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Color Psychology, Decorating for Mood

Updated on September 27, 2018
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Michelle Jackson has studied art and interior design since 1983. She has attended design school and worked as an artist/visual artist.

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Psychology of Color

My original choice for professions was interior designer. After some soul searching I felt that my talents in psychology would be a greater help to other people. A friend of mine made the comment that I could combine the two.The Psychology of color? As it turns out color does affect peoples moods. So far I have not opened a “Psych design studio” but who knows. What I have done is study the effects of color on emotion and behavior. This hub will delve into the colors that get you going, eating, and inspired. You can read this article one of two ways; straight through or you can go to the color you want information about and read that section. Either way, make sure you catch up with me at the end for tips on color use in your home.



Yellow

Let's start with Yellow. The color yellow promotes happiness. If you are depressed and looking for a room color, consider yellow. Yellow is also a great choice for kitchens where you spend your mornings. People who have yellow houses are actually helping themselves lead a happier life. A 2015 study completed at Curtin University in Australia proved that brightly colored rooms such as yellow and red, are beneficial for studying and learning (AL‐Ayash, A. Green-Armytage, P. Kane, & R. Smith, D. 2015).

As an accent color yellow can liven up a monochromatic room. Today you are most likely to see Yellow used in gray and white rooms where a pop of color is needed. Yellow's contrasting colors include purple, blue, and red. While most people think of yellow as a traditional bright yellow, many people use pale forms of yellow to create a more serene room that still has that perky side to it.

Mellow Yellow and White
Mellow Yellow and White | Source
Contrasting Yellow and Blue
Contrasting Yellow and Blue | Source

Blue

I have a love hate relationship with the color blue. Teal/turquoise is actually my favorite color followed by indigo blue which, is very dramatic. From a design standpoint blue should be used carefully as an accent or in rooms in which you do not spend a great deal of time. Certain tones of blue spark creativity (University of British Columbia, 2009). Blue is associated with feelings of calm and relaxation (AL‐Ayash, etal. 2015).

Ever heard the someone say “I’m just a little blue today” ? Well certain shades of blue can actually have negative effect on your mood. For this reason I never recommend painting any child's room blue. Teenagers need all the joy they can get so blue is probably not a good color to choose unless it is in a more electric form. In an adult bedroom blue can have a calming effect and promote serenity when mixed with other natural colors. The reality of bedrooms is that most of the time you are in that room, you are sleeping with the lights out so the color of the room may have a minimal affect on you.

I can always tell when a designer has not studied the effects of color because they paint dining room walls blue. Studies have actually shown that blue is an appetite suppressant. The link between blue and loss of appetite is so conclusive that you will find the color blue used sparingly in food packaging. If you want to lose weight buy blue plates or put a blue light in your refrigerator. Unless you are on a diet do not paint your dining room or kitchen walls blue.

Blue's contrasting colors are yellow, orange, and red. In design today pale forms of blue are used in Industrial farmhouse decor. The more electric blues like the teal and indigo are often used in accents in modern and bohemian design.


Indigo Bedroom
Indigo Bedroom | Source
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Red

Red is the color of romance? Some studies say yes, red actually is the color of romance. In a bedroom red can be exciting and romantic. However, red does not promote restful sleep (this can be overcome by turning out all the lights and then you obviously cannot see the red). Red is also a great color for studying or learning (AL‐Ayash, A. etal. 2015).

Red promotes a healthy appetite making a great option for kitchens and dining rooms. Have you ever notice that a majority of restaurant signs are red? Although opinions are mixed on why red is a promoter of healthy appetite, it continues to be a staple in everything from advertising to steak house decor. Using red in kitchens has been common for a long time. Remember the 1950's diners with the red seats? Interestingly enough it appears to be a trending color for Kitchen Islands.

Red's contrasting colors are blue, green, and purple. In design today red is usually in a room with white and black.

Dramatic Red Bedroom
Dramatic Red Bedroom | Source
Custom Red Island
Custom Red Island | Source

Pink

The history of pink is somewhat convoluted. Pink (nor blue) was not a gender prescribed color until before World War I, and at that time pink was designated for boys (Maglaty, J. 2011). That seems a little odd to us today with all the pink and blue baby gender distinction. In the 1880's it was common for both boys and girls to wear white gowns until the age of six (Maglaty, J. 2011). It wasn't until the 1940's that pink was branded as a "girl" color (Maglaty, J. 2011). Today it is rare to see men wearing pink in anything other than the occasional neck tie or polo shirt. As a society we have commandeered the color pink as girly.

