Colors influence our moods, behavior and energy. If you’re renovating or redecorating the rooms in your home, it’s important to select the right colors for the walls and window treatments.
“Often, there’s a disconnect between how you use the room and the subliminal messages you’re sending with the new color,” says Leslie Harrington, a color strategist in Old Greenwich, Conn. You can avoid this scenario by learning how to pick colors that set the right mood and energy level.
Some responses to color are hardwired into the human brain. No matter who you are or where you live, Harrington says, “Red makes the heart beat faster and stimulates activity, and blue has the opposite effect.” Other color associations are learned. In our culture, Harrington notes, black is the color of mourning, but white has that distinction in China.
In either case, “Color is one of the most immediate communicators of information,” she says. You might not be consciously aware of all the color messages around you, but your brain is picking up on them subconsciously.
Pick your palette
Most of us have been taught that choosing a color for the walls or curtains is strictly an aesthetic decision. But color also is a powerful psychological tool that can be used to influence mood and behavior. “What I challenge people to do is to think about the purpose of a room and how you want people to feel and behave there,” Harrington says. Armed with that information, you can pick a decorating palette that not only pleases the eye, but also sets the mood you want to create.
In general, Harrington says, colors can be divided into two broad categories: warm and cool. Warm colors—reds, oranges and yellows—tend to be stimulating, energetic and active. Cool colors—blues, greens and violets—tend to be relaxing, low key and passive.
If a desirable color seems bold for your taste, consider a darker or more subdued shade from the same family. For example, if you want to liven a room with red paint, but don’t want to live with fire engine red walls, try burgundy or rose to tone down the effect but still get a subtle energy boost. At the paint store, you’ll probably find 100 variations on the red theme. “The more vibrant and bright a red is, the more energetic and playful it will be,” Harrington says.
A rainbow of rooms
Ready to put these principles into practice? Sisters Jennifer and Kitty O’Neil, color design consultants in San Mateo, Calif., offer examples of how colors can be applied to create a spectrum of moods in different rooms:
Living room. A warm, earthy red—think tomato or terra cotta—“can create a comfortable, cozy environment with a grounded feeling,” Jennifer says.
Dining room. “Dining rooms are all about whetting appetites and promoting conversation,” Jennifer notes. “The mouthwatering colors of ripened fruit stimulate the senses and keep energy levels high.” For casual family dining, she suggests a yellow-orange fruit hue, such as apricot or peach.
Kitchen. “The kitchen is the activity center for the family,” Jennifer says. “A light and bright color like sunflower will make the room feel cheerful and energetic.”
Child’s bedroom. For a color that works well in either a boy’s room or a girl’s room, Kitty suggests “a zesty spirited lime.” She says this vibrant shade of green promotes creativity and imagination.
Bathroom. “Baths have always been about cleanliness, but they’re also about relaxation,” Kitty says. To turn your bath into a soothing retreat from everyday stress, she recommends a hue such as aqua, which conjures up the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
Master bedroom. “For a tranquil bedroom that promotes a good night’s sleep, choose the purple-blues of nightfall,” Kitty says. For example, you might try amethyst-colored walls or bedding.
Kitty says the most common color mistake is choosing barely tinted, almost-white hues, which can create a stark, impersonal look. So once you’ve chosen your colors, don’t be timid about using them. “Color is a way to express yourself and make a house feel like a home and not a hotel,” Kitty says.