Room Color Psychology

Room color psychology plays a major role in how our rooms look and feel. But as individuals, we all perceive color differently. This can explain why people have different “favorite” colors or why people have different tastes when it comes to decorating.  So, when decorating a room in your home, your idea of the perfect color may be different from someone else’s perfect color.

Color psychology can also help us to “fix” issues we may have in our homes. For example, making a small space feel larger, changing the temperature of a room to make it feel warmer, or trying to make a room feel more welcoming.

colorful office area

As a decorator, I need to understand the psychology of color and know how different colors affect different people and different spaces.  

Let’s learn how we can use color to our advantage to not only get the perfect look for our rooms but also to “fix” problems in these rooms.

1. Color, or color value, can give us contrast


Let’s suppose you installed a white marble fireplace surround you saw in a magazine that you fell in love with.  But, now that it’s in your home you are not crazy about it.  My job as a decorator is to keep you from ripping out that fireplace and installing a new one, only to find you don’t like that one either.

If you loved that fireplace surround in a magazine, most likely it’s the environment that surrounds it that is keeping you from loving it in your home.  

If your walls surrounding the fireplace are a neutral or a light color, then that white marble is just going to fade away into that wall.  (Keep in mind, that that may be what you’re trying to achieve.) But if you wanted that fireplace to be a focal point and really stand out in the room, then contrast is what you are looking for.  

To make something stand out you need contrast to make that happen.  You can achieve this by using a contrasting color or even using a different value of the same color.

Contrasting color is achieved using a color wheel.  Usually, you can find a contrasting color by picking a color directly across from it on the color wheel.  This will give you the greatest contrast using color. 


Value is simply the lightness or darkness of a color.  If you add white to a color you are tinting the color to a lighter value.  If you add black to a color you are creating a darker hue of that color.

So, in this example, it’s pretty easy to provide contrast to white marble.  You could pretty much use any color you want (stay away from white, light beige, or light gray).  Use any color or a dark value of any color, and you will achieve the contrast you need to make that fireplace stand out. See how this achieves a completely different look than the picture above? Both are equally beautiful but give a totally different feel.

By using a contrasting color you will be using room color psychology to trick the mind into seeing a chosen focal point among many other items in the room.

Use a monochromatic color scheme to avoid contrast

Now, let’s assume you want to achieve the opposite effect and make something disappear or fade into the surrounding area.  You can use room color psychology to hide or disguise features in a room by making them blend into a wall or become less obvious, by using the same value or color.  Monochromatic color schemes work well for this.

A Monochromatic color scheme uses one color only with different values of that color. (Light and darkness)

light blue and cream living room

Let’s say you have two small, ugly, windows that you want window treatments for, but the last thing you want is to draw attention to them. You can use the same color, or the same color value, to achieve this. 

In the example above the walls are a light blue color.  They used the same color for the window treatments, sofa, and ottoman, and beige color with the same value (light tint) for the chair, chest, and legs on the ottoman.  This coordinates nicely without drawing attention to any one object in the room.  This is a great example of a monochromatic color scheme.

2. You can use room color psychology to make a room feel bigger or smaller

Cool and light valued colors make rooms feel bigger

In general, cool colors, and light-valued colors, recede or fade back into a space giving the illusion of the space being larger than it is.

If you have a small room you can make it feel larger by using cool colors.  Most people think that you have to use light colors to achieve this, but you don’t.  As long as the colors are cool, then you can get the same effect as if you used light colors.  A combination of the two will even intensify this effect.  

blue shiplap bedroom
Photo from: Country Living

Cool colors are any color that gives a soothing and cool feeling typically in nature like blues and greens.   For example, think of calming waters, crisp green plants, and bright blue skies.  


You might like this…

To learn more ways to make a room feel larger, read my post “How to make a small room feel bigger.”

Warm colors and dark hues make rooms feel smaller and cozier

Warm colors, and dark valued colors, tend to advance toward you making the space feel smaller, or cozier.

