"Talking Dirty News" - Queen of Green, Barbara Loraine

Color Psychology

color choicesby Barbara Loraine

The colors you choose to live with impact your mood and the impression you make on others. The great thing is, it doesn’t cost more to choose one color over another. If you’ve going to change a room, changing the color just takes a bucket or two of paint – a real bargain.  While we talk here about color in your surroundings, the information is just as relevant for the colors you wear.

Take this information about color and mood into consideration.

Color has a powerful impact on people, it can energize, relax or stimulate.
By considering the effects of color you can encourage activity or create a calm mood. For answers to your color questions for your interior design project, feel free to call me.

When deciding on which colors to use, ask yourself which colors you gravitate toward and what you like most about them. Do they . . .

  • energize you?
  • put you in a happy mood?
  • make you feel secure?
  • make you feel calm and serene?
  • remind you of positive memories?
  • make you hungry?
  • make you smile?
  • lift your spirits?
  • focus and clear your mind?
  • feel high-status?

How colors make you feel should be an important factor in your decision-making. Colors can make you feel good so it makes sense to choose those colors that leave a positive impression on you. It’s your home and well-being, after all.

While responses to color are personal, there are generalizations that can be made about the effects of different colors. Following is general information on the effects of color. See how these match with your experiences and preferences.

In Western culture, white is associated with purity (think weddings, angels, white sheets hung on a line), elegance, and is perceived as uplifting. White can be used to make a space feel larger or that it has more light. When used in the wrong way, however, white can seem lifeless and boring. For cultures of the far east, white is the color of death and mourning. It is often the case that colors are perceived differently in various parts of the globe, so be careful.

On its own, pure brilliant white can look high-maintenance, particularly with very modern interior design styles that include lots of polished surfaces.

To soften the look of a room, use layers tints (from chalky white to ivory) and textures (in walls, textiles, and floor coverings). This will help make a white room warmer and more inviting – both psychologically and physically.

If you don’t want a lot of color around you but aren’t too keen on all-white environments either, you can always enjoy the psychological impact of white color in combination with other neutrals.

Used well, the color gray can lend interiors an elegant formality that is subtle without being overly conservative. It is the color if you want to create an air of calm, understated confidence. For gray to have this impact, it’s best combined with whites and other neutrals.

Gray can be a wonderful background color for other, more intense colors. If you get the right shade of gray and use it with colors that “pop” like pink, turquoise, or orange, it will calm the other colors down just enough.

The danger with gray is that if you have this color on too many surfaces, with no other color (or a clean white) to brighten it up, the color gray will be overpowering and you’ll end up in a dull, ominous environment. But throw in some whites, or more intense colors, and the color gray will become a chic, sophisticated backdrop for your living space.

Used well, the color black can lend an air of sophistication and elegance to an interior design scheme.

Against a background of lighter colors or neutrals, anything in black will stand out. It can be used well to highlight archetecural detail, furniture, or ornamental details.

The color black is often used to elicit an air of power, authority, and social prestige (think black Mercedes, professor’s robes and black-tie events). However, you won’t find much that’s actually joyful or uplifting about this color. So careful to not over-use black or you may create a menacing, dark feeling in the room.

While other colors reflect light, black absorbs it, which can make it feel heavy and overbearing. What’s more, in Western societies, the color black is also related to evil powers (we think the devil is black). Stereotypical villains go dressed in black, too, which adds suitable drama to their character, but might be too “dark” for your living environment.

Brown can be a ‘delicious’ color (think chocolate, coffee, cookies, bread). Those are the shades of brown that remind us of comfort, home and hearth.

Nature, too, is full of the color brown. In most parts of the world, brown is the color of the earth, and most plants have got at least some brown in them. This is why the psychological effects of the color brown are often described as reassuring, safe and stabilizing – we tend to feel safe in nature (as long as we focus on the positives and not the possibilities of natural disasters).

In interior design, the color brown can add warmth and depth. It can inject earthiness into a cool or neutral color combination and make a room more more inviting and comfortable.

The color orange is the warmest color. It is perceived as emotionally stimulating, energetic, vibrant and fun.

Saturated orange attracts attention and stimulates appetite. It is is often used in advertising, as well as in kitchens and restaurants. It is no surprise that it is the color of Rachel Ray’s TV kitchen at the Food Network and incorporated into all her marketing materials.