Research has shown that the color "Baker-Miller pink" reduces aggression (Genschow,O. Noll,T. Wänke, M. & Gersbach, R., 2014). At one time pink was used in mental institutions to calm the patients. Prison systems have now adopted the practice of painting the walls pink for the same reason (Genschow. O. etal. 2014) . The soothing feelings of pink are not completely understood by science.

It would seem that using pink in a child's room would be a good way to keep things mellow. After all if they use Baker-Miller pink in a drunk tank shouldn't it also calm your kids? In theory, yes. Brighter vibrant pinks are not soothing and should be used sparingly, sorry Barbie.

Pink's contrasting colors are green, yellow, and blue. Today pink is often paired with neutrals such as white, black, and brown.

Sophisticated Living Room in Pink
Sophisticated Living Room in Pink | Source
Calming Bedroom
Calming Bedroom | Source

Orange

Confession time, although I've always liked orange accessories, I never considered it a primary wall color. However, our current home (in the southwest) has an orange fresco kitchen/dining room and I love it. At first it was a lot of orange, after a while I found that the orange was a cheery color to have in this common area of my home. This new love of orange has led to a succulent collection I have in terracotta pots in the kitchen windows.

Orange is a lively and can bring a vital jolt of color into a room. One of the few colors that immediately grabs the brains attention is orange. That is why Orange is used at caution signs and in prison uniforms (it makes it easier to see the inmates, insert your own cheesey Orange is the new black joke). I think every room should have an unexpected accent. Orange brings that perfect shock without being too over the top. Like yellow, orange promotes warmth feelings.

Oranges contrasting colors are blue, purple, and green. In design orange is seen primarily in modern, southwest, and bohemian decor.

Orange Dining Room
Orange Dining Room | Source
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Purple

Purple was one of several colors that was originally only worn by royalty. Purples rich history came about due to the expense in dying fabrics the color purple (Melina, R. 2011). Today we are lucky enough to have access to purple without having a royal title.

The wide range of purples goes from serene lavenders to warm red infused purples. The lighters forms of purple are tranquil and calm. The brighter and warmer forms of purple promote healing. In a room Purple adds drama. Being so close to the color red, purple is also a romantic color. Darker purples are perfect for bedrooms.

Purples contrasting colors are yellow, green, and orange. Most of the time purple is combined with the neutrals white, black or gray.

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Lavender Bathroom
Lavender Bathroom | Source

Green

According to Kutchma's (2003), study on the effects of color, green is a calming color. Green can give a feeling of nature and serenity. Most greens contribute to tranquility in a space, especially live plants. Having live plants can considerably change the atmosphere of a home and improve air quality. Pantera brought back dark dramatic greens as a 2018 wall color pick, making it an on trend color for this year.

Green's contrasting colors are pink, purple, and red. Green usually used as an accent color, rather than a primary color. Most often green is used with natural brown tones and white.


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Brown

Brown/tan has become a decorating staple in the last few years. People have been trying to create earthy spaces with texture. Brown does contribute the natural feel, however, if a person is not careful it can be bland. Brown should always have a complimentary color to keep it from feeling like a box of Miniwheat. The other down side to brown is that people tend to associate it with loneliness (Cherry, K. 2017). Browns upside is that it can go with just about anything, hence the reason wood furniture is stained in brown tones. Break up the brown with other colors to avoid design faux pas. As a neutral brown can be used with any color.

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Black

It will confound some people that technically black is not considered a color, but instead the absence of color. Take a picture of any room where a black television is within eye sight. Now look at that picture, doesn't the television look like a black hole in the room? It's something to consider when designing your rooms. Black creates great drama and contrast to almost any color.

While black has a sleek feel, too much black can make a person feel weighted in a room. Black tends to be a fall back when people are unsure about what furniture to buy. A few black pieces in a room are good…all black is way too much. The darkness is not healthy for a person’s spirit. For this reason I would not recommend painting more than one wall in any room black. In reality too much black can end up feeling like you live in the bat cave. This is a feeling that will affect moods (sometimes without a person knowing). Black can be used with any color, although some people prefer to avoid using it with brown.

Dramatic Black
Dramatic Black | Source
Balancing Black and White
Balancing Black and White | Source

Grey

Every photographer is familiar with grey scale. Most pictures have variations of grey as a primary color; interestingly enough most people do not see the grey. Grey is supposed to promote creativity. Used properly grey can compliment a room or be a great background color for an entire room. Grey cuts down the visual noise in a room since our eyes are trained to ignore it.

In the last few years gray has become a staple color in the design world. While there is nothing wrong with using the color grey, if you use it too much your house will look like a black and white movie. Don't believe me? Search "Grey room" on the internet and you will see what I'm talking about. Make sure you include natural elements and a little bit of color. Offset the sterile freeing of grey with one wood piece of furniture, some plants, and accessorize with a bold color. No one is boring enough to live in the grey scale.


