

  • Temperature This is the warmth or coolness of the color. For example, cool red versus warm red can make us feel very different. Cooler colors tend to make us feel more focused and calm, but they can also be melancholic. Warmer colors can make us feel more at home, but they can also be overstimulating.
  • Tint – Tint is essentially any color mixed with white. Depending on how much white is mixed in, the color will be more or less pastel in appearance. Lighter tints can be gentler and more relaxing. 
  • Shade Shade, on the other hand, is when you add black to a color. This can dampen a color or add moodiness and earthiness. Darker shades can add drama and intrigue.
  • Tonetone is when you mix gray (white and black) with a color. This can mellow out intense colors.
  • Value Value is basically how light or dark a color is. This can be in one color like (light yellow versus dark yellow), or two colors. For example, yellow has a higher value than blue. White has the highest value, while black has the lowest value of all the colors. 
  • SaturationSaturation is how rich or deep a color is. Highly saturated colors appear more intense and less saturated colors are more muted. 

Color Psychology and Interior Design

Now that you know a little bit about color psychology, you can approach designing your interior. It can be helpful to utilize a color wheel and to choose a color scheme. Here are some simple color schemes:

  • Monochromatic – If you want a monochrome room, you can choose one color and then take various versions of it (different tones, tints, shades) for different aspects of your room.
  • Complimentary Complementary colors are colors opposite each other on the color wheel. As you may have guessed, these colors look great and compliment each other. For example, if you have yellow colors in your interior, using purple with it will add intrigue and harmonize your space.  
  • Analogous – You can choose an analogous color scheme by choosing several colors (up to six) that sit next to each other on your color wheel. For example, blue-violet, violet, and red violet. 

If you’re having a hard time developing your own color scheme, there are many online color generators that can help you. For example, if you know that you want a relaxing peaceful room with green involved in some way, you can go to a color scheme generator like this one and generate a scheme that includes green. 

Here is a chart to help you understand Color Theory and Psychology.

Texture and Pattern

Once you have the colors you want, play with texture and light in your space. Colors can look dramatically different on different materials and patterns. You can enliven your space with textures like canvas, boucle, glass, wood, cane, and lacquer in the color scheme you have chosen. You can also play with the pattern of your materials. For example, checkers, stripes, florals, and houndstooth can give off very different feelings with the same color.

While color psychology is still an emerging field, it’s clear that color has a huge impact on the way we feel. This is especially true for the spaces we spend most of our days in. Color is tricky, but knowing the basics of color and color psychology can help you immensely when planning your interior.

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