As with other colors, the effect of the color orange depends on its hue (yellowish or reddish), its tint (mixture with light neutrals) or its shade (mixture with darker neutrals).

Orange has the biggest impact when it is not lightened, darkened, or dulled by mixing it with other colors.

The effects of the color orange are much gentler in its pastels and earthy shades. The saffron robes of Asian monks evoke feelings of spirituality and serenity.

On the other hand, in Mediterranean design, orange is mixed with brown and a bit of gray to create different shades of terracotta. These hues create the warmth and richness of country living in Italy, Spain, and Provence.

Red is an extremely powerful color. It is the color of passion, appetite, and action. For these reasons, along with the color orange, red is often used in advertising, as well as in kitchens and restaurant decor.

As with other colors, the psychological effects of the color red depend very much on its intensity.

So while vibrant hues of red have been shown to raise people’s heart rate and blood pressure, you might feel quite comfortable with muted, warm, earthy shades of red around you.

While red is also associated with danger (think fire, stop lights, and red ink in business) it is also the color of action.

Red should not be over-used. Red can make it feel that the walls are closing in on you. But as an accent or even a wall color, it can be very effective at creating a mood that is passionate and action-oriented.

pink PINK

The color pink comes in lots of hues. Ripe-peach pink, bubble gum pink, hot Caribbean pink – they each have their own appeal and psychological effects.

In most Western countries, the color pink is seen as a ‘feminine’ color, and frequently used for anything to do with baby girls. Victoria Secret has branded as pink as a sexy color, with their line of “Pink” lingerie and women’s clothes.  But refined, sophisticated versions of the color pink have been used in European interior (and fashion) design for centuries, for both men and women.

Generally, when used in interior design, the psychological effect of the color pink is described as soothing and comforting.

At Iowa State University in the 1970′s, football coach Hayden Fry had the visiting team’s locker room painted pink. His goal was to have the opposing team so relaxed that they would not be as competent on the field; it worked. Since there are strong female-gender associations with the color pink, that could have also had a negative effect on the performance of the opposing team.

This is an example of the many associations attached to colors, and how powerful they are.

They say purple is the color of royalty. For centuries, the intended psychological effect of the color purple was to show that the wearer was of the nobility. The Roman emperor Julius Caesar (100BC-44BC) was so taken with the color that he decided he alone would be allowed to wear it.

The tradition of reserving the color purple for members of the ruling class started in Biblical times, in countries around the Mediterranean Sea. It is partly due to the fact that purple color was so expensive that only very rich people could afford it.

What about here? We have no royalty in the U. S. However, purple is a rich, deeply satisfying, complex color that can add real luxury to a room. On the other hand, there is a danger that purple can look garish or cheap.

The psychological effects of the color purple depend on how ‘warm’ or ‘cool’ the hue is:

Bluish purples can be serene and calming and have a ‘mysterious’ depth.
Reddish purples demand more attention and can dominate a room, so it should be used sparingly.

More people say that blue is their favorite color, more than any other.

In interior decorating, you can use the color blue to create a reflective, intellectual atmosphere. It’s not common to overheat emotionally and get upset or aggressive in a ‘cool’ environment – and the color blue has actually been shown to lower our blood pressure and heart rate.

You can use the color blue to cool down a hot, sunny room. Obviously, blue doesn’t actually lower the temperature, but it makes us feel cooler. The reverse is true when you’re decorating a north-facing room. Blue walls, flooring, or furniture can give it a distinctly icy feel to a space.

Indigo is a rich deep blue that is a favorite hue of the color. Indigo is the color associated with intuitiion and understanding.

Dark blue evokes feelings of trust and dependatibility and is often used in advertising for banks and other financial instiutions, as well as for business attire.


The color green is perceived as calming and reassuring. In nature, the color green tells us that we are safe, that we are in a fertile, water-rich environment, above freezing temperatures, where there is enough to eat and we will survive. We can relax.

While we love the greens of nature, the fact is using green in interior design is a bit tricky. Natural greens are made up of many hues of green; this can make green paint or fabric seem flat and fake by comparison.

One of the ways to use green successfully in rooms is to combine more than one shade of it, or to combine it with other colors. Sage, gray, pink and magenta go well together for an English country cottage look. Or, you can combine greens with neutrals and blues for a coastal look.