The definition of warm colors is any vibrant color that gives you a feeling of warmth or excitement.  These colors can include red, yellow, purple, and orange.  So, in nature, think of the sun or fire. 

If you have a long, rectangular room and you want it to feel cozier, you can use a warm color, or a darker value, on the walls to make those walls advance toward you.

red man cave den
Photo from:

For this reason, using warm colors can make a sizeable unwelcoming space feel warm and cozy.

Want to learn about how color can affect your bathroom design? Read our tips and others in this article by “The Impact of Bathroom Colors on Mood and Productivity”

3. Using room color psychology to affect the temperature of a room

North-facing or low-light rooms

If you have a north-facing room that tends to feel cool and look grey (not much sun), then you can paint the room a warm color to enliven the space and make it feel physically warmer.

green moody living room with fireplace
photo from: Pinterest

South-facing or bright and sunny rooms

If you have a south-facing room that is bright and warm, you can use a cool color to physically cool the room and make it feel more comfortable in the summer.

In the photo below you know it’s hot outside simply because you are on a warm sunny beach. But this room feels cool as a cucumber because of its light and cool color pallet of cream, blue, and taupe.

ocean view living room
photo from:

Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t use red in a south-facing room or blue in a north-facing room.  You would just choose a warm or cool version of that color.  For example, a berry red as opposed to a brick red. Or a navy blue as opposed to a robin’s egg blue.

Another way to look at the temperature, or cool vs. warm colors, is to think of how you do your makeup and choose your clothing.

We use our skin tones, blue, pink, or yellow undertones (cool or warm), to determine what colors we can wear.  Ultimately, we choose colors that compliment our skin tones.  We can do the same thing with choosing colors for our homes.

4. How to use color psychology to evoke a feeling or mood in a room

In general, warm colors such as yellow, orange, and red are stimulating to the mind.  Cool colors such as blue and green give a feeling of serenity and peace.

Use color psychology to evoke a particular mood in your room; a peaceful, relaxing master bedroom or bath, in soft blues and greens, or an exciting, fun, playroom in reds, oranges, or violets.

List of common colors and their effects

Here is a list of common colors and their effects on our feelings.

Red – Stimulating, strong, and warm (red ties are considered powerful, red walls stimulate your appetite)

Blue – Serene, cool, and remote (relaxing and cooling like the ocean or the sky)

Violet – Impressive, stately, and royal (think of a kings robe, heavy thick fabrics like velvet)

Green – Restful, and calm (like the ocean, forests, and plants)

Orange – Cheerful, warm and welcoming (like a sunset, creamsicle, or fire)

Yellow – Sunny, bright, and inviting (like the sun, flowers, and fruit)

As you can see, using color is so much more than just choosing which color you like. In summary, you can use color to…

  • make something stand out using contrasting colors
  • have an object fade into the background using a monochromatic color scheme
  • make a space feel large and open using cool or light colors
  • or, make a room feel small and cozy using warm or dark colors
  • change the temperature of a room
  • evoke a feeling or mood

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Want to learn more about choosing the right colors? Read my post “How to choose the right paint color the first time”

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  1. I have read countless articles, searched through many library books and sought the advice of more than a few friends who have the gift to easily create their beautiful homes, unique in their own personal style. They just “get it” and I’ve always felt either so overwhelmed or clueless as to how I can make my home feel the vibe of “me.” I know what I do not care for, but haven’t yet defined my design style….Eclectic Mid Century Modern meets a dash of Minimalistic feel. That seems like an oxymoron to me….and I end up indecisive with every home project that I’ve done in the 4 homes I’ve owned. That’s almost 20 years of regretting an embarrassing amount of work, time & money….and confidence and brain cells. My dream is to get it right for my home, family and for myself….to actually feel comfortable and connected to the place I should feel most at peace & proud of. Your eloquent and inspiring article made something FINALLY click on for me & I appreciate you explaining colors psychology in a way that is clear and easily understandable! Thank you sincerely….I don’t think that I’ll be ever afraid to try again to create a home that is a reflection of who we are as a family & I’m excited to see how this may positively impact our future memories at home & beyond! Best!