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 then someone else’s perfect color.
Color psychology can also help us to “fix” issues we may have in our home. For example, like 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.
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 your 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 may be what your 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 your 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 a 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 is using one color only with different values of that color. (Light and darkness)
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 a 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.
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.
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 are 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 more cozy, you can use a warm color, or a darker value, on the walls to make those walls advance toward you.
For this reason, using warm colors can make a large unwelcoming space feel warm and cozy.
3. Using room color psychology to effect 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.
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 your on a warm sunny beach. But this room feels cool as a cucumber because of it’s light and cool color pallet of cream, blue and taupe.
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 exiting, 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)
Here is a link to the psychology of color printable for a quick reference
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
Want to learn more about choosing the right colors? Read my post “How to choose the right paint color the first time.”