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White

White is the ultimate neutral and can be used with any color without conflict. That is why walls in most homes are white. The perfect color wall for displaying art is white, it doesn't detract wile still allowing the light to bounce. White creates a feeling of clean, neutrality, and calm. White bedrooms can be restful. White kitchens promote cleanliness. White bathrooms automatically have a spa feel.

White takes a bad wrap. It shows dirt, is sterile, and often white can seem boring. Just like any other color, you want to be careful not to make your room all one color. White is restful and can be very relaxing. Most rooms have a little white in them. When mixed with dark colors white provides a dramatic contrast. When mixed with light colors white is calm and restful.

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How to Choose Colors

Mixing colors is an art form. In design we use the 60/30/10 rule which means your room should be 60% one color, 30% another color and 10% an accent color (this formula also works for events and table setting). The biggest rookie room mistake is making it too much one color or another. Many people choose two colors which makes the room look like a child decorated it. Remember to inject that last color to create a healthy contrast.

Another rookie mistake is going with two many neutral tones. Neutrals are easy on the eyes, and tend to get overused in rooms. The best example is the tan rooms of the 2000's. Here you had tan rooms, with a few black picture frames and then tan furniture. It was a boring era.

Today's trend is industrial farmhouse which mixes black, white and gray with wood tones. Many people employing this neutral pallet accent it with a color like navy blue or orange. The great thing about today's neutral is that it can change with the season allowing holiday decorating to be the accent color.

Good use of colors it depends on how you use them and mix them with other colors. Bright colors can project a feeling of happiness and playfulness. Muted colors and neutrals create a more serene feeling. Style also plays into the overall effect of the room. Sometimes you have to play with a room to discover its potential. During that process you should always stand back see if the room makes you feel a certain way. One trick is to take a picture of the room and see how it looks. Do you need to add color or get rid of a color?

As you choose colors for your home think about how those colors make you feel. Don’t pick colors because they are a trend. Your home is about you and how you live, what you like. If you prefer slate blue then use it, if you like burnt orange then use it. Whatever you decide your home should evoke feelings of happiness and relaxation.

References

AL‐Ayash, A. Green-Armytage, P. Kane, & R. Smith, D. (2015). The influence of color on student emotion, heart rate, and performance in learning environments. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/col.21949

Cherry, K. (2017). The Color Psychology of Brown. How Colors Impact Moods, Feelings, and Behaviors. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/the-color-psychology-of-brown-2795816

Genschow,O. Noll,T. Wänke, M. & Gersbach, R. (2014) Does Baker-Miller pink reduce aggression in prison detention cells? A critical empirical examination. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1068316X.2014.989172?journalCode=gpcl20

Kutchma, Teresa M. (2003) "The Effects of Room Color on Stress Perception: Red versus Green Environments," Journal of Undergraduate Research at Minnesota State University, Mankato: Vol. 3, Article 3.

Available at: http://cornerstone.lib.mnsu.edu/jur/vol3/iss1/3

Maglaty, J. (2011). When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? Smithsonian https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/when-did-girls-start-wearing-pink-1370097/

Melina, R. (2011). Why Is the Color Purple Associated With Royalty? Lifescience. Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/33324-purple-royal-color.html

University of British Columbia. "Effect Of Colors: Blue Boosts Creativity, While Red Enhances Attention To Detail." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090205142143.htm>.

© 2011 MD Jackson MSIOP

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    • profile image

      Momo 

      3 years ago

      Hi, thanks for sharing your hub, it was great fun to read.

      I love the colours red and orange, such as fire. That´s why I´m buying myself a fireplace soon. Until then, I´m gonna have to stick to a virtual fireplace on youtube:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf9F42tDh-w

    • michelleonly3 profile imageAUTHOR

      MD Jackson MSIOP 

      7 years ago from Western United States

      Timorous: You are right we do tend to gravitate toward certain colors. We also go through phases. Thank you for stopping by.

      Cyndi; yes, it is amazing how uplifting yellow can be. I think I will eventually have shades of yellow on every wall in my house.

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you for a very informative article. Like Timorous, my colors tend to fall in shades of yellow because of the uplift it gives no matter what your state of mind may have been.

    • timorous profile image

      Tim Nichol 

      7 years ago from Me to You

      You're so right, Michelle. Colors do affect our mood. I particularly like shades of yellow in a room. It looks cheerful, even on a gloomy day. Of course, each person has their own likes and dislikes of color for various reasons.

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