Interior Design: Don’t Overlook the Importance of Color

Planning to redecorate a room? You’ll likely spend days (or weeks, or months) deciding on exactly what furniture, flooring, window treatments, and accessories will be the perfect choices to match the vision you have for the re-design.

When it comes to the color scheme of the room, however, there’s a good chance you’ll only spend a few minutes making a decision. Many people don’t even take that long; they either use off-white or a variety of beiges as the room’s predominant color, or pick one of their favorite colors for the walls and go from there.


Painting Walls


That could work out fine, but it’s often a mistake. Colors aren’t simply background or accent elements in a décor. They play much larger roles, both obvious and subliminal.

The Visible Effects of Colors

The easiest and least expensive way to alter the look of a room, needless to say, is to change its color scheme. A simple paint job can dramatically change the atmosphere in a living space, particularly when switching from a light to dark color (or from dark to light).

In general, light shades create a clean, open appearance and make a room look more spacious because they reflect more of the natural light coming into the space. Dark colors, on the other hand, absorb natural light and usually cause a room to look smaller and more intimate.

You’ve probably heard those rules of thumb before – and may have wondered why some rooms appear to violate them. Often, it’s because of the shadows created by changing light patterns during the day. It can also be due to the skillful work of a designer who understands the nuances of color.

Some of those nuances involve light and shadows. Many important ones, however, have to do with the subliminal effects of colors. And you don’t have to be a professional designer to use them to your advantage.

The Hidden Effects of Colors

There have been hundreds of studies done to understand the impact that colors have on both the brain and the body.

We’re all familiar with some of the supposed links between color and mood: light blue creates calm feelings and bright red is stimulating and exciting. That’s not just theory; there’s plenty of scientific evidence behind those conclusions. It’s been proven that a blue environment can actually lower human blood pressure levels, while being surrounded by red increases brain wave activity.


Colors Creating Mood


Understanding the impact of these “hidden” effects can allow you to make crucial decisions on the colors you choose for a décor – and just as importantly, to avoid poor choices. For example, bright yellow has been shown to increase feelings of irritation over time, so it could be a very poor choice for a nursery or a small bedroom shared by two siblings. And studies have shown that clerical employees working in a primarily-white office are less productive and more prone to making mistakes than those working in environments with colored walls due to the fatigue factor created by a sterile workspace.

Research also suggests colors which can help achieve desired results. Red has been found to increase feelings of hunger, making it an interesting option for dining areas (unless you’re trying to save money on food costs or prevent the family from gaining too much weight) and light green has effects quite similar to blue in creating a calming and supportive influence.

The Many Subliminal Uses of Color

Some of the ways that color choices affect the body and mind are easy to predict. Others can be startling. For example, research has shown that colors can be used for all of these purposes:

  • Elevating happiness and improving moods.
  • Increasing concentration.
  • Creating a calm environment for rest, relaxation or sleep.
  • Showing complexions and skin tones to best advantage.
  • Reducing tension and stress.
  • Adding excitement and liveliness to an entertainment space.
  • Boosting (or reducing) appetite.
  • Promoting an environment conducive to physical recovery and healing.

You don’t have to rely on gut feel when making color choices aimed at creating a specific mood or physical atmosphere. All of the scientific research can be distilled into a “cheat sheet” showing the pros and cons of using various colors as primary shades in a décor.

We happen to have one right here.

Choosing the Right Color(s)

The best way to choose primary and secondary colors to be used in decorating is to go room-by-room. There’s no law against having one color scheme for your entire home, but most people have specific purposes or atmospheres in mind for each room of their house. That calls for making separate color choices.

Here’s a summary of the effects each common color can have in your décor.


The color most commonly used for walls, white is associated with cleanliness and purity. It evokes visions of newly-fallen snow and fluffy clouds and gives a room an open and airy feel. Research has shown that exposure to the color white often causes positive changes in body functions including a lowered heart rate, blood pressure, pulse, and respiration; blue is the only color which has more of a positive effect.


White Room Color


There’s nothing wrong with using white as a predominant color in a living space but it can be overwhelming unless you layer other shades of white or gray in the room, or make liberal use of contrasting accent colors. It might be a better choice to “open up” hallways or smaller rooms or to provide the clean feeling desirable in a bathroom.


Black can trigger very different feelings, depending on how the color is used. A room in which black is the dominant color can feel smothering or oppressive, even menacing, because it represents power, authority or – in worst case – evil. However, black’s association with prestige and sophistication can be perfect (when used judiciously) for drawing attention to a room’s features and accessories or for giving life to other colors in the décor. When used to its extreme, though, black can heighten anxiety, increasing heart rate, and blood pressure.


Black Room Color


The color is suitable for any room, but only carefully and in moderation.


Anyone who’s walked out of a dark house and into the bright sun knows the feelings that yellow can engender: happiness, energy, and warmth. Research shows that yellow is the color which creates the strongest emotional feelings, mainly because of its long wavelength. When used properly it can boost spirit and self-esteem and stimulate creativity and intellectual activity. But too much yellow can have the opposite effect; it can cause feelings of anxiety and fear, and lead to an increase in metabolism and feelings of stress because yellow’s wavelength forces eyes to work harder. Studies have even shown that prolonged exposure to yellow surroundings can trigger allergy symptoms.


Yellow Room Color


Bright yellow should be definitely used in moderation and is best utilized as an accent, but lighter shades of yellow work well in dining rooms, kitchens, children’s rooms and even home offices because pale yellow can enhance focus and concentration.


Blue is the color of the sky and the color of peace and tranquility. It is soothing to the mind, conveys feelings of trust, calmness, and trust. The color usually doesn’t provoke negative reactions unless overused, when it can create a cold or depressing atmosphere. Light blue helps with concentration and deeper blue can stimulate deeper thought. That’s not “fake science”; researchers have found that when subjects view the color blue, their bodies produce chemicals that slow down heart rate, blood pressure, and blink rate more than when exposed to any other color.


Blue Room Color


Blue is a great choice for use in most rooms including family rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms. It’s not quite as suitable for rooms where the goal is to stimulate interaction and conversation, such as living rooms or dining rooms.


It’s not only bulls who have a strong reaction to the color red. Some of the human emotions triggered by red are anger, excitement, defiance, and aggression – as well as strength, compassion, love, and passion. Scientists say that exposure to red stimuli causes the release of adrenaline in the body, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and causing people to breathe more quickly. That’s all related to the “fight or flight” response we associate with the color red. It’s the most stimulating color in the spectrum, and as previously mentioned, it stimulates the appetite as well.


Red Room Color


Red is a natural choice for the kitchen and dining room; it’s also a smart choice as one of the color components in rooms where entertaining is a primary focus.


You might be surprised to learn that green is an extremely relaxing color. That’s because its wavelength falls right in the middle of the spectrum and the eye adjusts to it immediately without any work or adjustments necessary. This color is evocative of new growth, balance, and harmony, and the peaceful nature of green is why so many hospitals use it to decorate patient rooms. Some research claims that prolonged exposure to green surroundings stimulates the pituitary glands to help in the growth of cell tissue, calm the sympathetic nervous system, and lower blood pressure.


Green Room Color


With the exception of the dining room and perhaps the kitchen, green is an excellent design choice for nearly any room of the house, although dark green may present too staid a look for some rooms and green that’s too light can make a room appear bland.


Orange is a naturally stimulating color because it is the combination of two other stimulating colors, yellow and red. Excitement and warmth are two of the emotions triggered by this inviting color, which also tends to focus the mind on physical comfort. Scientists say orange is another color which increases appetite, boosts the pulse rate (but not blood pressure), helps circulation, eases muscle cramps, and even makes it easier to sleep.


Orange Room Color


Lighter shades of orange are more comforting than darker ones, so they’re more suitable for bedrooms and the living room. Deeper shades are best utilized in hallways, dining rooms, and as accent colors.


The warm, earthy tones of brown convey solidity and reliability, with many of the same properties as black but appearing more approachable and soothing. That makes it a better choice than black for decorating, supportive rather than oppressive. Research has found a number of impressive scientific properties of the color, inducing the body to create or stimulate serotonin, tryptophan and prostaglandin E1 production; those lead to better mood, energy and sleep, and even resistance to migraines.


Brown Room Color


Brown works well in many rooms including those used for study or work, bedrooms, and family rooms, with the same caveats for dark brown as for black; too much can really be too much.


The shortest wavelength in the spectrum belongs to the color purple, which is often used to aid in meditation or deep thought thanks to its perceived association with the mystical. Lighter shades of purple are, of course, quite feminine; they also stimulate the imagination. Darker shades are often associated with romance, sophistication, and wealth, but when used to excess can appear excessive and decadent. Researchers say that purple suppresses the appetite and slows nerve response, but stimulates the brain.


Purple Room Color


The bedroom and bathroom are ideal for extensive use of various shades of purple. The color can work in rooms like the living room or family room, as long as its use is not overdone.


Pink induces some of the same feelings as purple – femininity, romance and warmth – but often in more powerful ways. It is soothing and nurturing, in moderation and in lighter shades. In brighter shades it can evoke happy feelings associated with fun and celebration. Pink that is too bright or too overwhelming, however, can be a drain on energy, while a shade of pink that’s overly pale can create a feeling of lethargy or simply be invisible.


Pink Room Color


Bedrooms, playrooms, and (in moderation) rooms used for entertaining are good choices for various shades of pink. As with several of the other colors we’ve mentioned, it’s important to be careful in the color’s use.

A New Appreciation of Color

A full understanding of the power that color choices can have will likely make your choices a bit more difficult when redecorating. It’s not only the furniture and window treatment material which require careful consideration; the decisions you make about the color of the room and its furnishings may have an even greater impact on how much you enjoy it.